Each of Flagstaff’s three elected state representatives voted for a controversial religious freedoms bill this week that many fear will legalize discrimination against homosexuals. Sen. Chester Crandell and Rep. Brenda Barton gave their support to the measure, as did Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, who was a primary sponsor.
But in Flagstaff, opposition was swift.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community said they fear that Senate Bill 1062, if signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, will override the protections that the city of Flagstaff has enacted in recent years.
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, also came out against the bill in comments to the Daily Sun. “The Legislature ought to be creating jobs, not driving them away,” she said. “This bill will hurt Arizonans, and I hope the governor will veto it.”
While the State of Arizona does not recognize members of the LGBT community as a protected class, the Flagstaff City Council unanimously passed a civil rights ordinance one year ago.
In the ordinance, the city gave legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment and public accommodations. That includes places like hotels and restaurants, theaters and taxi cabs. Exempted are religious-based organizations, and “expressive groups” such as the Boy Scouts. Businesses of fewer than 15 employees and government agencies are also exempted.
Flagstaff City Attorney Michelle D'Andrea is researching the state bill to see how it might impact the city’s ordinance.
“We’re definitely looking into it,” said Kimberly Ott, spokesperson for the city. “We do have some concerns.”
Ott said that the bill wasn’t something the city was anticipating, so it hadn’t previously been on their legislative agenda. “We’re still trying to figure out what impacts it could have to our community,” she said.
Those protections were hard fought by the local LGBT community in Flagstaff, which began pushing the ordinance in 2007. Kathryn Jim is a spokesperson for Flagstaff Pride and helped push the city’s ordinance. She said she worries that, if the governor signs SB 1062, it will jeopardize their status as a protected class in Flagstaff.
“It’s a dangerous piece of legislation and it’s putting things backward to the 1950s, creating segregation,” Jim said.
But she said that in recent days there has been an outpouring of support from local business owners and residents asking how they can lend support.
Many Flagstaff businesses posted messages to social media condemning the law and vowing to reject it. One of those business owners was Eilise Fisher of Fizzy Bella Bath Boutique downtown.
“The idea of a gay couple going out to dinner and not being served because of who they are and who they love bothers me,” Fisher said. “We need to be moving forward not back. This is the new civil rights issue. This isn't the 1950s, and that mindset needs to go.”
“Our constitution already allows for freedom of religion; this country was founded on that principle,” she added.
Jim said she cherishes that Flagstaff is different than many places in the state.
She said that even the local franchise owner of Chick-fil-A recently reached out to Flagstaff Pride, unrelated to the bill, and agreed to be a sponsor of this year’s Pride in the Pines.
Jim said that her organization’s annual event brought in an estimated $680,000 in revenue to the businesses in Flagstaff last year over the weekend.
“I go downtown before and after Flagstaff Pride and the businesses say it’s one of the best events because the people come and buy. They come and eat. They tip well,” she said.
“We truly are a place that celebrates our pride in the pines,” she added later.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.