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Long Beach Gays Draft Law Against AIDS Prejudice

June 18, 1989|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Ron Parron came home from the hospital last year to find his apartment empty, locked with three new dead bolts that he did not have a key to.

He has AIDS. He said the landlord knew it and decided he would prefer not to have Parron as a tenant. "While I was in the hospital (for three weeks) . . . he took all of my belongings out of the apartment, disposed of them and changed the locks," recalled Parron, a former account executive who has had AIDS for five years.

When he went to a dentist to have some root canal work done, he said the dentist questioned him about his condition and then quietly informed Parron he would not treat him. "He took the bib off my neck and said, 'I'm sorry, we are not properly equipped to handle this. . . .' I got bumped out of the chair."

Such experiences, and fear of them, have prompted the city's politically influential gay community to draw up a local ordinance that would outlaw discrimination against anyone who has AIDS or who carries the AIDS virus.

Lobbying Under Way

The proposal's supporters are lobbying City Council members, and if they get a warm enough reception they hope the ordinance will be introduced next month.

"We decided that if the Los Angeles County supervisors can pass one with a conservative majority, we figure in Long Beach we can pass one," said David Newell, president of the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, a gay-oriented political organization that has taken the lead in drafting the proposal.

Similar laws have been adopted in eight other California cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, West Hollywood and Pasadena. However, attempts to pass a state law and an Orange County ordinance have both failed.

While a Long Beach ordinance forbidding employment discrimination against homosexuals caused some controversy when it was passed by the council two years ago, proponents of the AIDS proposal think the local political mood has evolved in their favor.

"Looking at the council, one by one, I think we're in pretty good shape," said Tom Kay, president of Being Alive Long Beach, a support group for people with AIDS. "I think the issue has changed from acceptance of a life style to acceptance of a medical condition."

The state Fair Employment and Housing Act already prohibits housing and employment discrimination against people with AIDS. The proposed Long Beach law would offer the same protection to those who are merely infected with the virus, but have not developed any health problems.

"We've been hearing a lot of complaints from people who have been discriminated against, not only because they are positive (to the antibody that indicates the presence of the AIDS virus), but because there is a perception they are positive," Kay said. He knows of healthy gay men who are afraid of losing weight for fear people will think they have AIDS.

Closely patterned after the Los Angeles County law, the Long Beach ordinance would prohibit discrimination in housing, on the job, or in the rendering of goods and services, including medical or dental services. But it leaves enforcement up to the civil courts. Anyone who feels he is discriminated against would have to file a lawsuit.

Newell said that in drafting the ordinance, supporters took care not to call for creation of a city board or anything else that would require the city to spend money to enforce the ordinance.

High AIDS Rate

Long Beach, with a substantial gay and lesbian population, has one of the highest rates of AIDS in the state. Since 1982, there have been 596 reported cases of AIDS in the city, according to the Long Beach Health Department. There are no official estimates of the number of people who have tested positive for the AIDS virus, but Kay says the figure may be as high as 7,500 to 10,000.

Four of the Lambda Democratic Club's past presidents have died of AIDS, said Newell, who hopes a city AIDS ordinance will encourage people to get tested.

Timothy R. Pestotnik, a San Diego attorney specializing in AIDS law, says AIDS anti-discrimination ordinances have not led to a flood of lawsuits anywhere they have been passed. For instance, in San Diego, only one lawsuit has been filed since the ordinance was passed more than a year ago. In that case Pestotnik is representing the client, who claims a chiropractor discriminated against him. In a number of other cases, a settlement was reached before a suit was filed, Pestotnik said.

Robert Salcido, Long Beach's chief epidemiologist, said the city Health Department would likely favor a well-drafted anti-discrimination ordinance. Still, he suggested that if a doctor does not want to treat an AIDS patient, he will find an excuse not to. "There are ways of getting around it even if they passed that legislation," Salcido said.

How It's Spread

Most medical experts agree that the human immunodeficiency virus linked to AIDS is not spread through casual contact, but through the exchange of body fluids, such as blood during the sharing of hypodermic needles or semen during sex.

A volunteer for Being Alive, Parron acknowledges that he was six weeks behind in rent when his landlord threw him out. But he says he never got a single eviction notice, nor did he ever recover any of his possessions.

"The apartment was literally cleaned out," said Parron, who now is staying with a friend in Long Beach.

Not only was his credit record hurt, Parron said, but he is being sued by the companies that leased him a water cooler and television set that were carted away by the landlord.

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