Hansen: Strengthen Irvine’s Business-Friendly Culture: Restore LGBTQ Protection to the City Code

Rainbow near mountain

In 1988, the Irvine City Council enacted a bold Human Rights Ordinance. It protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination. A backlash quickly ensued. Just a year later, a ballot measure revoked those protections. The measure even banned the City from recognizing sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.

Irvine companies are ahead of the City in welcoming the LGBTQ community. The Council should catch up. It should place a measure on the ballot to reaffirm Irvine’s commitment to human rights and remove the anti-LGBTQ provisions that remain in City Code.

Irvine’s 1988 Human Rights Ordinance: No Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In 1988, Irvine’s Human Rights Committee recommended broad protections against discrimination. The Committee sought to reaffirm Irvine’s “longstanding commitment to the concept of an open city where all are welcome.”

Among members of the Committee were a pastor, a member of the Irvine Chamber of Commerce, a UC Irvine professor, a child care provider, and a member of the LGBTQ community,

Following a contentious five hour public hearing, the City Council passed the landmark Human Rights Ordinance that, among other things, banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, real estate transactions, public accommodations, and education. It was the first known ordinance protecting the LGBTQ community in Orange County.

Backlash to LGBTQ Protections

Opponents quickly began working to repeal the LGBTQ protections. They argued the protections posed a moral threat to Irvine. Four state lawmakers including US Rep. Robert Dornan wrote that the Ordinance  promoted a “perverse lifestyle.”

A local activist at the time, Christina Shea, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that gays, bisexuals, and lesbians led a “behavior-based lifestyle.”  Irvine’s new LGBTQ protections might “undermine the very core of the judicial system by removing its ability to evaluate a person’s character based on…conduct.”  The LGBTQ community portrayed itself as “the victim,” she wrote, which was “deceptive and destructive to society.”

Narrow Majority of 1989 Voters Ban Certain LGBTQ-friendly Policies

The protections for the LGBTQ community had been in place for a year, and none of the dire predictions of the opponents materialized. But by a margin of 53% to 47%, Irvine voters passed Measure N (see p. 26) removing LGBTQ anti-discrimination from the Human Rights Ordinance. [Code Sec. 3-5-201 et seq].

Anectdotal evidence suggested discrimination against the LGBTQ community increased after the vote.

Measure N also took the harsh step of banning the City from recognizing sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.  The new provision stated:

Sec. 3-5-503

[T]he City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that:

A. Defines sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.

B. Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.

C. Provides preferential treatment or affirmative action for any person on the basis of their sexual orientation.

(Code 1976, § III.I-503; Initiative Ord. No. 89-1, § 3, 11-7-89)

Despite subsequent State and Federal law ending LGBTQ discrimination, this prohibition on City protections for the LGBTQ community is still part of Irvine law [Code Sec. 3-5-501 et seq.].

The Irvine Business Community is Ahead of the City on LGBTQ Issues

Irvine’s thriving business community seeks the best talent and looks across demographics to find it. Irvine’s top companies take pride in making the LGBTQ community feel welcome and protected. Some examples:

Irvine’s Code Runs Contrary to City’s LGBTQ Outreach Effort

Even with the provision of the City Code banning anti-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community, the City maintains an LGBTQ Resources webpage.  Both the City and the Irvine Police Department have LGBTQ liaisons.

The City co-sponsored an LGBTQ Community Picnic in 2019, co-hosted by Councilmember Farrah Khan. Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmembers Melissa Fox, Anthony Kuo, and Mike Carroll all attended.

Although a Council majority decided not to fly the Pride Flag at City Hall in 2019, to some extent the City is reaching out to the LGBTQ community.

City Council Should Put a Measure on the Ballot

Irvine has evolved in the past 30 years. Since 1989, it’s blossomed into a diverse, more tolerant, thriving city of about 300,000.

The city has an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to human rights and to promote Irvine as welcoming to top talent from all backgrounds. Voters of today can repeal the anti-LGBTQ provisions of Code Sec. 3-5-501 et seq. And can restore the LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections to Code Sec. 3-5-201 et seq.

The City Council should place a measure on the ballot to give Irvine voters the opportunity to do so.

Scott Hansen is a practicing technology attorney. He and his wife are 20 year residents of Irvine. Hansen is a volunteer writer for Irvine Watchdog.

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