After five hours of heated and passionate public comment and discussion on Tuesday, the Phoenix City Council approved a change to the city’s human resources ordinance to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability.
The council voted five to three to approve the change with City Councilmen Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring voting against the change. City Councilman Michael Nowakowski was in favor of the change, but was unable to officially vote as he had to get off the phone and catch a flight.
The move by the City Council changed Phoenix City Code Chapter 18. The City Code prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, and certain contracts with the city based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, genetic information or marital status. The language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” was added to all provisions. Disability was added to employment and public accommodations, which did not previously specify disability.
The City Council was forced to move its policy session to the Orpheum Theatre on Feb. 26 to accommodate the crowd that gathered to offer its input. The crowd seemed evenly split between those who approved the measure and those who opposed it. Though in the end, more people spoke out in favor than in opposition. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, business owners, religious leaders, and lawyers spoke out on both sides.
DiCiccio said the language of the amendment is too broad and he fears it could become an issue for small business owners.
“There were some comments made that 166 cities have passed this,” DiCiccio said. “They did not all pass the same legislation. You heard everyone talk about the Salt Lake City one. I called. It is significantly different. It’s actually reasonable. It’s actually an OK ordinance. What we have here is a radical ordinance. It criminalizes businesses… My concerns on this proposal deal significantly with the way it was put together and what it has inside… this is dramatically different than what is out there.”
City staff said the language for the amendment was taken from other cities with similar ordinances, as well as language developed in the ’90s that applies to race.
Many in opposition to the amendment have referred to it as the “bathroom bill,” fearing that sexual predators could argue to identify with a certain gender and cause trouble in a restroom meant for the opposite sex. Transgender individuals in the audience said those fears were offensive and unnecessary.
“I don’t believe that many men have ever looked into a ladies restroom,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams, addressing some of the bathroom concerns. “They may not be aware that there are individual stalls… the stalls are always shut tight before we do any business… I don’t think for one second that this is going to change the safety in those bathrooms. We had some gorgeous looking ladies up here that I would not question for one second sharing the bathroom with.”
Mayor Greg Stanton said the enforcement would be the same as it is for other discrimination cases. He also said his office reached out to many business groups about the ordinance change and said most groups did not take a position for or against the ordinance, but had experienced similar ordinances in the past. Local First AZ, which represents many small, local businesses in Arizona sent a letter supporting the ordinance change.
“This was the right thing to do for our city,” Stanton said in a statement. “With 165 other cities, including Tucson and Flagstaff, adopting similar ordinances, some more than a decade ago, Phoenix had some catching up to do. We as a city value all our citizens, and consider diversity as our strength. It’s good for business, it’s good for our economy, and it’s the right thing to do for Phoenix.”
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