Monday, May 16, 2011

Decoding Skorman: Crying "Wolf"


Cutting same-sex benefits harmful?

Similar cities not hurt after decision

Warnings of a backlash came immediately after the Colorado Springs City Council voted to revoke benefits for city employees' same-sex partners.
Tourists would stay away.
Companies would go elsewhere.
There was talk of a boycott.
But it's hard to put that kind of pressure on a city.
Other communities that passed anti-gay measures or rejected pro- gay measures have seen no economic impact.
Colorado's 1992 passage of the nationally known anti-gay Amendment 2 led to immediate boycotts, but the state shook them off and grew.
"Despite the statewide vote on that issue ... a lot of companies moved to the state," said Bob Loevy, a Colorado College political science professor.
Some groups, such as Citizens Project, are focused on getting people to talk about the issues and finding ways for city leaders to make Colorado Springs more welcoming and accepting.
That effort has shown to be a trend in cities that haven't favored pro-gay laws.
The issue began when City Manager Lorne Kramer put health benefits for same-sex partners of city workers in his proposed budget.
A divided City Council voted in November to approve his suggestion.
Despite the publicity, few people participated - six city employees and two people who work for city-owned Memorial Hospital.
Benefit opponents made it one of the most talked-about issues in the spring mayoral and council elections.
Nearly every group questioned office-seekers about it, as did the organizations who ran almost every forum, Councilman Jerry Heimlicher said.
No one made it more of an issue than Lionel Rivera, elected mayor with a surprisingly wide margin after sweeping the city's most conservative areas.
Based on the criticism against the benefits during the campaign and the fact six of seven men elected to council April 1 opposed the coverage, the council felt it had a mandate to end it.
Council members voted 8-1 at their first formal meeting last month to do away with the benefits this year.
The issue now belongs to council members, a spokeswoman for Kramer said recently, and referred all questions to them.
Several council members said they want to get past the issue and focus on pressing matters, such as the $10 million budget deficit.
"For those who believe in the same-sex partner business, it's an important symbol for them," Councilwoman Margaret Radford said. "It's not an important symbol for me. ... Isn't there more important stuff to be worrying about?"
Some gay rights activists say no.
This isn't the first time the city is divided on gay and lesbian issues.
Many activists are upset that Colorado Springs was the birthplace of Amendment 2, which denied legal protection for gay men and lesbians. They say the benefits issue continues to give the city a black eye.
At the meeting, several suggested the city might be sued.
One lesbian employee said she and her partner will leave the city.
Sue Autry, the city's human resources manager, said a few workers reported to her office that they plan to leave Colorado Springs.
A more common warning is gay rights supporters will not vacation in the Springs, and businesses will think twice about relocating.
E-mails poured in to several council members, most notably Richard Skorman, the lone benefits supporter. They came from out-of-town people who said they will avoid Colorado Springs, pass along their sentiment to people they know and see if any boycotts have started.
Tim Miller, a gay theater performer from Los Angeles who recently performed at Colorado College, said he will be hard-pressed to visit Colorado Springs again. He read about the vote in the Los Angeles Times.
"It's the one thing other than the horrors at the Air Force Academy that's put Colorado Springs in the news lately," Miller said. "That's some really good associations there - the rape and gay- bashing capital of the Rocky Mountain states."
Skorman suggested the effects might be seen in the economy.
But in interviews during the past two weeks, no one has reported any.
Although it's been less than three weeks, Loevy said calls for boycotts came after Amendment 2.
No city has done what Colorado Springs did - having workers sign up for benefits and then revoking them, said Seth Kilbourn of the Human Rights Campaign.
Other municipalities haven't supported gay-friendly legislation, and they report no economic backlash.
Cincinnati became a national flashpoint in 1993 after it passed Issue 3, essentially a city version of Amendment 2.
Raymond Buse of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce said that even though some conventions stayed away, potential businesses never raised the issue.
The same applies in Columbus, Ohio - where the council passed same- sex benefits in 1998 but revoked them before people signed up.
In Houston, where voters rejected an initiative to give city workers same-sex benefits in 2001, potential employers ask about quality of life, said David McCollum of the Greater Houston Partnership. They ask about compliance with the clean-air act and outdoor recreation, not benefits.
Negative repercussions still could arise.
Terry Sullivan, president of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city lost $10 million in convention business after Amendment 2.
Although $10 million in lost conventions had an impact, that's just 1 percent of the $1 billion annual income the city receives from tourism.
Robert Scott, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., said entrepreneurs report it can be hard to attract venture capital because of the city's reputation.
Although he has no statistics on the number of businesses Amendment 2 drove away, he knows from speaking to technology companies there likely were some.
"Whether the purpose of the gay and lesbian benefits ordinance was to send a message or not, it has sent the message that, 'If you're not like us, you're not wanted,'" Scott said after talking with technology workers.
Amendment 2 hurt some, but it did not destroy the local economy. Scott said 1993 and 1994 had record job growth in Colorado Springs, which was coming out of a recession.
No group has formally suggested a boycott.
Citizens Project, which led local opposition to the council action, and the national Human Rights Campaign said they aren't convinced a boycott would do more good than harm.
Greg Borom, director of Citizens Project, said chances are slim anyone can get the council to reverse its vote. Publicity over the issue will allow for conversations about ways to increase equality, he said.
Skorman agrees.
"If there's a silver lining in all this, it's that we can discuss it as a community and hopefully stay civil."

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