Local business leaders, lawmakers and community members believe further progress needs to be made to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in Arizona following the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling made on June 15, which extended protections against employment and workplace discrimination to the LGBTQ+ community.
ONE Community, an organization aimed to advance equality for the LGBTQ+ community in Arizona businesses, held the Point of Pride Summit webinar on June 26 to discuss the ruling and the next steps to further eliminate discrimination in the LGBTQ+ community.
The Supreme Court recently ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment and work based on sex, also effectively prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"We know that based on the Supreme Court decision, it is now unlawful to discriminate in employment nationwide, and this ruling is really important in the state of Arizona, which is still one of 27 states... where it's not unlawful to discriminate in housing and public accommodations," Angela Hughey, president of ONE Community and moderator of the panel said.
President of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Glenn Hamer, one of the five panelists, said the ruling will trickle down to all levels of government, but that Arizona laws and enforcement need to reflect the state's changing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals in all aspects of life.
How ruling affects LGBTQ Arizonans, businesses
President of Greater Phoenix Leadership Neil Giuliano, a panelist at the summit, called the ruling a "leveling of the playing field from an employment standpoint," and said it will further incentivize LGBTQ+ workers to seek employment in Arizona, a historically conservative state.
Madelaine Adelman, a professor at ASU's School of Social Transformation, said the ruling will play a key role in advancing LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace for all Americans.
"This applies to whether you're working at a part-time job while you're still in high school, or if you're doing a post-retirement kind of employment," Adelman said. "So it will impact everyone in the workplace. And in particular, I'm really interested in schools as workplaces."
She said that the tens of thousands of employees working in Arizona schools are included under the ruling, and that everyone, either directly or indirectly, will be impacted because of working in a school community.
Adelman also noted that most consumers "want to know what the policies and values are of the places where they're doing business" and praised private sector initiatives that support LGBTQ+ individuals without government precedent, like ONE Community's Unity Pledge.
"It is in the best interest (of employers) to become advocates for the Equality Act or for a state-level anti-discrimination policy that would be inclusive of our entire lives," she said.
Tyler Conaway, Global Chair of PayPal Pride and one of the panelists who spoke at the summit, noted that the company has found it difficult to recruit and retain LGBTQ+ talent simply because of the state’s reputation.
"Potential candidates, they are going to grill you about, 'How are you inclusive? How are my health benefits protected? What are your facilities like?'" Conaway said. "But, (if) you think about it, the bigger facility is the state in which you live."
Eliminating LGBTQ discrimination in housing, accommodations next
State Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr. (D-Tuscon), another panelist, said in an interview that Arizona had already implemented anti-discrimination protections for age, race, religion and political affiliation prior to the ruling, but is one of a handful of states that does not legally protect its LGBTQ+ residents in housing and public accommodations.
"When you look at a lot of places, you'll see Equal Opportunity Lenders, you'll see Equal Opportunity Housing," he said. "The one thing that is not guaranteed by law, however, is that you will not be discriminated against for being trans or for being a member of the LGBTQ community."
Hernandez said that many people have anecdotal instances where a same-sex couple is seeking housing, only to learn that the prospective housing had been occupied once a landlord learned of their sexual orientation.
"There's nothing to protect people who are trying to buy housing, and I think housing is one of the most fundamental things that we need," Hernandez said. "So, to not have simple protections for these LGBTQ communities, just in housing, I think is a big, glaring error in our state laws."
Adelman noted the high levels of poverty and youth homelessness within the LGBTQ+ community, and that those who are at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities suffer more from discriminatory practices.
"Today's rallying cry is, 'Stay safe at home,' but home is not safe for everyone," Adelman said. "And part of the reason that not everyone is safe at home is because of the lack of legal protection."
Hernandez Jr. said that he, state Sen. Kate McGee(R-Phoenix), and other state lawmakers have been pushing blanket anti-discrimination bills in the state legislature to extend protections for LGBTQ+ individuals to housing and accommodations for the past three years.
He said public accommodations like hospitals, restaurants, retail shops and transit should not be permitted to discriminate against members of the public for any reason.
"When you are a public... business, and you are open to everybody, you shouldn't be allowed to discriminate just because you don't like a certain group of people," Hernandez Jr. said.
Hernandez Jr. also cited the recent Brush & Nib decision by the Arizona Supreme Court as a “pathway for people who... want a license to discriminate... if they just file a lawsuit and follow certain steps.”
In 2019, the court determined that two Christian artists were violated by Phoenix's anti-discrimination ordinance that prohibits businesses from refusing service to same-sex customers on the basis of religion.
However, the ruling was limited to the creation of custom wedding invitations and was not a universal exemption from Phoenix's ordinance for their business.
'A complicated, mixed bag of realities'
Marlon Bailey, an associate professor at ASU's School of Social Transformation, said that the ruling is a crucial step forward but cautioned against heralding it as all-encompassing.
"We still face several challenges because of the limits of the law that's unable to see the intersections of race and gender and sexuality, and the ways that structures within employment, within healthcare... can still (perpetuate) discrimination and forms of exclusion that the law does not really cover or is unable to address," Bailey said.
He added that, "LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ people of color, are vulnerable to a whole range of forms of discrimination and exclusion from public accommodations and harassment from the public sector."
Bailey, like the panelists, hopes that LGBTQ+ individuals recognize the recent ruling is "a complicated, mixed bag of realities," being both an accomplishment and a marker that there is still a long way to go.
"I just caution that we do not rest on our laurels, if you will, that we not just look to the Supreme Court decisions, and that we actually, to create a better reality for LGBTQ people, particularly in the state of Arizona... stay on top of the legislature and... increase and enhance education," Bailey said.
Sam Ellefson is a managing editor for State Press Magazine, contributing articles between editing and guiding a team of writers. Sam is a junior getting a degree in journalism with minors in film and media studies and political science.