4 Lawmakers Fight Irvine Ordinance on Gay Rights

Times Staff Writer

Two congressmen and two assemblymen from Orange County have denounced an Irvine anti-discrimination ordinance as an attempt to “advance homosexuality” by espousing a “perverse life style” and have joined an effort to repeal it.

In a letter, the officials lent their support to an effort to delete the part of the ordinance that makes it unlawful to discriminate against people because of their “sexual orientation.”

The lawmakers are Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) and Assemblymen Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) and Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach).

“The issue we must address is whether or not we will stand up and affirm the heterosexual ethic in our society,” the letter says. “If we do not, we will, by default, allow those who espouse a perverse life style to dictate the moral standards in our society.”


A copy of the letter was obtained by The Times. It apparently was mailed to Republican officeholders, asking them to lend their names and contribute from their campaign funds to the Irvine Values Coalition, a conservative group behind the move to amend the ordinance.

Irvine city officials and human-rights activists attacked the letter Saturday as an attempt to influence the city’s internal affairs and to spread anti-gay feelings.

“I think that the voters of Irvine recognize Dannemeyer and Robert K. Dornan for what they actually are: hatemongers who pray on people’s emotional weaknesses to gain their own end,” said Irvine Councilman Edward A. Dornan, who supported the human-rights ordinance.

“It seems that the letter is an indication that the ‘skinhead’ mentality is not just embodied by people who shave their heads and wear jackboots and leather jackets. This is also part of the mentality of some Orange County officials such as Dannemeyer and Dornan who actually wear suits and ties and have managed to trick the voters to put them into office.”

The Irvine ordinance, passed last summer, outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, physical handicap or sexual orientation.

Irvine officials said the ordinance was designed only to ensure equal rights for all minority groups and hailed its passage as a reflection of the tolerant and progressive attitude of the city and its residents.

Shortly after the ordinance’s passage, however, a self-described “pro-family” group named the Irvine Values Coalition said it would begin a petition drive to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted. Scott Peotter, an architect and coordinator of the petition drive, argued that the City Council was legislating morality by extending “special rights” for a “chosen life style” in a community where traditional family values are important.

Neither Dannemeyer nor Dornan could be reached for comment Saturday.

‘Pet Perspectives’

But Frizzelle said Saturday that he signed the letter because he sees the ordinance as “passing laws that address independent pressure groups’ pet perspectives. And I believe that’s what the ordinance does, and I rarely vote for anything of that nature.

“Anything I can do to help eliminate those special privileges for special groups of people, I vote against,” Frizzelle said. “I would like to see it occur in every community. It doesn’t just have to do with gays but with every group. My opinions are based on my own philosophical perspective.”

Frizzelle said he does not know to whom the letter was sent, nor does he remember who asked him to sign it, but he agrees with its message.

Among other things, the letter stated: “What people do in the privacy of their domicile is not our business, the government’s business or anybody else’s business. But when these individuals come out of the privacy of their domicile into the public square and seek, by government force, to push their life style to the same level of heterosexuality, that is when they have our attention.”

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said he is not surprised by the letter, but is “a little disappointed by it.”

“The fact that the authors of this letter have focused upon the gay community is consistent with their respective records of homophobic behavior,” Agran said.

“In point of fact, the ordinance that was adopted is a broad-based human-rights ordinance. The sexual orientation provision is simply one of many designated categories in the ordinance. It is mainly a reaffirmation of our commitment as a city to the full civil and human rights of all who reside or work in Irvine.”

Agran said he has a “file full of hate letters from Dornan and Ferguson” regarding past political campaigns. He added that he believes that their support for the Irvine Values Coalition will have little effect on the outcome of the petition drive.

The petitioners need at least 5,900 signatures from registered voters in Irvine to force a vote on amending the ordinance. They have until mid-March to collect the signatures.

Alex Wentzel, president of the Orange County Log Cabin Club, a Republican organization that advocates the inclusion of gays and other minorities in the political mainstream, said he suspects the letter will “carry weight with those people who are not informed and with people who are prejudiced themselves. There are going to be other people who realize it is demagoguery and will throw it in the wastebasket when they consider the source.”

“These people just won’t stop. They keep stirring the pot,” Wentzel said. “All the Irvine ordinance does is allow equal treatment, and so people can’t discriminate against you because you are gay.”

Jim Boone, who was a member of the Irvine Human Rights Commission that wrote the ordinance and currently is a member of the city Public Safety Commission, said he is surprised “that they have decided to interfere in the politics of Irvine.”

Boone noted that only Frizzelle represents part of the city in the state Legislature. Dornan and Dannemeyer represent congressional districts that do not encompass Irvine, and Ferguson’s Assembly district does not represent Irvine.

“I think it is quite inappropriate,” Boone said. “This whole ordinance was designed to provide local redress for all groups. We thought it was extremely important that the city go on record that all groups are welcome and wanted in Irvine.

“I think the people of Irvine will be a little upset that people like Dornan and Dannemeyer are using their homophobia to incite trouble in Irvine.

“We consider this to be an attack on the ordinance and on the whole city. Irvine is a city which prides itself on being an open city. Irvine is not a biased and bigoted city, and we hope to keep it that way.”