Irvine repeals initiative that denied the LGBTQ community anti-discrimination protection for decades

An LGBTQ rainbow flag flies
An LGBTQ rainbow flag flies next to the OC Fair flag. The Irvine City Council voted Tuesday to overturn a city initiative that denied anti-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.
(Photo by Christine Cotter)

The Irvine City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to repeal a city initiative that denied the LGBTQ community anti-discrimination protection based on their sexual orientation.

That initiative, Measure N, was approved in 1989 when voters decided to remove lesbians and gays from Irvine’s Human Rights Ordinance. It also forbade the city from adopting a policy that defines sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.

“This ordinance is a stain on our city, which we must now remove,” said Councilwoman Melissa Fox, who introduced the item with Councilwoman Farrah Khan. “It’s bad for business and bad for residents. It’s cruel and hateful.”

The item’s repeal was met positively by the LGBTQ community.

“I was really pleased to see that it was a unanimous vote to repeal it,” said Peg Corley, executive director of the LGBTQ Center of OC. “It’s a big win. There’s a lot of LGBTQ folks in Irvine.

“It’s a product of a larger landscape of where we are as a nation right now, having a really hard look at all equity across the board. It’s part of a larger movement. But I am really glad to see Irvine is landing on the right side of that.”

During the meeting, City Attorney Jeffrey Melching said the municipal code had for many years been unenforceable and “illegal” due to changes to the federal and state constitutions.

However, Melching expressed his concern that the council may not be legally able to remove the measure since it was approved by the public.

“The legal question for the city attorney is what is the proper process for removing those provisions from the Irvine municipal code,” Melching said. “What’s before us tonight is a motion, it’s not an ordinance, which is the required device to remove anything from the municipal code. Because these provisions were put into the municipal code by a vote of the people, they can only be removed by a vote of the people.”

Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea voted in favor of repealing Measure N, though she used to support it.
Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea voted in favor of repealing Measure N, though she used to support it.
(Courtesy of City of Irvine)

Mayor Christina Shea agreed with Melching’s analysis. Shea originally supported and campaigned for the measure but has since said that she doesn’t support it anymore.

“Going out to the voters would be like digging up a dead dog, shooting it in the head again and burying it one more time because it’s already dead,” Shea said.

Fox and Councilman Mike Carroll, both attorneys, disagreed.

Melching said the initiative would be removed from the municipal code and would remain off the books, though that could change if somebody sues the city and challenges the council’s authority to repeal the provisions.

“Most importantly, Jeff, this is something you have said to me on many occasions, who in their right mind is going to sue us to put this racist, [expletive] language back in our code?” Fox said to Melching. “So I am calling upon my colleagues to do the easiest and best thing today, which is remove this stain from our code and do what thousands of businesses and residents have asked us to do and clean this up and move on.”

Council members Melissa Fox, pictured, and Farrah Khan proposed the repeal of Measure N.
Council members Melissa Fox, pictured, and Farrah Khan proposed the repeal of Measure N.
(Courtesy of City of Irvine )

The vote comes on the heels of a major shift in the city’s support of the LGBTQ community. Last month, the council voted to fly the pride flag annually and proclaim the month of June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, both firsts in Irvine. The council voted against flying the pride flag last year.

The repeal of the measure gathered widespread support from residents.

“Although this part of the code is no longer enforceable, choosing to leave this on the books is a slap in the face of LGBTQ residents of this city,” resident Chad Kulsel said in a public comment. “It’s a reminder of a dark, bigoted time that has no business in the city of Irvine.”

Some residents took aim at Shea’s past support of the measure.

“As a resident of Irvine, I am disgusted at the existence of measure N,” said resident Alondra Maldonado. “This measure has existed for longer than I have been alive. To see the person who has been at the forefront of the movement be not only in a position of power but be the mayor of the city is a slap in the face ... My right to marry became legal only five years ago. Measure N is overdue for repeal and should have never been passed.”

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