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Anti-Bias Law for Gays Supported by L. B. Panel; No AIDS Risk Foreseen

July 16, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Assured by the city's public health officer that AIDS "does not pose a public health risk" in the work place, a committee will recommend to the City Council that it approve an ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Concern about the transmission of the AIDS virus--which has hit the male homosexual community the hardest--stopped the council last month from adopting the proposed ordinance. Instead, the council adopted a policy statement against discrimination and forwarded the failed ordinance to its Quality of Life Committee for further review.

On Tuesday, the three-member committee unanimously approved an ordinance that is almost identical to the one turned down by the council at its June 9 meeting.

Committee Chairman Clarence Smith and members Evan Anderson Braude and Tom Clark said they approved the similar ordinance because concerns raised by some council members and representatives of the business community linking the ordinance with acquired immunity deficiency syndrome were answered by city health officer Rugmini Shah.

The committee also discussed but did not vote on a proposal introduced Tuesday by council members Ray Grabinski and Warren Harwood to establish a human rights commission. The commission would review discrimination complaints, hold public hearings and decide whether a case has merit. Only if the commission decided there was merit could a lawsuit be filed in court.

That recommendation came out of a closed-door meeting Monday of Grabinski, Harwood, gay activists and business representatives. The concept of a human rights commission was the only thing the group could agree on, Harwood said. Gay activists said they consider such a commission a separate, secondary issue and not pivotal to passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Gay activists, including members of the predominantly homosexual Lambda Democratic Club, have argued that the anti-bias ordinance should not be linked to AIDS.

The city's public health officer also told the committee that AIDS "should not be used as a basis for discrimination."

In a report regarding policy on AIDS in the workplace, Shah recommended that employers should have no right to fire or discriminate against people with AIDS or to ask employees and applicants if they have the virus or to screen for AIDS as part of pre-employment procedures.

During a public hearing Tuesday, the proposed ordinance won kudos from representatives of a number of groups, including the Grey Panthers, Long Beach Friends of the Park, East-West Democratic Club, Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, Long Beach Teachers Assn., South Coast Ecumenical Council and the Long Beach Jewish Community Center.

Alan Lowenthal, a spokesman for the Jewish Community Center, called the proposal an "important piece of civil rights legislation."

Opposing the proposal was a mix of Christian fundamentalists and business people.

Dewey H. Smith, representing the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, told the council: "There are enough laws in place now" protecting against discrimination.

Fundamentalist Timothy Rhodes had a different argument: "God does discriminate, and we should discriminate for the good of Long Beach."

The Downtown Long Beach Associates, which did not address the committee, also has voiced strong opposition to the proposal. The group linked their opposition to fears that the legislation would force employers to hire persons with AIDS and contended that there is growing concern among medical professionals that the disease can be spread through casual contact.

Shah disagreed. "AIDS is not spread through casual contact at the work site," she said in her report. "Medical evidence to date has concluded that the AIDS virus may only be contracted by intimate sexual contact or by direct introduction into the blood stream."

"One might argue that the cost of employee health insurance or disability insurance does not justify hiring AIDS patients who are able to work," the report continues. "I will remind you then that cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses have the same argument.

"One might argue that fear of AIDS will affect the co-workers who may refuse to come to work. The response will be that in the past, some employees have refused to work with cancer victims because of fear of disease. They have also refused to work with blacks and women for other reasons."

Policies on AIDS at the work site should address the welfare of everyone: the employer, employees with AIDS and their co-workers, Shah said.

"In some cases, these policies may infringe on individual rights and be coercive in nature . . . For example, a reluctant employee may be asked to share an office work station with someone who has AIDS, or he/she may lose his/her job. An employer may require that an employee with chicken pox stay at home because the disease can be spread to other workers at the work place who have AIDS.

'Morally Justified'

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