A subcommittee of Alexandria's Human Rights Commission has reported that amending the city's human rights code to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation "may be appropriate," and it has scheduled a public hearing on the subject for next month.
The subcommittee's action follows a survey of Alexandria's gay community conducted by the commission this year in cooperation with the Alexandria Gay Community Association.
An amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation "will allow me to take a charge based on someone's sexual orientation," said Stephen M. Levinson, administrator of the city's human rights office. The commission currently cannot investigate such charges because it has no jurisdiction to do so, Levinson said.
Right now, "If someone gets fired because they are gay or lesbian, they have no rights under Virginia law," Levinson said.
"We're very pleased" about the recommendation, said Gary Fleming, president of the Alexandria Gay Community Association, which has been pushing for an amendment to city law prohibiting discrimination against gays.
Fleming said his group has asked supporters of such an amendment to speak at the public hearing. He expects the full 12-member commission to recommend the amendment, unless "major opposition to the amendment surfaces at the public hearing."
The confidential survey of 107 gays living and working in the city indicated that "discrimination based on sexual orientation exists in the City of Alexandria, most often in the areas of housing, social services, employment and equal protection," the subcommittee reported to the commission last week.
"One of the clearest and most glaring results of discrimination repeats itself over and over again: respondents who have experienced discrimination, in the great majority of cases, took no action out of fear of exposure and retaliation," the report said.
The only Northern Virginia jurisdiction specifically prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals is Arlington County, which this year adopted a revised affirmative action policy prohibiting discrimination in county employment based on sexual orientation, according to county attorney Charles Flynn.
The Alexandria survey was prompted by a 1983 incident in which an Alexandria man who is a homosexual was fired from his job, allegedly because of his sexual orientation, after that fact was revealed in a local newspaper article.
Respondents to the survey said overwhelmingly (74 percent) that homosexuals do not receive equal treatment under current law. They reported incidents of being refused housing, health care, schooling, service in restaurants and hotels, and religious counseling.
Despite such incidents, Fleming said, the gay community believes Alexandria is a "very tolerant" city in its dealings with homosexuals. This was reflected in the survey results indicating that 48 percent of the participants said their quality of life in Alexandria compared favorably with conditions in other cities.
Fleming said the gay community supports the amendment as a signal that "they don't have to go around hiding."
The survey, a 10-page questionnaire sent to people on the association's mailing list, shows Alexandria's gay community as an affluent, highly educated, professional group, with 20 percent of the respondents earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year -- many of them as lawyers, accountants and federal government employes. The ages of the respondents, who were more than 90 percent white, ranged from 20 to 71.
The public hearing before the commission is set for Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. in City Hall.