Mesa City Council

Mesa City Council approved moving a proposed non-discrimination ordinance forward and is expected to vote on the hotly-debated measure Monday.

If Mesa City Council joins other big Arizona cities by passing a non-discrimination ordinance tomorrow, March 1, public comments at last week’s meeting suggest few will be truly happy.

Some will be upset if the city excludes smaller businesses. The first draft included all businesses. 

Later study sessions adjusted that, first up to businesses with 15 employees or more, then back down to include all but those with five or fewer employees.

Others are furious that the city is even considering the regulation.

David Land said he was outraged over language in the proposed ordinance that “Gender identity means the actual or perceived gender-related identity, expression, appearance, or mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

An emotional Land stated the last part of that is wrong: “God does not make mistakes,” he said.

Land, pastor of New Life Assembly of God, warned that passing the law would “open a Pandora’s box of perversion and sin.

“If you pass this, the city of Mesa will be rife for the judgment of God.”

Later, Lisa Winger cited her religious beliefs in supporting the anti-discrmination law.

“The God I believe in would want love and equality for all his children,” Winger said.

The ordinance council is to vote on at 5:45 p.m. Monday would add to the city code language “prohibiting discrimination in public accommodation, employment and housing on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, veteran’s status, marital status and familial status and establishing penalties for violations thereof.”

The virtual meeting can be viewed online at youtube.com/user/cityofmesa11/live

Those who wish to weigh in can call 888-788-0099 or 877-853-5247 (meeting ID 5301232921) or submit comments up to an hour before the meeting at mesaaz.gov/government/city-council-meetings/online-meeting-comment-card.

At the Feb. 22 council meeting introducing the ordinance, more than 50 residents called or emailed their often-passionate thoughts.

The reaction was about evenly split between those who said Mesa has no business passing such a law and those who encouraged the city to protect its diverse population.

Ron Williams, a Visit Mesa board member and 20-year Mesa resident, said:

“Adopting this non-discrimination ordinance will make a statement to the world that Mesa is open to everyone and will send a message to those who would discriminate against citizens that Mesa is not going to have it.”

Others who spoke in support of the measure included a teacher, a parent of “gay and straight children,” a parent of a transgender child and a transgender parent.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community and parent of a transgender child, I support this,” said Shane Cooper. “I want to know my child will not become another transgender death statistic. As a Realtor, I feel this is a needed step.”

Cooper added passing the ordinance will lead to “an influx of LGBTQ residents who will bring more diversity and culture … this will only be a win-win.”

Christiana Hammond, who identified as a “transgender parent,” noted neighboring cities Tempe and Phoenix have similar ordinances.

“A non-discrimination ordinance would signal to the entire city people like me are accepted,” Hammond said. “I wouldn’t have to hide anymore.”

Exclusions to the ordinance include federal government and state agencies, religious, public and charter schools and religious organizations “when furthering (the) organization’s purpose.”

At an earlier study session, City Attorney Jim Smith noted ordinances banning discrimination in Tempe, Flagstaff, Tucson and other cities were reviewed while Mesa’s was crafted.

Answering a question from Mayor John Giles, who wanted to know if the proposed ordinance would allow “a person with bad intent allowed to go into a women’s restroom and do mischief or intimidate someone,” city Assistant Attorney Jacqueline Ganier emphatically said the ordinance is not a “free pass” for criminal behavior. 

“Any nefarious leering, anything like that is not now and would not be allowed,” Ganier stated.

But several who spoke at last week’s meeting were not buying that.

“This is very unfair to children to put them in a situation that can cause them harm,” said Nancy Ashcroft. “This is a perfect storm for pedophile activity.”

Matthew Watson agreed and went further.

“We as a community will not stand for this type of perversion,” Watson said.

“My wife and daughter’s privacy is being violated if this passes. I’m already concerned for them because of human trafficking … now we are seeing this disgusting ordinance being considered.”

The proposed ordinance seems to have a strong chance of becoming law.

Though none spoke at the Feb. 22 meeting, at previous study sessions, most council members and Giles gave strong support to an ordinance outlawing discrimination.

By a 6-1 vote, Councilwoman Jen Duff’s motion to move the ordinance forward – with an amendment making it applicable to businesses of five or more – was approved. 

Councilman Kevin Thompson cast the lone vote against.

“I really don’t believe we need an NDO in Mesa,” Thompson said, at an earlier study session. “The emails we’ve been getting show it’s very divisive … I hate that we have something like this that’s driving a wedge between our citizens.”

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