Statewide LGBTQ protections earn bipartisan support at Capitol

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Photo by Arizona Capitol Museum/@azcapitolmuseum | Twitter

In the wake of a 2019 Arizona Supreme Court ruling striking down a Phoenix requirement that companies can’t discriminate against LGBTQ customers, there is a bipartisan push at the Arizona Capitol to protect LGBTQ Arizonans.

Legislation introduced in both the state House of Representatives and Senate would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes, and bar discriminating against them in employment, housing and public accommodations. 

“Our current non-discriminatory law protects people based on a wide variety of characteristics, race, age, disability, national origin, gender and religion but it does not include sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, who sponsored Senate Bill 1321

In the House, Tucson Democrat Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a founding member of Arizona’s LGBTQ legislative caucus, introduced House Bill 2716.

At a Capitol press conference to announce the bills Thursday, Brophy McGee and Hernandez were joined by faith, civic and business leaders who collectively agreed that it was time for Arizona to join twenty other states and the District of Columbia in providing full protections to the LGBTQ community.

There are current laws in Phoenix, Tucson, Tempe, Flagstaff and several other cities that prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community, but they are not statewide laws. 

Legislators have attempted for many years to expand the state non-discriminatory law to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but have failed to do so year after year. In fact, Gov. Doug Ducey said in September 2019 that he won’t support any bill that expands the current state law.

But despite the opposition, Hernandez said this time is different as he believes the political reality is different than what it was in the last legislative session. 

“We are announcing a coalition of around 3,000 businesses that have signed the unity pledge, from big companies like American Express to small mom-and-pop coffee shops,” Hernandez said during the press conference. “We have over a dozen elected officials around the state who have been asking for this, and we have reached a critical point where we are at a different point now than we were last year.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday also released its annual state equality index, in which Arizona was ranked alongside 27 other states in the lowest-ranked category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” 

Opponents say the anti-discrimination measures violate the religious freedoms of Arizonans. One of them is the Center for Arizona Policy, an evangelical Christian advocacy group, which released a statement after the press conference calling the bill a “major constitutional dilemma.”

“Such laws demand girls and women share public restrooms, locker rooms, showers, even domestic violence shelters with biological men,” president of the group Cathi Herrod said in a statement. “They also force women to compete with biological men on women’s sports teams, clearly disadvantaging female athletes and rolling back decades of women’s achievements.”

But former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano believes it is important for Arizona to implement statewide protections in order to attract large organizations who value non-discriminatory laws. Giuliano also said it would allow Arizona to compete with its regional neighbors California, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, which all have statewide LGBTQ protections. 

Scottsdale Councilmember Virginia Korte echoed Guiliano and said this legislation would boost the chances of businesses opening or relocating to Arizona and in Scottsdale, where protections for LGBTQ is limited. 

“Large companies that are overwhelmingly inclusive, they want to open those locations in places where their employees have the same rights outside of the workplace just as they do inside the workplace,” Korte said.