Tears, jeers as Mesa OKs discrimination ban

Two were tearful, two defiant, others quietly resolved.

They were the elected officials who approved, by a 5-2 vote, Mesa’s new non-discrimination ordinance.

After two hours of public comments Monday – with supporters arguing it protected groups from discrimination and attackers contending it puts women and children at risk – Council had its chance to comment on the NDO, arguably the most controversial issue it has tackled in years.

Mayor John Giles said he appreciated the extensive comments, then he shot down one of the main complaints by those opposed.

The ordinance, he stressed, will not make Mesa restrooms fearful places where men posing as women will lurk.

“Privacy is a reasonable concern,” Giles said. “As a father of four daughters and grandfather I would never put them in danger.”

He noted Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tempe, as well as many other cities across the country, passed similar ordinances.

“They have not experienced scenarios raised by those critical of this ordinance,” Giles said. “Everything that was inappropriate or illegal remains inappropriate or illegal in this ordinance.”

“Non-discrimaintion laws are nothing new. Twenty states and 320 cities have them ... We’re not breaking any ground here,” Giles said.

He also had an answer for those asserting Mesa is either bending to the will of big, liberal-leaning companies coming to Mesa – like Apple, Amazon and Google – or being influenced by outside agitators to become a mecca for far-left views.

“We’ve been discussing an ordinance (banning discrimination) as a council since 2014,” Giles said.

“This ordinance is moderate and reflects the input from the community,” he insisted. “This is a mainstream ordinance that hasn’t been dictated to us from any outside groups.

“This is Mesa’s ordinance.”

He and four council members voted to approve a city code “prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, veteran’s status, marital status, or familial status, with certain exclusions.”

The new law provides a six-month buffer “for public education.” After that, first violations are subject to up to $300 fines. Fines of repeat offenders could be as high as $2,500.

The law applies to businesses and places of public accommodation, employers and the workplace, city employees and facilities, city contractors and vendors. Exclusions include businesses with fewer than five employees, federal and state agencies, religious, public and charter schools and religious organizations “when furthering (the) organization’s purpose.”

Also excluded are “speech and expressive activities and the free exercise of religion when protected under the First Amendment.”

Giles and others in favor of the ordinance noted other cities with similar non-discrimination bans hardly ever had to punish offenders — which made councilmen Mark Freeman and Kevin Thompson wonder why it was needed. Both voted against it.

Thompson supported Freeman’s idea “to press the pause button” and allow for more public input.

But Councilwoman Jen Duff, a staunch proponent of the measure, said the time had come: “If we don’t pass this now, are we going to wait another seven years?”

And, as far as public input, new Councilwoman Julie Spilsbury said she had enough and more.

She said she received more than 1,000 emails and read dozens of social media posts on the issue — many spewing hate, Spilsbury said.

Pausing to wipe away tears, Spilsbury caught her breath and forced a grim smile, noting an irony: Some who opposed the ordinance gave her greater understanding on why it was needed.

“The hate I have received this week has helped me empathize and just see the smallest glimpse of what the LGBTQ community has experienced. I have listened to their stories and felt their pain. I want to stand up for them,” she said.

Veteran Councilman David Luna also had to take a long pause to compose himself while speaking.

“Not until you experience the sting of what discrimination feels like will you understand why this is important,” Luna finally was able to say.

Councilman Francisco Heredia also voted for the ordinance, noting “progress is sometimes a slow-moving process.”

Though stressing “I am supportive of the LGBTQ community,” Thompson slammed the move as “bad legislation.”

A sampling of the comments from those who called in to the virtual meeting:

“I heard someone say this is a solution in search of a problem … If you’ve never been groped by someone who felt you owed it to them because they didn’t beat you up, you don’t know this problem. If you feel safe in public places in Mesa, then you don’t know this problem,” said Christiana Hammond.

“No one should be fired or fear to go into a restaurant or public place because of their gender … No one should face discrimination for being a member of the LGBTQ community,” said John Collins, an Episcopal priest. “I’ve heard it said that ‘God doesn’t make mistakes.’ Why can’t we accept that God creates LGBTQ people in God’s own image?”

“I’m a husband, father of three, Republican, Conservative, Christian member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m a business owner of a firm that employs 20 people. I am strongly in favor of this ordinance,” said Joshua Boyle. “The angry attacks should be proof this is needed.”

“I went to Mesa Public Schools K through 12. I was afraid every day because I was a member of the LGBTQ community. And in Mesa, that wasn’t all right,” said Michael Soto, of Equality Arizona. “By passing this, you will make it possible for me and thousands of others to come home.”

“Fires and emergencies don’t discriminate and nor do we. This ordinance would protect members of the LGBTQ+ community who I proudly work beside and trust my life with” said Dale Crogan, president of United Mesa Firefighters.

“Any predators who try to enter a women’s bathroom or a men’s bathroom for that matter would be subject to arrest,” he added.

“Mayor Giles is pushing this anti-family, anti-freedom bill that promotes delusion,” said Harold Matthews, who noted he lives in Gilbert and works in Mesa. “Amazon, Apple and Google are leading the cancel culture … Our enemies are laughing at us. These laws make us weaker.

Is this ordinance a dress rehearsal for mass genocide?”

“This ordinance is asking us to be bad parents and coaches,” said Mike Phelan. “This seems to me to open girls and women's sports to great jeopardy.”

“Delay your votes for a few weeks. Give people a chance to be heard,” Cathi Herrod, president of Center for Arizona Policy, said. “The language is vague and open to different interpretations.”

A sampling of the emails that were read:

“We should join the 21st Century.”

“Men do not belong in the women’s bathroom. Listen to your constituents.”

“I am not willing to give up my morals and values for tax money.”

“We need to know the why behind this proposed ordinance. What data is behind this … Which companies have stated they will come to Mesa if this ordinance is passed?”

“It will open the door to child predators.”

“Just because Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tempe have non-discrimination ordinances, why do we have to? We have different values.”

“This is dangerous. I’m appalled the women on the council would even consider this.”

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