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Group Looks Beyond Goal of Excluding Gays From Law

Times Staff Writer

When he first learned that Irvine was considering including homosexuals in an anti-discrimination ordinance, an alarmed Scott Peotter went to City Hall to get a copy.

“It was the first time I’d ever been to the city clerk’s office,” Peotter said.

He is becoming a frequent visitor now.

Peotter is leading a group of Irvine residents, also novices at fighting City Hall, in a task worthy of an experienced civic gadfly. He and other members of a new group called the Irvine Values Coalition soon will be circulating petitions in an effort to remove homosexuals from the groups protected under the since-passed human rights ordinance.

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If the coalition succeeds in putting the issue on the ballot, it will be the first opportunity for Orange County voters to cast ballots directly on the issue of homosexuals’ rights.

Irvine’s ordinance bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, marital status or physical handicap, in the areas of employment, housing, educational institutions and public service.

Bigger Plans

But the coalition hopes to do more than remove the words sexual orientation from the ordinance. It also wants to monitor sex education in schools and pornography in video rental stores. The group also might try to help gays and lesbians who are unhappy with their sexuality to “get out of the life style,” Peotter said.

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Those plans are still in the talking stage for the fledgling group, which is concentrating first on changing Irvine’s human rights ordinance.

“It’s a change in the moral direction of the community,” Peotter said, complaining about the Irvine City Council’s 4-0 decision to adopt the ordinance. A matter of such importance should go before the electorate since the council didn’t heed objections, he and others said. The coalition’s measure, if approved, also would prohibit the council from taking any future action to provide special protection for gays unless two-thirds of the electorate voted to do so.

The City Council, Peotter contends, is legislating morality by extending “special rights” for a “chosen life style” in a community where traditional family values are important.

‘Legislating Acceptance’

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“Speaking personally, I think the homosexual and gay community can’t gain social acceptance, so they’re trying to legislate acceptance,” Peotter said.

But Mayor Larry Agran, a leading supporter of the ordinance, said he hopes that the coalition’s measure will be seen “as the anti-human rights initiative.”

“I believe the so-called coalition is in fact a small number of individuals who subscribe to an extreme right-wing point of view and who are fundamentally opposed to securing human rights by local law,” he said. Under the ordinance, he said, gays do not receive special protection, but “equal protection.”

“What they (coalition members) seek to do is to impose their own very narrow view of human rights on the rest of us.”

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Coalition members, he said, “remind me of the people during the civil rights movement. They weren’t opposed to black folks, but they didn’t think they should have the same rights as white folks. That’s what this boils down to.”

Decided to Unite

Until the human-rights ordinance was drafted, there was no coalition, just a number of residents who kept seeing each other at city meetings at which the measure was discussed. At some point, the residents realized that they might be more effective if they united, and they circulated a sheet of paper at one meeting and recorded their names and phone numbers. With that, the coalition was born.

Peotter and other coalition leaders say their group has about 75 members, although the core of the group is a dozen people who meet regularly and compose the steering committee. They describe their members as largely churchgoers but not affiliated with any one church or denomination.

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The only member of the core group with any history of civic activism, they said, is Michael Shea, a city finance commissioner who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in June.

“We’re all gaining our stripes now,” said member Michael D. McIntyre.

In addition to the initiative drive, the coalition plans to monitor schools, businesses and government agencies in an effort to restore “traditional family values.”

They also plan a members’ newsletter, the Watchdog. A draft of the first issue, edited by McIntyre, includes information about a school district advisory group formed to review the sex-education program. The newsletter also lists the Irvine video stores that do not rent what they consider “pornographic” movies as well as those that do rent them and names the cable channels that do and do not show adult movies.

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“An effective method of taking a positive, pro-active stance against encroaching pornography at the local level is through boycott,” the newsletter says.

The coalition has filed papers with the secretary of state’s office so that it can receive and distribute money in election campaigns, such as the campaign for the initiative, should it reach the ballot.

The group has decided that it should not endorse or oppose specific City Council and school board candidates but will publicize the candidates’ positions on certain issues, Peotter said.

Peotter said he also would like the coalition to help gays and lesbians who want to change their sexual orientation. “We’re not going to start a counseling service, but we’d like to be a referral service, to refer people to counseling programs with a record of success,” he said.

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‘Matter of Choice’

Central to the coalition’s effort is the view that homosexuality is a matter of choice and is not innate. It is that distinction that makes the coalition so upset by the inclusion of homosexuals in the human rights ordinance, Peotter and McIntyre said.

“They’re the only group (included in the ordinance) who are a group by choice,” McIntyre said. If the city is going to legislate protection for chosen sexual behavior, Peotter said, “why don’t they include adultery?”

In response, Mayor Agran pointed out that the ordinance also bans discrimination on the basis of religion, which “is certainly a matter of choice, and that’s a category that extends protection to virtually everybody.”

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As for homosexuality being a matter of choice, both Agran and Pat Callahan, the co-chair of the gay- and lesbian-oriented Elections Committee of the County of Orange, disagreed.

“It’s well understood that for most people, there is no choice between whether they are homosexual or heterosexual,” Agran said. “Most so-called straight individuals cannot identify that point in time when they chose to be heterosexual. And across all societies, it appears that about 10% of all individuals are homosexual. For the overwhelming majority, it is not a matter of choice.”

City for All People

“I don’t believe science has decided it’s a matter of choice,” Callahan said. “The issue is creating a healthy work environment and healthy living environment and creating a city big enough for all people to live in.”

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While the debate continues over what determines sexual orientation, studies have shown that biology may play a part. Hormones seem to influence behavior associated with sexual identity--even in children too young to be affected by social conditioning, several studies have suggested.

But Peotter’s group fears that by giving “special protection” to a group of people who--they say--have chosen their life style, the city could deprive the rest of the population of choice.

Peotter referred to a 1974 case in Minneapolis, Minn., in which the Big Brothers organization told an applicant that his homosexuality would be revealed to the mother of the potential “little brother,” in case she objected. The city human rights department told Big Brothers to stop asking applicants’ sexual preference, but the actions of Big Brothers were ultimately upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1979.

Peotter, 31, an architect and father of two, said he fears that Irvine’s ordinance would take away the rights of parents to choose role models for their children and would tie the hands of such groups as Big Brothers or the Boys Club.

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‘Special Protection’

“They (City Council members) are eliminating citizens’ choice because of this special protection,” he said. “What right do they have to say it (homosexuality) is right? It takes away the rights of others.”

The ordinance could lead to affirmative action programs in companies, requiring the hiring of homosexuals, Peotter and McIntyre contend.

They said they do not endorse discrimination against homosexuals if sexual orientation has no impact on the job. But they fear that the new city law could give gays special protection in the work force because any firing or disciplinary action against them could be painted as discrimination.

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Peotter offered the hypothetical example of an athletic coach who parades his sexual life style in front of his young team. If the coach is heterosexual and openly promiscuous, officials “should be able to talk to the coach,” Peotter said. But if the coach is homosexual, “they won’t be able to do anything,” he said.

As a parent, Peotter said, “I’d like to use sexuality as an aspect of a role model for my son, whether that person is heterosexual or homosexual.”

Equal Protection

Agran and Callahan said the coalition is misinterpreting the ordinance. The ordinance only gives equal protection, not special protection, they said, and includes no provisions for affirmative action programs, they said.

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The hypothetical coach could and should be disciplined, whether he is heterosexual or homosexual, Agran said. He was unfamiliar with the Minnesota Big Brother case but said that people should not be given the option of violating others’ civil rights.

“Are they (coalition members) suggesting that we ought to give people the right to say they don’t want to do business with black people? If we give veto power, then human rights exist for no one.”

The human rights ordinance affects not just Irvine residents, the mayor said. “Irvine is a major employment center, and employment discrimination based on race, ethnic background, sex or sexual orientation is something we cannot tolerate.”

The wording of the initiative has been reviewed by the city attorney, and now Peotter’s group has 180 days to collect the signatures of 10% or more of Irvine’s 50,000 voters.

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Bad Timing

Peotter said it is unfortunate timing that his group formed when physical attacks on gays--which he called deplorable--are making the news. But Peotter said he also resents the implication that “this ordinance is going to prevent gay-bashings.”

His group is not anti-gay, he said, because that implies that members are opposed to individuals who are gay.

“A gay person is living a life style of choice. I think the choice is wrong, but he’s got his free choice and he’s pursuing it. . . .

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“I liken it more to alcoholism. You don’t hate the alcoholic, you hate the alcoholism. I don’t hate the homosexual, but I don’t like the life style.”


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