Nondiscrimination laws are popular in Arizona. So why hasn’t the state adopted one?

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A pride flag displayed on the balcony of the historic state Capitol building. Photo courtesy Arizona Secretary Of State’s Office

By Alyssa Bickle

February 21, 2024

A popular proposal to expand Arizona’s non-discrimination laws has been given the cold shoulder by Republican lawmakers, despite towns and cities throughout the state adopting similar measures with bipartisan support.

The Statewide Nondiscrimination Act, or House Bill 2625, would expand Arizona’s existing non-discrimination framework to include sexual orientation and gender identity, providing LGBTQ Arizonans the same protections that are provided to everyone else in the state.

Similar ordinances have been at the local level in at least ten cities across the state and provide protections for over half of Arizona’s 7.2 million residents. The ordinances were passed in conservative and liberal regions alike by non-partisan town and city councils, but statewide protections have yet to break through the state legislature’s tense, hyper-partisan environment.

Anti-LGBTQ legislation prioritized

The bill has been a long-standing priority of the Democratic caucus and of the LGBTQ caucus, and provides a stark contrast to legislation continuously introduced by Republican lawmakers that places attacks upon LGBTQ Arizonans, said House Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, who is the main sponsor of the bill.

“The Republicans in the legislature are so extreme and so out of touch, that’s the problem,” said De Los Santos.

The Human Rights Campaign has flagged 13 bills that would result in any kind of harm to the LGBTQ community this session. Seven have already passed through committee assignments–but will almost certainly be vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs if they are passed in both chambers of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Hobbs vetoed a number of similar bills last year and has been emphatic that discriminatory legislation is dead on arrival.

In Arizona, it is still legal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity, someone can be denied a promotion, be fired, or evicted simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is only in municipalities where non-discrimination ordinances have been passed that Arizonans have these protections, but a piecemeal approach such as this can be confusing for residents to navigate.

“Every Arizonan deserves this protection no matter where you live,” said De Los Santos. “Whether you live in a small rural town or in a big city like Phoenix, every Arizonan deserves equal protection under the law.”

A more welcoming approach

In addition to providing clarity for everyday Arizonans, The Statewide Nondiscrimination Act would make it easier for businesses and landlords who operate statewide – giving them one clean set of rules instead of a jigsaw puzzle of different rules in different cities they have to navigate.

And for LGBTQ Arizonans and their families, universal protections against discrimination would make the whole state feel more like home.

“It would be incredible to live in a state that actually didn’t promote hate against my family and loved ones,” said Lizette Trijullo, who is a parent of a transgender son and an advocate for trans youth and their families.

Tucson, where Trijullo is from, was one of the first cities in Arizona to enact some kind of non-discrimination act that included protections for gender identity and sexuality – making it a safe haven for people who were relegated to the margins.

“It will allow for families like mine to feel at peace knowing that their children don’t have to leave the state to then move to other states that do have statewide [non-discrimination acts], that they can build a life here for themselves and build families of their own,” Trijullo said. “It would make families feel at peace knowing that they are protected under the law.”

How nondiscrimination initiatives have worked locally

The city of Chandler is the most recent municipality to pass a non-discrimination ordinance. It was approved by the city council in December 2022, and  includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Residents who feel they’ve been discriminated against can file a complaint on the city’s website.

All complaints are investigated by the Chandler City Attorney. There have been no reported complaints so far that the city is aware of, said Chandler Vice Mayor OD Harris.

Chandler’s non-discrimination ordinance took a proactive approach—it was not put into place due to excessive acts of discrimination, but as a way to let people know that such acts would not be tolerated, receiving a wide majority of council support, passing with a 6-1 vote.

“At the time, we had identified that there had been zero acts of discrimination that happened in the city,” said Harris. “We wanted to look at how we can get our community more inclusive.”

The city council conducted a Diversity Equity and Inclusion assessment, in the community and within the city government, to make sure that the data supported the conversation because there had been no incidents regarding discrimination.

The city council learned that even though there was no data to support that acts of discrimination were even happening, Chandler residents wanted the ordinance.

When the city was gathering community input, many people were concerned about the bill proposals and discussions going on at the state capitol that could negatively impact them, said Matthew Burdick, City of Chandler communications and public affairs director.

“Some of those fears that they shared with us, we made sure from within our authority and control that we pass policies and ordinances that help to provide those protections at the local level,” said Burdick.

A defining moment for Harris was a testimony he heard at a city council meeting from a mother of an LGBTQ daughter, who brought up the potential of discrimination that her daughter could face and that there was no law that could protect her.

The input that the Chandler community provided helped shape the non-discrimination ordinance, as well as their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan, said Burdick.

“This was a great step that Chandler wanted,” Harris said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our  council….this is how we continue to make Chandler stronger.”

Statewide protections face additional hurdles

While Chandler’s nondiscrimination ordinance was ushered in with support from elected leaders and community members, the statewide effort has been pushed aside by conservatives who control the state legislature.

After being introduced in January, HB 2625 was assigned to be heard in three committees, House Commerce, Judiciary and Rules. The chairs of these committees—Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix,  Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, and Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert—did not add the bill to their committee’s agendas, quietly removing it from public discussion.

Advocates and supporters of HB 2625 the bill are playing the long game, confident that the bill will pass next year. If Arizona’s House or Senate is flipped to a Democratic majority in November, Arizona State Director for the Human Rights Campaign Bridget Sharpe says the bill will almost certainly be brought to a vote.

The bill’s co-sponsors include every single member of the House LGBTQ Caucus, which Sharpe considers the voice of the LGBTQ community in the state legislature.

The bill has been in the works for years and it comes out of the lived experiences of LGBTQ people, alongside experts, advocates, and attorneys, said De Los Santos, who co-chairs the LGBTQ Caucus. He began to work on the bill after hearing stories from his constituents and talking with members of the community.

“I think it’s well beyond the time that LGBTQ people are evaluated on the merits of their work and on the content of their character, and nothing more, nothing less,” said De Los Santos. “That’s what this bill does.”

Author

  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is an affordability and LGBTQ+ reporting intern for The Copper Courier. She expects to graduate in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press and is an assistant research analyst at ASU’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research.

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