Arizona Humanities hosts non-discrimination discussion

Moderator Steve Kilar and panelists Elle Murtagh, Eileen Spears, Ashton Skinner, and Rev. Tamira L. Burns, left to right, dicuss non-discrimination policies and practices. (Alayna Okeefe/DD)

Arizona Humanities hosted a discussion focused on promoting equality and non-discrimination policies Thursday in its final program of the fall series.

Held in the Ellis-Shackelford house, the discussion was open to the public to examine and discuss how to encourage non-discrimination practices in communities and businesses.

Programs Manager of Arizona Humanities Ellie Hutchinson opened up the program by having audience members turn to someone near them and share a short sentence of what home means to contrast the answers with the challenges physically or mentally disabled people have when searching for housing.

“Home for me, is somewhere I can feel safe,” Sarah Bisimwa, an audience member, said.

Community service case manager Eileen Spears then started a discussion focusing on how to promote equity in housing policies.

Spears works with transitional housing for families in the community. She also reviews resumes and works with clients to get their GED.

“The population I serve is diverse,” Spears said. “And I was once homeless, that’s why I do what I do.”

Spears said she became homeless when she wasn’t accommodated with a ramp when looking for an apartment while she was injured. She said people should question whether housing is accessible for people with both mental and physical disabilities.

“We get individuals that care, but higher ups don’t want to change policy,” Spears said.

Non-discrimination in the housing process for the clients she serves is something Spears said she strives to succeed in, as well as watching families and individuals leaving and feeling confident and safe.

In order to get around all this discrimination, “we need to get past our own privilege,” said Rev. Tamira L Burns of the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts.

Discrimination is something both Elle Murtagh and Emily Spetrino, owners of The Coronada Restaurant, said they do not tolerate in their business.

Addressing how to cater to a diverse population, “it’s all about absorbing an eclectic group,” Murtagh said.

Spetrino said being vocal politically as a business can be a scary thing, but that more businesses in town should take the risk.

Ashton Skinner of ONE Community said individuals and businesses in the community should want to know how to make people safe.

ONE Community is a coalition of businesses and organizations dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion across Arizona.

The organization created a UNITY Pledge that helps advocate for fair and equal treatment in the workplace, specifically for LGBT individuals and allies.

Skinner said the pledge became the biggest in the country with over 12,000 individuals and 2,000 businesses in Arizona signing it.

Skinner said the local communities should now focus on the promotion of diverse workplaces with the publicity the pledge has received among businesses and individuals.

“We have to help them understand why it’s about people,” Skinner said.

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