The Lowry administration has toned down a “sexual minority” plan for state agency workers and clients, agreeing to drop all references to minority status or affirmative action for gays and lesbians.
The move drew kudos from anti-gay rights activists and no immediate reaction from the gay community.
The 58-page “sexual minority initiative” has been assailed for months by legislative conservatives, including House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, and by backers of a ballot measure to ban “special minority status based on sexual behavior.”
Critics call it misuse of tax dollars to circumvent the Legislature, which has refused to pass an antidiscrimination bill for gays, and say it helps advance gays’ agenda. But backers say it confers no special rights and simply acknowledges that Washington’s population is diverse.
The plan, spearheaded by the Department of Social and Health Services as part of Gov. Mike Lowry’s 1993 Diversity Initiative, seeks to “provide a safe and non-discriminatory workplace” for gay employees and appropriate services for gay clients.
In response to a strenuous objection from an anti-gay rights group, Washington for Traditional Values, the director of Washington’s Diversity Initiative Office on Tuesday announced the state will make “substantive changes” to better reflect “the acceptable parameters of public policy as it relates to homosexuality.”
In a letter to WTV Executive Director Robert Larimer Jr. of Vancouver, Edward Rodriguez agreed with many of the critics’ points. The very use of the phrase “sexual minority,” he wrote, “may be construed as an endorsement of a political agenda which ultimately seeks to include gay-lesbian persons as a protected group for affirmative actions.”
That is not the state’s intent, and the campaign will be renamed “Sexual Orientation Initiative,” Rodriguez said.
References to affirmative action for state hiring or other purposes “must be removed,” he said. The state’s insistence on not allowing discrimination or harassment of gays remains solid and will remain a part of state government training, but no special rights are intended, he said.
He also removed a section requiring DSHS to hire people to provide outreach and advocacy for gay clients.
The state also will scrap plans to acknowledge “domestic partnerships” for “non-traditional families.”
Rodriguez declined to eliminate homosexual issues from diversity training sessions for caseworkers.The newly adopted state budget says no state employee can be forced to attend diversity training.Rodriguez defended a section that will bring gay and lesbian-owned companies to the attention of potential contractors. This won’t mean set-asides, “but rather that they will be made aware of competitive opportunities just like anyone else,” he wrote.He also declined to drop a section requiring the state to provide foster and group home placements “that are interested in and able to work appropriately with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered youth and families.” Training must be offered to foster parents, the new program says.Training and taking gay placements remain optional, he wrote.However, the state is backing away from a requirement to recruit gay citizens to act as volunteers and mentors to work with gay youth in state juvenile rehabilitation facilities, including help transitioning back into the community and “establishing alternative lifestyles.”Rodriguez said he regrets the “unacceptable methods” contained in earlier drafts, but said no heads will roll.Larimer applauded the changes.”This response by DSHS to our concerns vindicates our belief that pro-homosexual special interests have, until now, been unchallenged in their political manipulation of taxpayer-funded state agencies, facilities and employees,” he said in a statement.Given recent court rulings, “It is especially appropriate that government agencies such as DSHS stay out of pro-homosexual policy-making and refuse to encourage special treatment of groups based solely on their claimed sexual behaviors.”In an earlier letter to Ballard, DSHS Secretary Jean Soliz said the administration was not trying to add any special rights or privileges for gays, but remains committed to properly serving one million clients a year, including many gays.Of particular concern are gay youths, who are two or three times as likely to commit suicide, she said. About 40 percent of Seattle’s “street kids” are gay or bisexual, she said.Rodriguez and Soliz did not return telephone calls seeking further comment.Diane McDade, a spokeswoman for Hands Off Washington, had not seen the new draft and declined immediate comment. Wayne Ehlers, lobbyist for the Privacy Fund, did not return a telephone call.