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L.B. Council Ponders Gay Job-Bias Ban

May 14, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A proposal that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation drew both praise and criticism this week and will be subject to public comment later this month.

The City Council on Tuesday referred the ordinance, requested by the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, a group made up largely of homosexuals, to the council's legislative committee.

Lambda spokesmen say they have the support of 14 organizations, including the Greater Long Beach Labor Council and the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach. Opposing the proposal are the Downtown Long Beach Associates business group and a street preacher known as Bobby Bible Eagle.

The public can address the issue during a legislative committee hearing May 26 at 3 p.m. in the Civic Center.

Section Deleted

"This is a good draft ordinance," said Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who heads the legislative committee.

Braude has worked in the past month with the Lambda group to revise the draft. In the version of the ordinance sent to the committee, for example, a four-part section acknowledging that employment discrimination exists within Long Beach was deleted.

Braude said the section was taken out because such discrimination has not been proved to exist in the city.

Vice Mayor Edd Tuttle was among council members expressing dissatisfaction with the proposal. Tuttle said he was concerned that schools run by religious organizations would be forced to hire homosexuals. But City Atty. John R. Calhoun said that a section exempting churches and religious organizations would include schools run by chapels and other religious groups.

Tuttle also said the language in the ordinance could hurt small-business owners by inviting lawsuits from people who have "sour grapes about losing their jobs."

Mayor Ernie Kell said he fears that the ordinance could leave the door open for class-action lawsuits, since it states that "any person or organization which will fairly and adequately represent the interests of any class of persons" may seek an injunction. Another section states that those who violate the law will be liable to the aggrieved parties, and in the case of class action, "the actual damages of each member of the class."

Braude, however, said a "class action" does not mean that a lawsuit dealing with one homosexual would include all other homosexuals--only that it would include those who also suffered as a result of the discrimination.

The ordinance, Braude said, is aimed at protecting both homosexuals and heterosexuals from discrimination. The ordinance would bar, for example, a gay owner of a small business from discriminating against heterosexuals, he explained.

Majority Support

A majority of the council's nine members said last month in interviews with The Times that they support the concept of an ordinance banning discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. They are Braude, Thomas Clark, Wallace Edgerton, Ray Grabinski and Clarence Smith.

Dave Newell, chairman of Lambda's political action group, said that in addition to support from the teachers association and the labor council, the ordinance won approval from groups that include the Long Beach Branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Long Beach City Employees Assn. and the Long Beach Democratic Club.

Representatives of the 1,500-member Downtown Long Beach Associates did not appear before the council Tuesday, but the organization has written a letter criticizing the proposal. The organization said the ordinance, if adopted, will open "innocent employers (to) no-win vengeance suits."

Bible Eagle, pastor of Christian Brothers Church in Long Beach, told the council Tuesday that he spoke on behalf of "church people," property owners and business owners in asking the council to discriminate against homosexuals because the Bible, he said, "discriminates against them."

Current Policies

The city already has policies saying it will not discriminate against anyone, but they do not specify sexual orientation, according to the city's personnel director.

If Long Beach adopts the ordinance, it would join cities such as Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Laguna Beach and Sacramento that have similar laws.

Lambda representatives and council members have discussed such an ordinance for three years, but this is the first time it has gone officially before the council and been slated for a public hearing. With last year's election of three new council members--Braude, Grabinski and Smith--this was the first time the group felt confident it could win a majority vote, said Lambda President Rob Kramme.

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