And justice for all?

National | In Seattle, testing the limits of city anti-discrimination law

Issue: "Day scare," Jan. 10, 1998

If Philip Irvin wins a Diversity Award from the city of Seattle's personnel department next month, it won't be the strangest turn of events in his seven-year battle with the diversity-policing Office for Civil Rights.

Mr. Irvin laughs as he tells of his odd nomination for the award; the nomination is really a joke, but it can be argued he's done more than anyone else in Seattle this year to advance the cause of diversity. Mr. Irvin, a worker at City Light (the Seattle power company), has gleefully used Seattle's liberal "human rights" policies to demonstrate the inconsistencies and double standards of the homosexual-rights movement. Last September, the Office for Civil Rights ruled against itself and found that when a pro-homosexual city employees' group excluded Mr. Irvin because of his Christian beliefs, it discriminated against him. Now, OCR members themselves must undergo diversity training.

On the heels of that ruling, Washington state voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative designed to enshrine in state law special rights for homosexual employees in the workplace. It won a majority in only two counties one of them King County, where Seattle is located.

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"The Bible says we are to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents," says Mr. Irvin, the 47-year-old father of two, and a $500 contributor to the organization opposing the homosexual voter initiative. "It goes against my convictions to do things that don't work. And what we Christians have been doing hasn't been working.

"Remember, David used Goliath's own sword to cut off his head. That's what I'm doing."

This battle began in 1990, when a group known as SEAGL, the Seattle Employees Association for Gays and Lesbians, first met. Mr. Irvin attended the meeting, but when he later asked for the location of the second meeting, no one would tell him. Homosexual activists in City Hall were already acquainted with Mr. Irvin; the year before, he had helped shut down the parks department's annual Halloween party for homosexual teens by insisting on being listed as a chaperone for the event.

When he wasn't told where the second meeting was to be held, Mr. Irvin filed a complaint with the Human Rights Department (what is now the OCR). He argued that his rights were being trampled because of his minority beliefs (specifically, his belief that homosexuality is a sin). Almost as if to prove Mr. Irvin's point, city officials denied Mr. Irvin's request to form a similar group, which would have been called the Seattle Employees Association for Traditional Values. He lost ruling after ruling, but he and his attorney, Theo Vander Wel, faithfully appealed each loss.

Finally, the Human Rights Commission (a citizens' group that oversees the OCR) came down on the OCR by noting that the law "doesn't disqualify Mr. Irvin from protection because his actions are annoying or his viewpoints unpopular. In fact, a significant purpose of the ordinance is to protect those who stand in the minority."

After the ruling by the commission, OCR members reexamined the case and found themselves at fault; the remedy, they decided, is diversity training focusing on Mr. Irvin's protected class, white males who believe in God.

The win wasn't cheap; Mr. Irvin says his attorney has given him more than $10,000 worth of time. Despite the partial victory, they'll spend more appealing the ruling. And it hasn't been pretty. Mr. Irvin is regularly pilloried in Seattle's alterative press and even on City Hall bulletin boards (the old, non-electronic kind). Members of one group put up fliers announcing a meeting that featured a discussion on "known bigot and homophobe Phil Irvin."

He did find one ally of sorts, outgoing mayor Norm Rice, who once lumped any opponents of homosexual activism with "people who burn books and bomb clinics." Mr. Rice's spokesman, Rebecca Hale, told the Seattle Gay News that the mayor "supports the Office of Civil Rights ruling because he believes you can't selectively enforce civil rights simply because you don't like the politics. You can't ban a Ku Klux Klan march simply because you don't like them."

Mr. Irvin says the associations don't bother him. "It's the world, not the Bible, that says we Christians are supposed to be kind and gentle and always on the losing end," he says. "We're terribly afraid people will think we're not loving. But the Bible gives us a warning about when all men speak well of us. We've forgotten that."


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