Vote delays decision on gay rights ordinance

By Ken Goze

A decision on a proposed gay rights ordinance for DeKalb has been postponed until public meetings addressing the issue are held.

The DeKalb Human Relations Commission voted unanimously in April to send a proposal for the ordinance to the DeKalb City Council for a vote. After a special meeting in which the council heard long and heated arguments for and against the proposal, they voted to drop it from their agenda and requested an advisory referendum on the issue.

Beth Schulman, Human Relations Commission chairwoman, said the council cancelled the referendum in a last-minute decision. The council agreed to instead hold a series of public meetings to gain input from the community before voting on the proposed ordinance.

No meetings have been scheduled yet, but Shulman said she expects the proposal to come up at a council meeting before long. “It’s not going to go away,” she said.

Commission members felt the council should have taken a stand on the issue and passed the ordinance despite its unpopularity, she said.

Commission member George Shur said the proposed gay rights ordinance is a question of civil rights and should not be subjected to a majority-rule situation. Having a referendum on the issue of gay rights today is similar to asking Alabama whites in the 1960s what they thought of a civil rights act, he said.

The proposed ordinance, first discussed in February 1988, would add the term “sexual orientation” to the list of protected classes in DeKalb’s “Prohibited Discriminitory Practices” ordinance. Under the ordinance, sexual orientation would be defined as “a male or female homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, by practice or preference.”

The commission is appointed by the mayor to investigate allegations of discrimination in DeKalb, but the commission cannot act on cases of discrimination against gays, Shur said. Present ordinances covering discrimination are based on state and federal statutes which do not include sexual orientation as a category for protection.

Schulman said there have been allegations of discrimination by DeKalb landlords and employers, but the victims were not willing to come forward to testify. Victims have no protection and revealing their identities would only provoke further harassment, she said.

The commission is not trying to persuade the council or anyone to condone a gay lifestyle, but to give them the “same rights as everyone else,” Shulman said. Similar gay rights ordinances have been passed in Chicago, Oak Park and Champaign-Urbana.

Shur said the ordinance does not directly involve NIU because the university adopted a clause in last year’s constitution protecting homosexuals.