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AT THE EYE OF A STORM IN IRVINE : A More-or-Less Typical Irvine Couple Fight to Preserve Gay Protection in City's Unique Human Rights Ordinance

May 04, 1989|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

They are typically suburban--right down to their two-car garage, back-yard barbecue, stereo-console room and comfortable, traditional furnishings.

Their jobs signify both material success and Ph.D. respectability. One of them is a corporate manager and chemist, the other a state university professor.

And their 1,600-square-foot, single-story home is in the heart of Irvine, that ultimate symbol of modern suburbia.

"We're like any couple here. We keep up the lawn; we pay our bills; we want to be good neighbors," says the oldest of the two, James Boone, 56, the chemist and USC alumnus.

In a pointedly matter-of-fact tone, he adds: "We're really like anyone else who's settled down here."

But not exactly.

Boone and Joseph Bucuzzo, 48, an associate professor of mathematics at Cal State Fullerton, are a gay couple who began their "committed life partnership" 15 years ago, not long before they bought their home in their tree-lined, green-belted neighborhood.

They are also outspoken activists for gay rights--especially Boone, who was on the Irvine citizens panel that helped draft the city's "human rights" ordinance.

The Irvine City Council last July 12, by a 4-0 vote, adopted the first such comprehensive rights ordinance in the county. The ordinance forbids job, housing and other kinds of discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, physical handicap, or sexual orientation. (The Irvine ordinance is much broader than one adopted in 1986 in Laguna Beach, which deals only with protection of the rights of gays.)

Because of its inclusion of protection for gays, the Irvine ordinance has become the center of a heated debate over gay rights.

On March 29, the city announced that the Irvine Values Coalition, an organization of residents opposed to the sexual-orientation provision of the ordinance, had collected 5,433 valid signatures on a petition--enough to force the City Council either to eliminate the sexual orientation provision or to put the issue to citywide vote.

On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to act on the issue. If an election is scheduled, it would probably be held either Nov. 7 or June 5, 1990. Four Irvine council members said this week that they favor putting the ordinance on the ballot. The fifth, Cameron Cosgrove, said he is not willing to commit himself until seeing the city attorney's final report, but indicated that he favors an election.

"It's ridiculous to say homosexuals are asking for--or gaining--special privileges" under the ordinance, says Boone, who was the "gay representative" on the nine-member city Committee on Human Rights, which recommended adoption of the comprehensive rights ordinance after conducting studies in 1987.

"We're not asking for special protection," he says. "We seek equal protection--no more, no less. Now their (Irvine Values Coalition) initiative is saying: 'Hey, it's all right to discriminate against homosexuals.' "

Although Boone says he is convinced that most Irvine voters would support retaining the sexual-orientation provision of the ordinance, he says that, should the provision be voted out, the rejection "would clearly be a vote for discrimination. It would send a most unfortunate message to all minorities: that this community isn't willing to go on record to provide them their rightful moral and legal protections."

Indeed, many gay activists, including Boone and Bucuzzo, argue that the coalition's opposition is symptomatic of what some called a "homophobic vehemence" in U.S. society. This, they say, includes an alarming increase in gay-bashing assaults.

"There are some people who can't see past the sexual orientation of others. They see only their own prejudices and biases," Bucuzzo says.

And there is still the overwhelming fear of job reprisals. "We're talking about economic violence, about gays who have lost, or would lose, their jobs if they are somehow found out," he says.

The vast majority of gays and lesbians still fear "the possible consequences of coming out," Bucuzzo says. "They believe it is still safer to be silent--and stay in hiding."

For much of his life, James Boone was haunted by the image of gays as something monstrous.

Raised in Corpus Christi, Tex., he was one of 7 children in a devoutly Catholic, Irish-American family. To condone homosexuality, let alone be gay, was unthinkable to him.

Yet, he recalls, "I always knew I was somehow different. I was a very angry young man. Life didn't seem to make sense.

"I didn't even really know what a gay person was--except that he was somehow scummy, an awful kind of person, a degenerate. But I knew I wasn't any of that, so I didn't think I could be gay."

Instead, he remembers, "you went on and did all the things that everyone else says you're supposed to be doing . . . like getting married."

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