With a unanimous City Council vote on April 20, Scottsdale became the eighth Arizona city – and second in 2021 – to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance with protections for the LGBTQ community and other protected classes.
The city joins Winslow, Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Mesa, although Mesa’s month-old ordinance is now the subject of a voter referendum.
“I’m very, very pleased with the leadership of the council regarding this policy – it’s been a long time coming,” said former Scottsdale Councilmember Virginia Korte, who began pushing for a non-discrimination ordinance six years ago.
“Making an ordinance that creates a safe place for all people to live, work and visit and play is important for Scottsdale,” she said.
The new ordinance expands on existing federal and state non-discrimination protections by adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also extends anti-discrimination protections to people working for businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
The ordinance prohibits employment discrimination in most businesses, public accommodations and all appointed and elected positions based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It includes limited exceptions for individuals renting out a room within their personal home and exceptions in employment and public accommodations for religious organizations and private-membership organizations that have received IRS nonprofit status.
Council dropped a proposed revision to include veterans as a protected class at the request of the city’s Veterans Advisory Commission.
Council can enforce complaints of discrimination through a mediation process. If the complaint is deemed valid, there would be civil charges, including warnings and incremental fines with a cap at $2,500.
Following the vote, Mayor David Ortega wasted no time, signing the ordinance shortly after the April 20 Council meeting.
“We are raising awareness, guarding individualism, providing safe work and living spaces,” Ortega said. “With the sincere effort, we improve Arizona one city at a time.”
Korte believes her proposal had public support six years ago but that it failed due to lack of political will on Council.
“I know it had community support six years ago – the business community came out strongly for it and so did the residents,” Korte said. “It was the leadership at the time that blocked the passage of this…in the myths surrounding a non-discrimination ordinance.”
Korte’s efforts stalled following a push by some on Council to exempt small businesses.
Because those businesses make up around 90 percent of all businesses in Scottsdale, Korte argued it would have neutered the ordinance.
The Scottsdale Human Relations Commissions revived the discussion last fall but the effort stalled at the Council level, where many of the same members who rebuffed the effort in 2015 still held office.
That changed following the November 2020 election when Scottsdale voters selected four new representatives to replace outgoing Mayor Jim Lane and Councilmembers Korte, Suzanne Klapp and Guy Phillips.
Lane and Phillips had previously opposed Korte’s non-discrimination ordinance proposal.
All four new members – including Mayor David Ortega and Councilmembers Betty Janik, Tom Durham and Tammy Caputi – told the Progress on the campaign trail that they supported the new anti-discrimination ordinance proposal, all but assuring it would pass when they took office in 2021.
“I am just so thrilled to be here tonight for this historic moment; it’s been a long time in coming,” said three-term Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who supported the issue when Korte was on Council.
“I want to express my thanks to all of the people who never gave up hope and have continued to work hard to move this ordinance forward,” she said.
The new ordinance also appears to have widespread support in the community.
Of the 14 people who called in to the Council meeting to comment on the proposal, 11 favored passage.
Resident Carmen Jandacek said “we need equal protections, nothing more, nothing less.”
“No resident or visitor should have to fear or question whether or not they’ll be served when they walk through the doors of a business; nobody should be turned away from a business simply because of who they are,” she said.
Resident Mindy Butler-Christensen said she supported the ordinance for her daughter, an LGBTQ college student who graduated from Scottsdale Unified School District.
“I’ve done what I can to protect my child within the four walls of my home,” she added. “Now I implore you to do everything you can to protect her within the boundaries of our larger home, which is the city of Scottsdale.”
Those who opposed the bill argued it could violate constitutional freedoms, unfairly discriminate against unprotected groups or pose privacy concerns.
Arizona Corporation Commissioner Jim O’Connor, a Scottsdale resident, asked the Council to refer the issue to voters, because he believed the Council itself didn’t have the power to impose this type of legislation.
Scottsdale Planning Commissioner George Ertel argued the ordinance was incomplete and needed to include protections for other groups and ensure it can’t be used to violate residents’ Constitutional rights.
“It was explained to me that if this proposal isn’t passed tonight, it will look like the council doesn’t support LGBTQ protections,” Ertel said. “Well, if it does pass tonight without improvement, it will look like the council only supports LGBTQ protections and not all of the residents of Scottsdale as it should.”
Another comment came from Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group that has long-opposed LGBTQ-rights legislation.
Before City Council, Herrod echoed criticisms expressed by a Mesa group currently fighting that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
She said that gender identity protections in the ordinance would allow transgender women to use women’s restrooms, which she believed would amount to a violation of privacy.
That argument did not sway the City Council.
“I received one very insightful email from a female constituent, and she said that in her experience, women have had much more to fear from heterosexual men than they do from transsexual women,” Councilman Tom Durham said. “And my experience in talking to women over my life tells me that that is true.”
Durham, who is an attorney by trade, also rebuffed arguments by other opponents that the ordinance’s protections could violate free speech and religious freedom protections in the U.S. and Arizona constitutions.
“And the reason for that is if there is a conflict between the First Amendment and this ordinance, the First Amendment wins,” he said.
Despite arguments from detractors that the ordinance could infringe on religious freedoms or harm small business, faith leaders and the Scottsdale business community also showed support for the ordinance, arguing it would also increase inclusivity in the city and could only bolster the city’s tourism industry.
Rabbi Robert Kravitz, past president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, and Andrew Ponder Williams, a campus minister at Arizona State University, both spoke in favor of the ordinance as did representatives from Zillow and the Marriott hotel in downtown Scottsdale.
“I am one of over 150 business signers of an open letter in favor of the equal treatment policy for LGBTQ people...I support this ordinance because I support a Scottsdale that is open for business to everyone, that is welcoming to everyone and is inclusive of everyone,” said Kari Archer, general manager of the Scottsdale Marriott Old Town.
According to state law, the ordinance will not go into effect until 30 days after the Council vote.
During that 30-day window, it could be challenged by opponents seeking to hold a referendum campaign to send the ordinance before Scottsdale voters.
Opponents would have to turn in a referendum petition to the City Clerk’s office with valid signatures from 15,667 eligible Scottsdale voters by May 20 to put the ordinance on a future ballot, according to City Clerk Ben Lane.
As of April 22, no organized movement has announced plans to stage a referendum campaign in Scottsdale, but Korte said she believes a challenge is coming.
“I believe that there will be an attempt, though I think it’s going to be much more difficult in Scottsdale because of our voter turnout,” she said.
The number of signatures needed to force a referendum is determined by the votes cast in the last City Council or mayoral election, which is why Scottsdale requires more signatures than Mesa, despite being a much smaller city.
Herrod said her organization has no plans to challenge the ordinance.
“At this time, we are not planning to launch a referral. We do not have the capacity. Additionally, the Mesa referral is ongoing and will take resources to defend,” she said.