ACLU Helps Los Altos Community Reverse Gay Proclamation Ban

July 26, 2006 12:00 am

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LOS ALTOS, CA — The American Civil Liberties Union cheered a unanimous decision by the Los Altos city council rescinding a ban on proclamations having anything to do with sexual orientation that had passed in February.

The reversal came after more than 50 local business owners petitioned the council to end the “embarrassing” rule, which they said was bad for business and the city’s reputation. The city council’s decision also followed the implied threat of a lawsuit when the ACLU of Northern California filed a Public Records Act request with the help of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati attorneys Amy Todd and Tami Fisher.

“We were happy to assist a diverse coalition of residents who sought to have the city council change its discriminatory rule,” said Sanjeev Bery, director of the ACLU San Jose office. “A combination of public education, business owner participation and heartfelt stories from citizens affected by the ban helped the council realize its mistake. All the work the residents put into reaching this political solution really paid off.”

After students at the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at the Los Altos High School asked the council to proclaim Gay Pride Day in Lost Altos, the city council enacted a rule last February baring proclamations pertaining to sexual orientation.

In response to this rule, the ACLU helped to organize students and other concerned residents to oppose the ban. At the July 11 and July 25 city council meetings, about 40 Los Altos citizens – students, parents, business owners, and longtime residents both gay and straight – sat in the audience wearing red T-shirts that said: “Proclaim Equality Los Altos.”

At the July 25 meeting, Los Altos High School senior Ellen Lathrop, 17, asked council members to recall their own high school years. “The loneliness, feeling different – now multiply it by 1,000. That is what it must be like for a gay student in Los Altos,” Lathrop said. “High school is hard enough when you are straight, which is why I think the courage of the gay students should be commended – not reprimanded with a discriminatory rule.”

Los Altos High School junior Tony Zhukovskiy, 15, said joining the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance was important to him because nothing like it existed in his home country of Russia. He told the council how proud he was that in the United States, he could have the hope of finding acceptance and tolerance. But, he said he was “crestfallen” when the Los Altos city council treated gay people in the same way he would have expected in Russia. “Here, I thought everyone was supposed to be equal under the law.”

Jackie Roux, a 1999 graduate of Los Altos High School, told the council that she moved back to Los Altos after finishing college to work in the city she was raised. But, she said the city council’s discriminatory attitude “gives me pause whether this is the kind of city I want to raise a family and continue my career.”

The new rule simply says the mayor can issue any proclamation to a local resident, organization or event without formal action of the council, though proclamation requests can be referred to the council for vote at the mayor’s discretion.

The Los Altos Gay/Straight Alliance expects to ask for a Gay Pride Day proclamation again next year, and under the new rules, they are free to do so. But the students realize an application does not guarantee the mayor will sign it, or that the council will pass it if referred by the mayor for a vote. That is why an energized community will continue to raise awareness in Los Altos and be advocates for acceptance and tolerance for its gay citizens.

Los Altos physician Robert Frascino told the council: “This anti-gay rule may have passed when a lot of us weren’t paying attention. But I just want to let you all know – you’ve got our attention now.”

Tamara Lange, a Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, added, “We are pleased with the council’s decision. But we’re going to be watching to make sure the new rule is applied equally.”

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