POSTED ON JUNE 9, 2010:
Surprised by Surprise
Councilor G.T. Bynum wonders why city has taken so long to get around to a statute banning sex discrimination
The city’s Civil Service Commission passed the proposal last month by a 2-1 margin, and Bynum, left, said he has been waiting for it to appear on the council agenda ever since.
FILE PHOTO/LISA NEWMAN
District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum admitted he was a little surprised at the reception he's gotten from his constituents regarding his proposal to prohibit discrimination for city employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
"It's not the type of thing you hear a lot of Republicans promoting across the country," he said. "I expected to get some blow back on it. But with a few exceptions, I've gotten almost unanimous support for the idea. I think people here in Tulsa respect the fact that somebody's private life is their business and not the city's business.
"It was a surprise to me because people have been talking about this for a decade now," he said. "I think people are largely complimentary and thankful that somebody has stepped forward and is trying to get this done."
Bynum said he worked on the proposal with District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes. The measure would forbid discrimination in the hiring, firing or promotion of those who work for the city of Tulsa based on their sexual orientation.
The city's Civil Service Commission passed the proposal last month by a 2-1 margin, and Bynum said he has been waiting for it to appear on the council agenda ever since. One reason for the delay, he said, is that he asked the City Attorney's Office to thoroughly review the proposal for unintended consequences, such as the possibility that it would mandate changes to the city's health care and benefits policies. That was not Bynum's intention, he said.
Bynum declined to speculate about how the proposal would fare before the council or Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., who also would need to add his signature to the measure.
"Hopefully, a majority of the councilors and the mayor will recognize that somebody's personal life is not the city of Tulsa's business," he said. "Any activity that occurs in somebody's personal life and has no impact on their job should not impact them in a discriminatory fashion."
That is a concept that has been widely embraced by other cities across the state and the nation, Bynum said, pointing out that Oklahoma County adopted a measure, much like the one he is proposing, several years ago. Various municipalities in Oklahoma have done likewise, he said.
The proposal Bynum is championing is mild compared to the laws on the books in other large cities, he said, some of which go so far as to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation among employees by any business that operates within the city limits. Others prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
"Salt Lake City is not considered a bastion of liberalism," yet it's one of the cities that prohibits both sexual-orientation or gender-identity discrimination, he said.
Bynum said he became educated on the issue when he attended a candidate forum at Tulsa's Center for Equality during last fall's municipal elections. He was surprised to find out Tulsa hadn't already adopted such a measure.
"They pointed out that a prohibition was not in place for city employees," he said. "They asked if I would be willing to support it."
It didn't take Bynum long to make up his mind.
"I said, 'Not only would I support it, I'll take the ball and run with it and try to get it done,' " he said.
Bynum said his support for the proposal comes from two directions. He said he once worked for a firm that offered benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and he realized what a great recruiting tool that was. But primarily, he said, he thinks it's important to show people that the city government in Tulsa is not an entity that interferes in the personal lives of its employees.
"I guess I'm what you call a Barry Goldwater Republican," he said, invoking the former GOP senator from Arizona and one-time presidential candidate who was known for his convictions that the government should not interfere in the personal affairs of its citizens. "Whether or not somebody's gay has no impact on their ability to do their job. It's no reason to get fired or not get the same promotion as anybody else."
Bynum said he expects the proposal to come before the council for consideration soon, perhaps as early as next week.
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