Ban on gay bias hailed by activists
Governor's action affects state jobs
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 23, 2003 12:00 AM
Gay rights activists are celebrating a long-fought victory after Arizona's governor signed an executive order over the weekend denouncing sexual orientation discrimination against state employees.
"We're ecstatic," said Kathie Gummere, public affairs director for the Arizona Human Rights Fund. "It's one more step forward for us in gaining the rights that everyone else takes for granted."
Those in a 1,000-person crowd at the Human Rights Fund's annual dinner on Saturday night at the Arizona Biltmore enthusiastically received news of Gov. Janet Napolitano
's 20th executive order, which singlehandedly made it illegal for the state to hire, fire, promote or discipline any state employee based on the individual's sexual orientation.
For at least five years, the Human Rights Fund, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender support organization, has unsuccessfully tried to encourage similar legislation because of the high number of complaints about workplace bias.
"I hear from at least one person a week who feels like they were discriminated against in the workplace," Gummere said.
But while Napolitano's announcement got four standing ovations from supporters, not everyone is applauding.
"She's governing like she's a Third World dictator; it's ridiculous," said Len Munsil, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian organization.
The Center for Arizona Policy has been instrumental in lobbying to block equal opportunity law language changes in the past. Now the group plans to look at ways to reverse the order, Munsil said.
"If one governor can put it in, the next can rescind it," he said. "It's a total outrage that she would do something that the Legislature has specifically refused to do year after year. It's not something the people of Arizona support."
Yet the Legislature's representative abilities, or lack thereof, are part of the reason that sexual orientation hasn't been made a protected class in the past, said Robert Meza, an openly gay Democrat who is a member of the state House and the Arizona Human Rights Fund.
"The current legislation is not a true reflection of Arizonans," he said. "Decisions are being made by a group of people who selectively don't include children, education, the elderly - Janet is worrying about all the people."
Thus he believes Napolitano's decision to bypass the Legislature was a smart one.
"It's getting people from around the world to take a look at Arizona," Meza said. "It's about economics too. Seeing diversity within states and the realization that people here are that much more progressive. That's what attracts intellectuals and big businesses."
Arizona is one of 12 states, 115 cities and the District of Columbia to outlaw this kind of job discrimination. Phoenix approved a similar law in 1992, and Tucson followed with its own law in 1997.
"This is truly a new Arizona, one that's equal-opportunity for all, not just for a few," said Tim Nelson, general counsel for the governor.