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Phoenix City Council Approves LGBT and Disability Anti-Discrimination Measure

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After hours of debate, the Phoenix City Council voted 5 to 3 to approve a measure that expands the city's anti-discrimination measure to include members of the LGBT and disabled community.

Councilmen Sal DiCiccio, Jim Waring and Bill Gates voted against the hotly contested measure.

Councilman Michael Nowakowski, participating on the phone while at the airport, missed two flights in order to express his support for the ordinance. He had to take the last available flight and didn't get a chance to vote.

The issue drew strong support and opposition from Phoenix residents, business and religious leaders.

There were concerns that the expanded measure would violate the rights of churches, but a further clarification seemed to assuage those issues.

Some speakers took their time in the public venue to express their views about the immorality of homosexuality, others shared their personal experiences of discriminations as gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

There was much discussion by opponents of the measure that language in ordinance created a loophole that would allow men to dress as women and infiltrate the women's restroom and attack women and children.

Supporters dismissed those concerns, and several expressed outrage that members of the LGBT community were equated with sexual predators and deviants.

"This isn't about bathroom security," said Councilman Danny Valenzuela, adding that it was about human rights and equal opportunity for all.

Councilwoman Thelda Williams also agreed that the measure didn't have anything to do with restrooms: "I don't think for one second this is going to affect the safety of restrooms."

During the meeting, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton tired to keep control of the passionate audience that repeatedly cheered and jeered after speakers expressed widely differing views.

He also wrangled with Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who insisted it was his right to question speakers. DiCiccio insisted the amendment to the city's ordinance has been rushed. He also took barbs from the audience who do not believe he is doing the right thing opposing the item.

"I have a right to speak," DiCiccio complained.

People yelled at him to "shut up" and to allow the public to speak.

Councilman Tom Simplot was fuming during the meeting each time DiCiccio started speaking. He repeatedly pointed out that each council member was going to have 10 minutes to speak after the public hearing, but DiCiccio wouldn't relent.

The crowd, however, would not let DiCiccio continue, and he eventually gave up, muttering complaints that those in opposition didn't get equal time to weigh in on the measure.

Councilmen Bill Gates and Jim Waring said they couldn't support the measure because the measure criminalizes employment discrimination. Gates said it weighed heavily on his mind, as did the potential to criminalize free speech and expression.

City Attorney Gary Verburg noted that the language people have been expressing concern about has been in place since the 1990's.

Simplot -- when it was time for council members to speak -- said he was a proud member of the gay community, and said that many of the opponents' arguments may have been valid -- back in 1977.

He praised Stanton, because after 20 years of trying to get this passed, it was Stanton's leadership that made it happen.

Despite claims by DiCiccio that no outreach had been done, Stanton pointed out that thousands of businesses were contacted, as well as business associations.

"We're just catching up" with this measure, Stanton said, adding that approving the measure sends the right message to everyone in Phoenix.

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