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Salt Lake City Weekly Let's Play 21 Questions

Salt Lake City Councilman Bryce Jolley's fight against homosexuality takes a straight twist.

By Katharine Biele

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  Bryce Jolley was a towering figure of rage. A fearsome sight to a city council used to his calming influence.

But this time, the council had gone too far. Deeda Seed was powering through an ordinance to add a sexual orientation clause to Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination policy, and Jolley didn't like it. Not one bit. So, in an effort to dissuade his fellow council members, Jolley asked if they would answer a list of 21 questions, and look over another sheet entitled: "Comments Found By Council Member Jolley While Researching the Topic."

But they refused.

Jolley stomped out of town for a 10-day trip right after the meeting, and so was not available for comment. "A lot of the questions, he knew the answers to, but he was trying to get them to look at it because there are so many concerns," says the Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka, who hovered in the background during the council meeting. "Before they make a decision, they need to have answers to these questions. It's incredible they would move forward without the answers."

"It's clear that he has some deeply held personal views pertaining to homosexuality," says Seed. "But when asked, 'Do you think it's OK to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation,' his answer has been no. So, I suppose I'm a little confused."

And she is not the only one. So, at the risk of evoking more emotions, and certainly more rhetoric, at least some of those questions will be answered. Matthew Hilton, an attorney who has helped the Eagle Forum in the past, was unable to take the time, but Ross Anderson, an attorney who works on civil liberties issues, had a few things to say.

"The questions as a whole are simply veiled attacks on the ordinance," he says. "Certainly a few of the questions appear to be intended to clarify the meaning of the ordinance, but most of them are more rhetorical than anything."

How veiled the attack is a matter of debate. Here's a sampling:

  • "Does sexual orientation need to be defined, such as homosexual acts, cross dressing, verbal expression or assumptions by others?"

  • "Do we need to state that sexual behavior is different than sexual orientation and extramarital behavior is not protected?"

  • "Would an individual have to declare their sexual orientation before they could consider using this ordinance for protection?"

  • "Would an employee who is morally opposed to homosexuality be disciplined or discriminated against if they expressed their opinion in opposition? Would a person who spoke out against homosexuality be in the same class as a racist, bigot or chauvinist?"

  • "Would employees need to go through sensitivity training in dealing with sexual orientation?"

Obviously, someone needs some kind of sensitivity training. "Some of these questions, I simply don't understand," says Anderson. "Like declaring your sexual orientation. What the hell does that mean? Either you're able to prove it or not."

Then there's the one about the process. Q: "What would the process be if someone claimed discrimination based on the ordinance? Would the City first have to prove it knew or didn't know the ordinance?"

"That's so absurd it doesn't merit a response. Of course, the City is assumed to know what its own ordinances are," says Anderson.

Attorney Ross Anderson: "These questions are thinly-veiled attacks..."

There is another subset of issues you could call the "freedom to righteously hate" issues. Q: "Would an employee who is morally opposed to homosexuality be disciplined or discriminated against if they expressed their opinion in opposition? Would a person who spoke our against homosexuality be in the same class as a racist, bigot or chauvinist?"

"If an employee created an oppressive atmosphere by expressing that employee's views about homosexuality, that could give rise to a discrimination claim," says Anderson. "But in my view, people have no business at all making life miserable for other employees by commenting on issues that involve the most personal, intimate aspects of one's life, whether it's in terms of sexual harassment, commenting disparagingly about one's religion or about one's sexual orientation."

Taking a page from the state, which officially encourages family values, Jolley asks how the ordinance relates to "pro-family images." Q: "Would the City not be able to encourage spouses or family to accompany employees to an event such as out of town conferences or seminars?"

"The fact is there are a lot of different kinds of families, most, if not all, of which are nurturing and provide stability for those who are members," Anderson says.

Jolley, obviously, would not agree with Anderson on this point. Q: "Would it be helpful to establish an outreach program for City youth to encourage them to resist and overcome homosexual orientation?"

This question, perhaps more than any, highlights the intense debate over nature or nurture, over whether one chooses to follow a homosexual lifestyle or has it predetermined. For the record, the ordinance doesn't even hint at the issue. But the question shows how far apart the two sides of the issue are. One side thinks the law should recognize a reality; the other fears it would condone an aberration.

The reality, Anderson says, is that discrimination is a way of life, so the law must specify what's unacceptable. "There are people who think they've been discriminated against because they write poorly or someone doesn't like them," he says. That's not enough to invoke legal action. "There's got to be some context," Anderson says.

Jolley would like the city to adopt an ordinance saying that only employment-related factors can be considered in personnel decisions. It sounds good. But then you have to define "employment-related."

"Take the Wendy Weaver case," says Anderson of the lesbian teacher's plight. "A lot of people, for some reason, think the most intimate aspect of Ms. Weaver's life is employment-related."

Rhetoric aside, Ruzicka says Jolley intends to muster his forces to repeal any law if passed in the Dec. 6 council meeting. Such urgency. Like someone expects a flood of lawsuits.

"We've had none whatsoever," says Felix McGowen, personnel director for Salt Lake County, which has included sexual orientation in its policy since '96. "We have not had any questions, concerns, complaints or anything."

Or anything like Council Member Jolley's questions.

E-mail Katharine Biele at biele@slweekly.com.

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