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Discrimination laws better handled at federal, state levels

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2007 8:59 pm

Cooler, wiser heads have prevailed in a dispute between a transgendered woman and a Scottsdale nightclub that had been partially responsible for the start of welcome discussion about civil rights in Scottsdale for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered persons.

As the Tribune’s Ari Cohn reported this week, in the wake of compromise, GLBT activists have begun to press for the city to pass ordinances outlawing discrimination against them in private businesses.

While we support the concept — of anti-discrimination legislation on behalf of GLBT persons, we believe that city council meetings are the wrong forum for it. Civil rights should be enforced at the federal and state levels to guarantee to all the same right to equal treatment no matter which municipality one enters or exits.

Cohn reported that Michele deLaFreniere dropped a state discrimination complaint against Anderson’s Fifth Estate after she and other transgendered persons were banned from the establishment a year ago. The nightclub owner, Tom Anderson, agreed to designate an existing single-user restroom for women at his Fifth Avenue club as unisex.

The two are to be commended for reaching an accord without the interference and likely wrongheaded application of government.

Now, GLBT activists have pointed to the dispute and to two unrelated Scottsdale incidents in recent months involving attacks on gay men as justifying local laws banning discrimination.

Passing laws, they argue, constitutes a means to overcome what they see as Scottsdale’s having an unwelcome reputation regarding GLBT persons.

But as reprehensible as these two criminal assaults were, they and the nightclub dispute don’t add up to a citywide hostile environment. Besides, passing such ordinances city by city would create a patchwork of places where discrimination is not tolerated here, yet still tolerated there.

In Monday’s editions, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial commenting on a bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed last week that bans workplace discrimination against gays. “But its chances of getting any further this year,” the editorial said, “are slim in the Senate and none in the White House.”

Still, it went on, the House passage amounted to a symbolic victory as it is the first time a house of Congress has passed such a bill since one was first introduced 30 years ago, amid growing acceptance of gays in society. The editorial went on to cite a Gallup poll last year finding that 89 percent of Americans believe homosexuals should have equal opportunities for jobs.

Slowly this issue is moving toward codification in law. It is in the halls of Congress and the Arizona Legislature where this battle must be ultimately won, not in city halls, where such victories would have far more symbolic value — and less practical application in the real lives of GLBT persons.

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