Scottsdale, Ariz. — On Dec. 4 the Scottsdale City Council narrowly voted to extend the city’s employment nondiscrimination protection to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
The 4-3 vote came after a number of three hours of emotional debate that included testimony from several Scottsdale residents, including many gay, lesbian and transgender employees who said that employees would be afraid to speak up about discrimination on the job without legal protection.
Council members who voted in favor of revising the city’s employment code called the decision to do so good leadership.
"I see there is a need for doing this, absolutely," Councilwoman Betty Drake, who was part of the majority vote told the Arizona Republic.
Detractors said that the change would cost the city more money and mean more lawsuits.
"This seems to be a solution in search of a problem," said Councilman Ron McCullagh, who voted against the change. "I think this goes a long way to explain why Scottsdale is the West's Most Overstaffed Town."
Others argued that homosexuality and transgenderism are choices which should not be protected by the law.
“Homosexual behavior is not immutable or unchangeable,” said Peter Gentala, general council for the Center of Arizona Policy. “The city should not take sides in a cultural debate. This ordinance does take sides."
The policy change cheered a number of civil rights and faith-based groups who rallied in favor of the change outside the City Council building. The groups included the Arizona’s American Civil Liberties Union, the gay-rights group Equality Arizona and the Anti-Defamation League.
“We congratulate the Scottsdale City Council for joining countless other private and public sector employers in adoption a policy to ensure equal protection for their employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Equality Arizona Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones said after the vote. “Despite facing strong opposition, Scottsdale’s elected officials demonstrated leadership by putting into policy the inclusive practices of this diverse city.”
The Scottsdale Human Relations Commission laid the groundwork for the proposal in September when they submitted a three-part ordinance that would prohibit city government, contractors and private businesses offering “public accommodations” from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The commission drafted the plan in response to what they perceived as a growing climate of intolerance in Scottsdale. In the past few months, several gay couples were attacked outside of nightclubs. Commission Chair Michele deLaFrenier also brought a legal complaint against Tom Anderson, the owner of nightclub Anderson’s Fifth Estate, when Anderson banned her and several other transwomen over their usage of women’s restroom. The complaint was resolved last month.
Originally, the Human Relations Commission’s plan included protections for gay and transgender employees in the private sector. But the council voted 5-2 to table that part of the proposal, with Mayor Mary Manross saying that forcing private businesses to comply could be “overreaching.” Manross, however, approved the idea of offering protections to gay and transgender city employees.
The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is expected to issue a statement on the new law after board members have considered the code’s potential impact on local businesses.