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Fledgling Human Relations Commission Moves Forward at a Slow Pace

September 23, 1985|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

Six months after it was born in a storm of controversy, the San Diego County Human Relations Commission has begun inching quietly and cautiously toward its goal of reducing ethnic, racial and cultural conflict in the county.

After two meetings, the commission's 15 members--three appointed by each county supervisor--have yet to pick a chairman or agree on which issues to address first. The panel hasn't even decided how it should choose those issues.

By most commissioners' accounts, it will be January or February before the group makes its first try at resolving a conflict.

"We're still basically an unorganized commission with no permanent officers or permanent staff," said the Rev. Robert Ard, pastor of Christ Church of San Diego. "I thought we would have had those by now. But we still maintain the potential for doing some real good."

Once the commission is organized, it probably will address a range of issues as diverse as the members themselves, said Ard and other commissioners interviewed by The Times. The members include a physician who has been a leader in the fight for gay rights and a fundamentalist Christian minister from rural North County, a counselor active in feminist causes and a homemaker described by the supervisor who appointed her as "employed full time by her family."

The commissioners' average age is 45, the youngest being a 30-year-old private detective and the oldest a 67-year-old woman who directs senior citizens' programs for the city of San Diego. The commission includes 10 men and five women--10 whites, two Latinos, two Asians and a black.

The Human Relations Commission was the brainchild of Supervisor Leon Williams, who said when proposing it in January that such a group was needed to reduce tensions resulting from "prejudice, intolerance and discrimination against individuals or groups."

Williams' proposal quickly came under fire from leaders of the fundamentalist Christian community, who said they feared the commission would be a vehicle for "legitimizing" the gay life style, because the elimination of discrimination based on "sexual orientation" was originally listed among the panel's goals.

When Supervisors Paul Eckert and Brian Bilbray said they would not support such a statement, Williams altered his proposed commission's charge, deleting the list of types of discrimination to be battled and replacing it with a broader, less specific mission that was approved with little opposition.

Dr. Brad Truax, a physician whose Hillcrest practice caters to San Diego's gay community, was one of Williams' three appointments to the commission. Truax said he has seen no sign that his fellow commissioners will be reluctant to discuss homosexual rights--or any other issue--once the group's work begins.

"There has been no 'homophobia' displayed by the commission," Truax said. "There has been a remarkably broad outlook on serving the entire community."

Truax said he gets along fine with the Rev. Timothy Kight, the conservative pastor of Mission Evangelical Free Church in Vista. "I like Tim," Truax said. "I think he's a sharp person."

Kight, who says he sees himself as the "commission philosopher," said there is no issue he believes the commission should not discuss. He divides the possible issues into those he says are "value related," such as abortion, and those that are "non-value-related," such as racism.

"I'm not afraid of trying to identify areas of difference," Kight said. "If there's going to be a solution, that's where it is going to start."

Although he said he would not object to a discussion of the rights of homosexuals, Kight vowed to stop any effort to have the commission give gays an official stamp of approval.

"The Human Relations Commission cannot and must not take a stand to legitimize the homosexual life style," Kight said.

Truax is quick to point out that his interests are not limited to the problems of the gay community. Domestic violence, racial violence and discrimination based upon a person's health are among the other issues with which he hopes the commission will grapple.

Interviews with all 15 commissioners produced a list of the issues that may be among the first taken up by the group. They included police-community relations, the shortage of senior citizen housing, border violence and problems of the homeless and mentally ill. Also mentioned were child abuse, problems in the growing Indochinese community and conflicts over abortion.

Just how those issues will be addressed remains unclear. Although the commission is expected to hold public hearings and compile reports, nothing of substance will be done until after a work plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors. That could come as late as next May.

The delay has frustrated several commissioners who say they would have preferred to be out in the community by now, listening to people's concerns.

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