Tempe modifies city charter to protect LGBT city workers

A group of supporters of Prop 475 gather at Salut Kitchen Bar for a post-election party. (Photo Courtesy of Sheila Kloefkorn) A group of supporters of Prop 475 gather at Salut Kitchen Bar for a post-election party. (Photo Courtesy of Sheila Kloefkorn)

Tempe voters approved a change to their city charter Tuesday that banned discrimination against city workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, becoming the first Arizona city to make this step.

The voter-approved change comes after the Tempe City Council approved an ordinance outlawing discrimination against the LGBT community in places like housing, employment and public accommodations in February.

Tempe City Councilmember Kolby Granville said the proposition, which also expanded protection based on military veteran status, was significant, because it had the support of roughly 70 percent of those who voted Tuesday.

"It's an important and powerful gesture," Granville said. "I think that gesture is that Tempe residents overwhelmingly and the City of Tempe overwhelmingly want all of its residents to be treated equally. Certainly in this time that speaks very highly of the quality of residents we have."

While approval of Proposition 475 didn't change the way Tempe operates because of the previous ordinance, it does ensure that the decision cannot be reversed without a vote from residents, he said.

"The big thing about last night was the affirmation that this is something they want as a whole, and that four councilmembers voting at a dais are no longer in power to change this," Granville said. "It is permanent."

Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff also have non-discrimination ordinances in place in their cities.

Equal Opportunity Specialist for Phoenix Ira McCullough said the Phoenix City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that added sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes for public accommodations, housing, employment and several other areas in March 2013.

Since the ordinance was passed, there have been complaints and inquiries filed about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, McCullough said.

Sheila Kloefkorn, Human Rights Campaign volunteer and Tempe resident, said the changing of the charter and the ordinance in February is helping to change the atmosphere in Tempe and Arizona.

"It enables the city to attract and maintain top talent," she said. "It makes other organizations who are thinking about having conferences in Tempe or moving their business to Tempe think, 'Wow, this is a city that really embraces diversity and is a world class city."

Kloefkorn also said the courageous actions on the part of the Tempe City Council and voters proves that people want to make changes and be more accepting of all people.

"This is also the first time our rights have been on the ballot and been successful," she said. "It bodes well for having a similar kind of state-wide initiative."

Reach the reporter at sgslade@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @shelbygslade

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