Gay rights activists in Arizona celebrated a long-fought victory over the weekend when Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an executive order forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies. "We're ecstatic," said Kathie Gummere of the Arizona Human Rights Fund. "It's one more step forward for us in gaining the rights that everyone else takes for granted." Napolitano's executive order makes it illegal for the state to hire, fire, promote, or discipline any state employee based on the individual's sexual orientation. "To the people of Arizona, I say, 'Welcome to a new Arizona,"' Napolitano told 1,000 people Saturday night at the Arizona Human Rights Fund dinner at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
For at least five years the Arizona Human Rights Fund, a GLBT rights organization, has tried to encourage similar legislation because of the high number of complaints in the state about workplace bias. "I hear from at least one person a week who feels like they were discriminated against in the workplace," Gummere said. But while Napolitano's announcement received four standing ovations from supporters, not everyone is applauding. "She's governing like she's a third-world dictator; it's ridiculous," said Len Munsil, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian organization. The Center for Arizona Policy has been instrumental in lobbying to block changes in the language of equal opportunity law in the past. Now the group plans to look at ways to reverse the new order, Munsil said.