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Supporters call new anti-discrimination ordinance good for Phoenix economy

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Changes:

• Previous ordinance covered race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, genetic information and marital status; new ordinance adds sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and disability as protected categories.

• Previous ordinance called for discrimination complaints to be filed with police department; new ordinance makes the Equal Opportunity Department responsible for discrimination complaints.

PHOENIX – America’s sixth-largest city is the capital of a state often associated with conservative politics, such as SB 1070 and a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

But a decision to add lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) and disabled residents to its anti-discrimination ordinance suggests that public policy is catching up with social change and public attitudes, said Kristin Koptiuch, an Arizona State University associate professor of anthropology.

“It’s a way that Phoenix can assert itself and not to be tainted by all of this,” said Koptiuch, a board member of Ubiquity, a group of ASU staff and faculty concerned with LGBT issues. “We are an exception to what the state image is at large.”

But in some aspects Phoenix has already been getting recognition as an inclusive place for the LGBT community. When the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign last year released its Municipal Equality Index, a rating system similar to its Corporate Equality Index survey of businesses, Phoenix received 70 out of 100 possible points.

While that put the city in the top half of 137 municipalities rated, Phoenix earned none of the 18 points available in the “non-discrimination laws” section.

Kate Oakley, an attorney with the group, said the new ordinance shows a lot about Phoenix’s commitment to the LGBT community and could boost its already decent score tremendously.

“I do think that it says a lot that the leadership has been so interested in LGBT equality,” Oakley said. “I think that’s very reflected in the score.”

Tucson adopted a similar ordinance in 1999, and Flagstaff did the same earlier this year.

Stanton said the amendment is necessary to bring the best and brightest people to Phoenix.

“I believe it is good for business, attracting the right kind of jobs, attracting the right people to this community: people that value diversity,” Stanton said at the Feb. 26 hearing at which the City Council voted 5-3 for the change.

The ordinance added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” as categories protected from discrimination in employment, public accommodation, housing, city construction contracts and city supplier and lessee contracts. It also added “disability” to language on employment and public accommodation.

Tom Simplot, the city’s first openly gay elected official, championed the ordinance.

Opponents of the ordinance, including Councilman Sal DiCiccio, said they worried about small businesses facing criminal penalties and potential lawsuits.

Neither DiCiccio nor representatives of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group that opposed the ordinance, responded to requests for comment.

Angela Hughey, co-founder and president of ONE Community, an organization that connects the LGBT community and allied individuals and businesses, said the change is long overdue.

“This is without a doubt the right thing to do, and it is good business,” Hughey said. “And the city of Phoenix is in business.”

The ordinance continues existing exemptions for entities such as religious organizations and private landlords.

Antonia D’orsay, executive director of This Is How, a nonprofit organization that supports transgendered people in Arizona, completed her two-year transition from a man to a woman in October 2008. She said the City Council’s vote reflects its opinion of the transgendered community.

“I have a gay daughter and a bisexual son,” D’orsay said. “They’re being told what their value is here.”

Kathy Young, political co-chair for the HRC Arizona, said the ordinance will help employers who want to attract the best employees.

“For the city to be encouraging this kind of diversity and showing they welcome that allows business to hire best and brightest because it will allow them to live in the city,” Young said.

Tony Felice, diversity and public affairs committee chair for the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said he’s seen businesses prosper by embracing the gay community instead of ending the relationship after a transaction.

“It’s more than going after the gay dollar,” Felice said. “It’s making friends that they otherwise would not have made before than they would have from living in their box.”