By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
In Arizona you can still be fired for who you love, date or perhaps are just attracted to. This is true even if you don’t directly disclose this information and your employer finds out through something like a facebook post. It is also still legal to discriminate in housing and other areas. How can we have things like pride festivals where thousands of attendees support same sex relationships and then have to tell everyone to hide who they are from their employer or landlord?
Arizona has moved forward in many ways regarding acceptance of same sex couples. As of 2001 Arizona removed sodomy (relations between the same sex) as a crime; the same act also made oral sex (both were considered crimes against nature) legal. It also removed criminal penalties for two adults living together while having sex yet unmarried. Another vague law that was removed preventing lewd or lascivious acts which involved consenting adults touching with the intent of arousing, appealing to or gratifying the lust, passion or sexual desires of either of such persons; courts seem find this o.k. when child production was sought as a result of these acts. Until this point jail was possible for any of these situations.
While the removal of laws against sexual contact helped both LGBT and straight couples to have adult relationships without fear of arrest, they did little for those seeking employment, housing, and freedom for bullying or harassment. The military was barred as an employer for LGBT individuals, often sought by youth as a way to fund college; homeownership and healthcare for many adults was closed to LGBT Americans until 2011 with the removal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the federal level. However, many compare the situation for LGBT in states like Arizona to be the same with no right to marry and no protections if they are open about who they are.
This is slowly changing at the city level. Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson have passed non-discrimination ordinances and Bisbee has passed an ordinance allowing civil unions between same sex couples. This year an initiative campaign seeks to allow marriage between same sex couples, and the supreme court may rule state and federal laws, such as Arizona’s law defining marriage as between a male and a female, as illegal. These are important victories. Marriage would allow same sex partners medical benefits and tax-filing as a couple; both of which require reporting that you are a LGBT to your employer. A similar situation exists for housing. Reporting that you are married to a same sex partner is still legal grounds for termination or being denied housing.
ONE Community has responded by launching a campaign called the Unity Pledge that asks businesses to sign that they will not discriminate in employment based on LGBT status. The pledge points out the importance for businesses in being able to attract talent, without having to draw from a smaller pool due to LGBT employers seeking work in other states. Last year, a lesbian couple seem to have been asked to leave a downtown Phoenix restaurant for kissing in public. This image may send a signal to LGBT people not to travel to Arizona and to take their tourist dollars elsewhere. Along with concerns that LGBT people may be seeking housing elsewhere, this sort of policy is considered dangerous to Arizona, with a large inventory of vacant homes and as a spot known for tourism with winter snowbirds, the Grand Canyon and year round golf. By gathering this support Arizona’s economy is expected to benefit by showing Arizona employers, housing, travel and tourism are open to business for all.
Three hundred companies of varying sizes have given their support. Signers have included Petsmart, Allstate Insurance, Nationwide Insurance, Liberty Mutual and other large companies and some have ensured that their HR policies include non-discrimination language nationally. Many local businesses that celebrate independence have joined such as Local First Arizona and some of their member companies like Wist Office Products. Local independent contractors can also sign the pledge. Those interested can find the pledge at www.unitypledge.com.
The push for change seems strong in Arizona, with LGBT events, such as, Harvey Milk Day and the Pride and the Equality Walk each summer, bringing the public out in support. Equality for LGBT individuals seems to be getting closer. Arizona isn’t leading the way but groups like ONE Community and those signing petitions to allow marriage between same sex couples are helping to move the state forward.
Correction, July 1, 2013: Originally it was stated that Farmers Insurance had signed the Unity Pledge. This is incorrect. Farmers Insurance has not signed up at a corporate level yet individual agents have signed. In addition, Allstate Insurance and Nationwide Insurance have signed up at a corporate level. They were not previously included in the article.