The way Boise City Councilwomen Maryanne Jordan and Lauren McLean describe it, discrimination against gays and transsexuals undermines public safety, but thats just the start.
Its also bad for business.
When you drill down to the very core mission of any city, its public safety, Jordan said. And if employers dont feel like their employees that they may ask to come here or they might try to recruit here are going to feel safe in their community, then its got to be detrimental to us.
On Tuesday, Jordan and McLean will propose an ordinance that would prohibit firing people, kicking them out of their homes and refusing to serve them in public places because of their sexual identity.
Occasionally, those types of discrimination do occur, Jordan and McLean said.
About a year ago, Jordan said, a group of Boise residents were victims of a gay-bashing incident Downtown. They were afraid to go to the police, she said, because they feared participating in an investigation or prosecution could alert their employers to their sexuality and cost them their jobs.
It was just unacceptable to me that anyone in the community could not report a crime on their person for fear of losing their employment, Jordan said.
Meanwhile, McLean was beginning to wonder whether companies looking to open new facilities saw Boises lack of legal protection for gays and transsexuals and crossed the city off their lists. Members of the business community confirmed that can happen.
On Thursday, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce formally endorsed the ordinance.
Earlier this year, the economic development issue came up in a conversation between Jordan and McLean, and the two began piecing together the framework of the measure.
The councilors looked at other cities in the region, including Sandpoint, Missoula and several in Utah. Sandpoint is the only Idaho city with a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books.
Some officials in those cities said nondiscrimination laws are a matter of course in modern times. And they said enforcing the ordinance isnt as labor-intensive as you might think.
Sandpoint, in particular, has had virtually no cases. Jordan and McLean expect a similar outcome in Boise, which they say is already a tolerant place. In fact, a lot of residents believe its already illegal to fire people or kick them out of their homes for being gay or transsexual, the women said.
City spokesman Adam Park said a recent survey commissioned by the city found that an overwhelming majority 86 percent of Ada County voters believe that firing someone for reasons of sexuality or gender identity should be illegal.
THE NEXT STEP
McLean said the ordinance is Boises way of announcing, on paper, what most residents already believe.
In my mind, were just taking the step to codify something thats very important, but that the public clearly expects us to codify, she said.
In addition to protecting employment, housing and public accommodation, the ordinance would prohibit interfering with or retaliating against people who file complaints or participate in the ordinances process.
Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But putting people in jail isnt the point, McLean said.
EDUCATION VS. PROSECUTION
The proposed ordinance includes a provision that allows for elimination of charges if both the victim and the accused successfully participate in mediation. Sensitivity training and defendants commitment to stop discriminating also can result in reduced charges.
McLean said she hopes the structure of the proposed ordinance will encourage education rather than prosecution.
The law would not apply to churches, religious schools, groups such as the Boy Scouts of America, and local, state and federal governments. Existing law limits how the city can regulate those organizations.
Many governments, groups and businesses already have their own nondiscrimination policies in place. If Boises ordinance encourages other organizations to follow suit, thats fine with Jordan.
We would be thrilled if this would serve as kind of an example and a template for others to use, she said.
Sven Berg: 377-6275