EDITORIAL: It takes more than a slogan
Once in awhile, a city vehicle can be observed bearing a small faded bumper sticker reading, “Discrimination Does Not Play In Peoria.”
That claim by Peoria took on significance for the gay community in April 2003, when the Peoria City Council banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The city council voted 8-3 to include sexual orientation as a protected group in the city’s human rights ordinance.
This inclusion offers gays and lesbians protection against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Supporters of the amendment said the gay rights amendment was a matter of fairness and protecting basic human rights.
There was a spirited debate on this issue, but it was civil.
Brad Dunham, then head of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, voiced opposition to the amendment.
He said the proposal asked the council “to put its stamp of approval and validate a certain chosen lifestyle.”
Other opponents claimed the amendment would offer gays and lesbians “special” rights.
In the end, eight council members realized all the amendment did was offer equal rights.
Life moved on, with no major issues arising indicating anything but widespread acceptance of Peoria’s gay community.
Then, six years after the passage of the amendment, in April 2009, a reason for gays to question just how discrimination-free Peoria is arose.
A Peoria Times-Observer reporter on the evening of April 6, when he went to The Elbo Room, a karaoke bar on Main Street, observed a sign reading, “This is not a gay bar! This is a karaoke bar! Seven nights a week! Diesel is down the street.”
The bartender said the owner was a homophobe, and it was a joke.
“He doesn’t like when the gay people come in and sing his favorite songs,” the bartender said.
Quickly, and for several days, members of the gay community held rallies in front of the bar.
During one rally, the protesters — gay and straight — had paint balls shot at them.
At-large councilman and liquor commissioner Eric Turner took the issue seriously and threatened repercussions for the bar if there was any indication of actual discrimination.
In the end, bar owner Greg Quast issued an apology and said it would never happen again.
The sad Elbo Room incident is now old news. But, the fact that it happened indicates discrimination, or at least the perception of discrimination, is still an issue.
The gay community has planned a celebration on the Peoria Riverfront Sept. 13. Details are at peoriapride.com. The gathering is not just for the gay community, but, also, for those who support gay rights, or just, equal rights.
Peorians need to go out of their way to make sure the message that “Discrimination Does Not Play In Peoria,” is more than just a slogan on a bumper sticker.