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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Council Split on Gay/Trans Rights Clause

Peoria leaders will vote Tuesday on proposed addition

[PEORIA] - City leaders are expected to decide Tuesday whether Peoria will join the list of Illinois cities that have added sexual orientation as a protected class in their non-discrimination codes.

"Diversity is not always perceived to be welcomed in Peoria," said Douglas Drenckpohl, president of a network of 300 gay men from the region. "This would be a message to not only the community but central Illinois that Peoria is making steps to show they're becoming a more diverse and tolerant community to live in."

The proposed addition - intended to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment or public places - was endorsed with a 4-3 vote by the city's Fair Employment and Housing Commission in February.

As with the commission, feelings on the Peoria City Council and within the community seem to be mixed.

Opponents argue sexual orientation is a choice and the proposal would validate homosexuality. Others say it could open the city up to costly lawsuits. But proponents maintain the move will simply guarantee equality for all.

At-large Councilman Eric Turner said he feels the issue boils down to whether members of the council think it's OK for people to be discriminated against.

"If anybody around the horseshoe fails to pass this, I'd hate to think of what they think of me as an African-American," he said Thursday.

Turner notes other cities - including Springfield, Normal, Bloomington, Decatur, Champaign, Urbana, DeKalb, Evanston, Oak Park and Chicago - have passed ordinances protecting sexual orientation.

"Why do we always want to be different? I have a problem with that," he said.

At-large Councilman John Morris said Thursday he does not plan to support the proposed ordinance amendment.

"I think there are a lot of protections already in place," he said. "I certainly respect the people who feel we need to continue to add categories to our non-discrimination clause, but I don't believe that's the best route."

Morris - who has said this issue is more suited for the federal or state government to address - suggests it'd be better to declare discrimination isn't acceptable in any instance, without listing specific classes.

The city's human rights ordinances now prohibits discrimination based on factors which include race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, marital status and handicap.

There's currently a bill pending before the Illinois Senate that would accomplish the same thing as the proposed local amendment, but the next action on that has been delayed until December.

The local proposal defines sexual orientation as being gay or perceived as gay. It also covers those with a "self image or identity not traditionally associated with one's biological maleness or femaleness."

This protects transgenders, a city memo states. But physical or sexual attraction to a minor by an adult is not allowed.

The proposal also includes an exemption for religious corporations, schools and associations that may not want to hire gays or lesbians.

Few complaints have occurred in cities that protect sexual orientation, and most get dismissed. According to Equal Opportunity Director Kimberly King, Champaign has investigated five complaints while Decatur and Normal each had one.

Tuesday's City Council meeting begins at 6:15 p.m. at City Hall, 419 Fulton St.

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