Evanston city officials have scaled back a proposed human rights ordinance that previously would have allowed the city manager to review discrimination complaints against private employers.
The amended proposal will be up for consideration at a Human Service Committee meeting Monday. The new “Evanston Human Rights Ordinance” reflects what is currently included in the Illinois Human Rights Act as well as the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance, said Mario Treto, assistant city attorney for Evanston.
Nearly two decades ago, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals.
It defined sexual orientation as “having or perceived as having emotional, physical or sexual attachment to another without regard to the sex of that person or having or being perceived as having an orientation for such attachment, or having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness.”
With this ordinance, Evanston was the first municipality in Illinois to include transgendered individuals within its nondiscrimination policy, according to a memo form City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and International City/Council Management Association fellow Jonathan Williams-Kinsel.
The memo says the new ordinance would codify “the addition of gender identity and source of income to Evanston’s list of protected classes” in sections of the city code including fair employment practices and fair housing, the memo reads.
An earlier version of the ordinance, prepared for a committee meeting in April, would have given the city manager power to review complaints of discrimination in hiring decisions by private employers.
“The one thing most concerning once it was on the [Human Services Committee] agenda was the enforcement provision,” Bobkiewicz said. “It was never really our intention to get into the enforcement business on these issues because there are other Illinois agencies that are empowered to do that.”
The redrafted ordinance directs inviduals to file a complaint with either the state or the Cook County Commission on Human Rights.
The history behind the new human rights ordinance dates back two years, Bobkiewicz said. A ranking of LGBT friendly cities — which did not include Evanston — prompted Bobkiewicz to ask city staff to identify what Evanston is doing well and what it’s lacking in terms of LGBT friendliness.
Staff members said the transgender ordinance, passed in 1997, hadn’t been updated since its initial approval.
Staff members reviewed human rights ordinances in several cities around the country, including Houston, Texas, Tempe, Arizona, College Park, Maryland, and Royal Oak, Michigan, to create an updated version of the old ordinance..
“That first take we quickly realized was propbaly not the right take,” Bobkiewicz said referring to the previously proposed ordinance. “It was more comprehensive than we ever intended it to be.”
All of the protections listed under the proposed ordinance “are all protections afforded via the state and county,” Testo said.
When asked if the ordinance, now stripped of any enforcement provision, and matching laws currently on the books in both the state and county is simply symbolic, Bobkiewicz said “symbolic doesn’t capture what this is.”
“As a community, Evanston has a long history of defending and protecting and celebrating the rights of all individuals…making sure it is in our code shows we take these matters perhaps more seriously than other communities do and that is a community value in Evanston,” he said.
If the ordinance passes in the Human Services Committee Monday night, it will move on for consideration by the City Council the following week.