The city of Flagstaff is moving forward on an anti-discrimination ordinance that for the first time would cover sexual orientation, gender identity and veterans in employment and public accommodations
Exempted would be religious-based organizations, "expressive groups" like the Boy Scouts and, at least for the moment, businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
Kathryn Jim, president of Northern Arizona Pride Association, said she was happy with the Council action on Tuesday.
"We are very pleased with the outcome of the proposed ordinance, not only for the GLBTQ community but those that do identify their sexual orientation and their expression here in Flagstaff," said Kathryn Jim, president of Northern Arizona Pride Association. "This monumental draft will set the direction for those in other communities who are searching for protection when it comes to GLBTQ discrimination."
Councilmember Karla Brewster tried without success to convince her peers to support drafting an ordinance covering any business with more than one employee, explaining many Flagstaff businesses have fewer than 15 employees.
Other exemptions include state, county and federal agencies operating inside the city limits.
City officials have been given legal advice that the newly created protected classes could not be extended to housing, which is covered by federal laws.
Mayor Jerry Nabours wanted to outlaw any form of discrimination, suggesting harassment for being left-handed or bald should not be tolerated.
But the suggestion angered members of the audience. One man reminded Nabours that University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who died shortly after being pistol-whipped and tied to a fence, wasn't attacked for being left-handed.
Councilmember Coral Evans acknowledged the ordinance alone could not move hearts and minds.
"A law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me," she said, using a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
Several people told the council the issue was important enough to put aside their personal fears of speaking in a setting that required giving their name before a TV camera.
One young man, his voice breaking and near tears, told the Council he often came home from high school covered in bruises. His peers would attack him because he was gay.
Only one person out of the 20 who spoke before the Council said he was opposed to the Council drafting an ordinance, saying city's police department was stretched too thin to enforce the new law.
Several residents have spoken out against the drafting of an ordinance at other Council meetings.
The Council directed staff on Tuesday night to create a separate agency to handle and investigate complaints related to the civil rights ordinance if it is adopted.
If people are found guilty of violating the ordinance, they would face civil, not criminal, penalties -- most likely, some kind of fine.
A draft of the new ordinance is not expected to come back before the Council for at least several weeks.
Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.