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JOSEPH N. BELL

Argument Against Measure N in Irvine Appears to Be Inaccurate

October 14, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

The Irvine citizens who will depend on the Voter's Pamphlet to help steer them on how to vote next month on Measure N are going to be playing with a stacked deck. Or half of a stacked deck. Portions of the argument in favor of Measure N appear to be both inaccurate and misleading.

Measure N is an initiative to amend the human rights ordinance, passed by the Irvine City Council on July 12, 1988, by removing the words "sexual orientation" from those groups protected from discrimination. The official argument in favor of Measure N, provided by a local group called Citizens for Equal Rights, contains the following paragraph:

"Under the current Irvine ordinance, homosexuals get special preference. For example, in Minneapolis, because of a Human Rights ordinance similar to Irvine's, a national nonprofit organization that provides father role models for young boys was sued and ordered by the lower courts to advertise in gay publications to recruit homosexual volunteers for their programs. They were also ordered to stop disclosing the 'sexual orientation' of their volunteers to the children's mothers. This action removed the rights of the mothers to choose who would be the most appropriate father figure for their sons. PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING HERE. VOTE YES!" The first time I read this, alarms went off in my head. It sounded like the same kind of gambit--no names or dates, vague references--used in another Orange County local election more than a decade ago, when a group similar to the Traditional Values Coalition (the prime mover behind the Irvine initiative) led a drive to get rid of Anaheim Union High School's model sex education program.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 17, 1989 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
The headline over Joseph Bell's column in the LIFE section Saturday was in error. It should have read: Argument in Favor of Measure N in Irvine Appears to Be Inaccurate.

One of the major tools employed in that rancorous election--which I covered for a national magazine--was a phonograph record, played repeatedly in radio commercials and at public meetings, reportedly giving graphic and dramatic examples of children who had been traumatized by sex education. But the anecdotes were long on emotion and short on facts. There were seven examples, and I followed one through to the source. As with all such stories, there was a small grain of truth; the rest was made up of half-truths, innuendoes and flat-out lies.

I called Scott Peotter, head of Irvine's Citizens for Equal Rights and the first signer of the argument in favor of Measure N. (One of his associates had earlier refused to give information, calling me a member of the "communistic press.")

Peotter told me that the case cited had involved Big Brothers in Minneapolis and that the source of the information used in the Voter's Pamphlet came from a book by Roger Magnuson called "Are Gay Rights Right?" (Magnuson was the keynote speaker at a controversial symposium in Orange County last weekend on Homosexuality and Public Policy.) I asked Peotter if he had checked Magnuson's information with original sources, and he said his group considered Magnuson's documentation sufficient and they had not looked beyond it.

I did. I talked with half a dozen Minneapolis civil rights and legal officials and civic leaders who gave me a quite different story--and a complete one.

The case in question began in 1974 when a man named Gary Johnson applied as a volunteer to Big Brothers Inc. in Minneapolis. Because his references included a well-known local gay attorney, Johnson was asked if he was gay and said, "Yes."

He was told that because the personality and character of prospective big brothers are discussed in detail with the potential little brother and his mother, information relative to his "affectional preference" (the term used in the Minneapolis Human Rights ordinance) would also be shared with them. Johnson then refused to proceed with his application until he received a definitive ruling on whether or not this constituted illegal discrimination.

The case wound itself through Minnesota courts for almost five years. The District Court referred the matter for investigation to the Department of Civil Rights, which concluded that there had been discrimination. Big Brothers rejected this conclusion, and the case was heard by the District Court, which ruled that Big Brothers may question applicants regarding their sexual preferences and may communicate this information to the mothers of little brothers--and this is not a discriminatory use of the information.

The case was then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court decision and ruled on July 27, 1979: "The Minneapolis Civil Rights Ordinance does not prohibit Big Brothers Inc. from inquiring as to affectional and sexual preferences of potential big brothers and disseminating that information to the mothers of potential little brothers."

Thus the conclusion of the case was almost the exact opposite of the implication left by the people who are trying to have "sexual orientation" removed from the Irvine Human Rights Ordinance.

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