No one should have to fear losing their job or their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That’s a matter of fundamental fairness. And it’s also a fairly simple concept. Several of Boise’s largest employers — Micron, Hewlett-Packard, Idaho Power, J.R. Simplot and St. Luke’s Health System — have such anti-discrimination policies on the books. In 2006, Boise City Hall adopted a similar policy for municipal employees.
The Boise City Council can take the next logical and sound step on Tuesday. A city anti-discrimination ordinance — addressing employment, housing and public accommodation at a place of business — comes up for a third reading and a final vote.
It’s a compassionate ordinance — but also a balanced and artfully simple ordinance. It deserves a yes vote.
AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE
It’s easy, but misleading, to look at the Boise ordinance in the context of state politics. In February, a Senate committee tabled a statewide anti-discrimination bill without even a hearing — to the outrage of nearly 300 supporters who crowded the committee room in a show of support.
But the Boise ordinance was in the works even before the Senate’s debacle, says Council President Maryanne Jordan. She began working on the idea about a year ago, after complaints of a Downtown “gay-bashing” incident. The victims did not want to pursue a criminal case, Jordan said, because they didn’t want to appear in court — and put their jobs at risk.
No one should have to choose between seeking justice and protecting their paycheck. And no community worthy of the name would put its residents in such a position.
Yes, passage of a Boise anti-discrimination ordinance would stand in stark contrast to the Senate’s gutlessness. But, as Jordan rightly says, “This was important to Boise regardless.” It is. This ordinance serves a specific purpose and addresses a demonstrated issue.
A SIMPLE APPROACH
If this ordinance works as intended, Boiseans might not even see it in action.
When Jordan and council member Lauren McLean began looking at the idea, they studied some of the more than 125 ordinances in effect elsewhere. They heard a recurring theme: Focus on mediation.
This ordinance does just that. After a police investigation and legal review of a dispute, parties are encouraged to mediate. If mediation fails or if the parties refuse, a criminal charge can be filed. If the mediation succeeds, the settlement will remain confidential, unless both parties agree to go public.
A closed mediation process makes a lot of sense. It respects the privacy of those filing a complaint. It affords a landlord or a business with an avenue to reach an equitable, quiet settlement. McLean says the goal is to change behaviors rather than levy fines; that also makes sense.
And both parties can seek redress through the criminal justice system. Violating the anti-discrimination ordinance is a misdemeanor, while a complainant who files a false claim may also face charges.
A CITY’S STATEMENT
Scenarios aside, the ordinance’s day-to-day impacts may be minimal. Sandpoint became the first Idaho city to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; the ordinance went into effect in January and has resulted in only one complaint, Jordan said.
But this doesn’t detract from the value of Boise’s ordinance. The peace of mind it gives to gay and transgender residents. The message of inclusiveness it sends beyond Boise’s borders, to newcomers and new business. (The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce supports the proposal.)
We agree with McLean. By promoting a safe, healthy community, an anti-discrimination ordinance is one component of a “21st century city.”
Its time has come.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email email@example.com.