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Oregon legislators target gay rights law

McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Two Yamhill County lawmakers are planning a statewide ballot initiative to repeal the landmark gay rights law passed by the 2007 Legislature to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

State Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, and Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Newberg, have submitted a ballot title to state elections officials, who announced this week they will accept public comments through March 25.

The draft title on the proposed statutory amendment by George and Thatcher reads: “Removes sexual orientation from statutes listing impermissible discrimination grounds; deletes other sexual orientation-related provisions.”

Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said the proposed initiative was expected. But she criticized the two Republican lawmakers for their role.

“While I’m not surprised that initiatives to repeal the laws have been filed, I’m shocked that this effort has been spearheaded by legislators whose duty is to protect Oregonians,” Frazzini said.

Gay rights activists, meanwhile, are also upset over remarks George made to a reporter for Just Out, the state’s flagship gay newspaper, which posted excerpts this week on its Web site. The full interview is expected to be published in the print edition March 21.

The exchange between George and the reporter includes George’s response to a question about employees who are fired because they’re gay.

“As an employer, I don’t wanna hear about it,” George told Just Out. “This workplace is for work purposes. My advice to the gay community is shut up, just don’t talk about it. If you walk around talking about what you do in the bedroom, you should be on the pervert channel.”

George told the News-Register newspaper in McMinnville the comment was taken out of context.

He said he was referring to an incident involving an employee of his hazelnut operation who complained that another worker was gay. After determining the gay employee hadn’t even spoken about his sexual orientation, George said he told the complaining worker to get over it.

George told the News-Register that he took the call from Just Out after arriving home from an overnight flight, was tired and wasn’t sure who he was talking to.

“It’s my fault for having three or four hours of sleep and engaging in a philosophical discussion,” George said. He said he hadn’t contacted the paper for a correction or retraction, saying, “There’s no way to win this thing.”

Readers responding on the Just Out blog have termed George’s comments horrifying and hateful. One has called for his resignation and others have called him a “lunatic” and a “whack job.”

George said Friday that the backlash might help him with his initiative because it exposes the intolerance of gay rights supporters

If the proposed ballot title is approved, George and his co-sponsors will have until July 3 to collect 82,769 valid signatures from registered Oregon voters.