Bend, Ore.'s pro-gay antidiscrimination measure evokes huge response
Bend, Ore., city councilors have been flooded with hundreds of e-mails in response to a proposed ordinance outlawing discrimination against gays. The measure would make it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. It's aimed at preventing prejudice against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people in housing, employment, and public places such as restaurants.
The measure follows last year's attack on a gay man in a downtown Bend dance club. While the ordinance would make discrimination against gays a crime, violators would not face jail time or fines. Rather, victims of discrimination would be able to sue for damages in court.
The seven city councilors will hear testimony on March 31. "This is the biggest thing we've had," said councilor Chris Telfer. "Usually we're lucky to get a handful of responses. This is huge."
Councilor John Hummel, who sponsored the ordinance, said some opponents of the measure go too far in their vilification of homosexuality. "There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with government," Hummel said. "But I don't see how the debate is helped by the nasty, derogatory nature of some of the responses."
However, local Christian radio station KNLR "New Life" 97 has been urging listeners to contact council members asking them to vote against the proposal. The station even provides a link to city councilors' e-mail addresses on its Web site. "Normally when you talk about discrimination, you are talking about race or color," said Terry Cowan, the Bend station's owner and manager.
Supporters say the ordinance is needed to defend the rights of all people, not just sexual minorities. The Human Dignity Collation, a Bend-based group, has posted information about the ordinance on its Web site and circulated e-mails asking supporters to write to councilors. And the Spiritual Awareness Community, which meets regularly at a downtown Bend church, organized a candlelight vigil Sunday night to honor the work done by ordinance supporters.