Non-discrimination proposal passes, will affect LGBTQ community and businesses downtown

Caption (Alicia Canales/DD)
Hours of discussion Tuesday afternoon culminated in a 5-3 vote by the Phoenix City Council to end workplace discrimination based on disability, sexual identity and gender expression. (Alicia Canales/DD)

The Phoenix City Council approved a proposal Tuesday by a vote of 5-3 to end workplace and service discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

After more than five hours of discussion at the Orpheum Theatre, Mayor Greg Stanton, Councilman Tom Simplot, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, Councilwoman Thelda Williams and Councilman Michael Johnson voted in favor of the proposal. Vice-Mayor Bill Gates, Councilman Sal DiCiccio and Councilman Jim Waring voted against it. Councilman Michael Nowakowski was in favor of the proposal, but did not vote because he was traveling.

Wayne Rainey, owner of MonOrchid art gallery on Roosevelt Row, is one of many local business owners who have expressed support for the proposal.

“For me, I think creating diversity is the goal, especially for urban areas,” Rainey said.

“If you look at any of the great urban cities and areas, historically they are always populated first by the, quote unquote, ‘alternative’ set … whether it be artists or gay populations or immigrants,” he added. “It’s always those people who make a neighborhood better and habitable again, and they’re a great economic driver.”

Rainey pointed to MonOrchid’s neighbors — GreenHaus Gallery + Boutique owners and biracial lesbian couple Cole and Dayna Reed — as an example.

The Reeds said they have been blessed to live in an accepting and loving community in downtown Phoenix and that they support any way to discourage discrimination.

“I always think more rights are better than less,” Dayna Reed said. “I think that leads to better economics and people participating in their communities.”

Cole Reed added that the ordinance may not change the assumptions people have about LGBTQ people, but its passing could be a stepping stone to changing mindsets.

“We’re on the verge of changing, and that’s screaming progress,” she said of Arizona.

Dayna Reed said she is friends with various transgender members of the community who have told her they have faced discrimination in the workplace.

“I hear stories of, ‘Oh, my job fired me because I’m transitioning,’” Dayna Reed said. “Even if that’s not the reason, if the option is there it may make the person feel like it is the reason.”

A controversial proposal

Pushed by Stanton and currently backed by several city officials, the proposal will make it illegal to fire or refuse service to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. This will extend the city’s discrimination protections based on sexual orientation that are already in place.

Phoenix now joins 160 other cities around the country that have similar LBGTQ anti-discrimination laws, including Tucson, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Dallas, New York, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

Stanton said putting these anti-discrimination ordinances in place is “good economics,” as it will lead to better business in Arizona.

“We are in a supercompetitive economic environment, which means Phoenix is in competition for talent with cities across the world,” Stanton said. “When (workers) make decisions about where to relocate, they pick cities that embrace all other citizens and are full of diversity, no matter racial background or sexual orientation.”

Caption (Chloe Brooks/DD)
A photo of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton taken at the groundbreaking ceremony of the University of Arizona Cancer Center. Mayor Stanton expressed his support for the anti-discrimination bill. (Chloe Brooks/DD)

Not all Phoenix officials and residents are supportive of the bill, however. DiCiccio sent out several e-mails in the last week urging constituents to look more closely at the impact the ordinance could have on small businesses.

Robert Pizorno, DiCiccio’s chief of staff, said DiCiccio is concerned that small businesses could face misdemeanors if charged with discrimination.

“The … issue is the now criminal penalties that will be imposed on businesses for the first time ever. Businesses will have to come up with policies and procedures and will be subjected to some vague terms such as “unwelcome” or “unwanted” … who defines who is ‘unwelcome’? Who is ‘unwanted’?”

“Every business in the city of Phoenix could face possible misdemeanor,” Pizorno said. He added that DiCiccio would like more time to sort out these issues.

“We would like to see the matter continued so we can have the opportunity to address these issues,” Pizorno said.

But Stanton argues that Phoenix has the “benefit of experience” from other cities as a guide to what this bill could mean for businesses in Phoenix.

“Call their chambers of commerce and ask them … ‘has that been good for the economy?’ I think you’ll see that the answer will be a resounding yes,” he said. “It’s the reason all of our competitors have these policies. It’s the reason that over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted LGBTQ non-discrimination policies.”

Johnson, who represents part of downtown Phoenix east of Third Street, had no comment to give when his office was contacted. Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who represents the rest of the downtown area, could not be reached for comment.

“Our gay and lesbian citizens have their leaders in this community already; they’ve done incredible work in revitalizing central Phoenix and urban neighborhoods,” Stanton said. “This non-discrimination ordinance is incredibly important to send the message to the world that Phoenix gets it.”

Community support for the proposal

Aside from businesses, many neighborhood groups have shown support for the proposal, including the Evans Churchill Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Voices Coalition, a downtown advocacy group.

Tim Eigo, chairman of DVC, said his organization fully supports the ordinance. He said past divisive laws like Senate Bill 1070 scared potential business prospects from Arizona and that this proposal could help make up for what SB 1070 drove away.

“The people I’ve spoken with about this issue were surprised that this was not already part of the ordinance because they expected it was,” he said. “They fully support it.”

Aubrey Crisp is one Phoenix resident who has benefited from a midtown employer who did not discriminate against him as a transgender person. Crisp works at the Clarendon Hotel on Clarendon and Fourth avenues.

“When I lived out-of-state, I had to pretend I was a lesbian as that was the only acceptable way for me to get employment when I am not, nor have ever been, a lesbian,” he said in an email interview.

Crisp said he thinks businesses would benefit from hiring more LGBTQ employees, especially transgender employees, who he said would be happier and more productive in a position where they can work as their affirmed gender.

“It just makes an employer more attractive to have a diverse employee pool,” he said.

Although conservative groups have nicknamed the proposal the “bathroom bill”, alluding to the idea that transgender people would use restrooms in public spaces including churches, at least one downtown church does not oppose the proposal.

Bishop Kirk Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona said he thinks calling the proposal the “bathroom bill” is a way to play on individuals’ fears. They remind him of the scare tactics that were used when it first became illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, he said.

“Our Church believes in full inclusion of all people,” he said. “We’re all God’s people and we all should be accorded those rights under the law.”

He added that he had not considered bathrooms being an issue until he heard others bring it up.

“It wouldn’t be a concern for people in my congregation,” Smith said. “And, on a basic level, who’s going to know if someone who is transgendered goes into a women’s restroom and closes the stall?”

Jerome Doris, parish manager for Saint Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, did not comment on the proposal for the church. However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, which has its office downtown next to the basilica, released a statement on Monday opposing the changes, according to the Arizona Republic.

Requests for comments from other churches in downtown Phoenix were not returned at the time this article was published.

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the results of the City Council Meeting.

Alicia Canales and Kevin Fallon contributed to this report.

Update: Feb. 26, 2013

This article has been altered to reflect the proposal passing around 7:30 p.m.

Additional information from the Arizona Republic was added to this article, citing a statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.