- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

A Fairfax County, Va., employee now could be disciplined for using slurs or hateful language directed at homosexuals in the county's work force, under a change approved yesterday by the Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors voted 7-3 to amend the county's employee code of conduct to prohibit such discrimination against homosexual workers and homosexual residents who are mistreated or harassed by county employees when seeking government services.

But the new code, which goes into effect immediately, moves beyond homosexuals to protect all others in the 11,000-employee work force regardless of race, age, religion and sex from similar discrimination, including slurs and hateful language.

"We felt that we had a moral obligation to do that," said Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, a Providence District Democrat who voted in favor of the measure. "It was the right thing to do."

Disciplinary measures could range from oral reprimand to termination.

The change does not apply, however, to homosexual employees of private companies in Fairfax, nor does it extend employee benefits to the same-sex partners of county workers.

Fairfax County is not the first to include sexual orientation in its code of conduct. In fact, it was until yesterday among only a handful of area counties that did not protect homosexual workers.

Montgomery County granted employee benefits to the same-sex partners of employees last winter. In the private sector, many area businesses already have implemented new language in their codes of conduct that would protect homosexual workers from discrimination, Mr. Connolly said.

"This was not at all a radical motion," he added.

Supervisors said they added the changes to the existing Standards of Conduct after a report issued by the county Human Rights Commission showed that homosexual employees have been discriminated or harassed. However, the report did not include any statistics on how many incidents have occurred.

The standards would now prohibit the use of slurs "or other language that denigrates any person on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation."

And the standards would also require that employees treat colleagues "with respect, courtesy and tact regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, disability or sexual orientation."

The three Republicans on the board were the only members who voted against adding the new language to the code of conduct.

Springfield District Supervisor Elaine McConnell, a Republican, said last night she didn't think it was fair to select a group of people to have protection and leave others people with weight problems, for instance out of the mix.

"I think it's wrong and unfair to others," Mrs. McConnell said. "If we begin to spell out everyone like this, we will have a list longer than you can imagine."

Supervisor Michael Frey, who represents Sully District, and Stuart Mendelsohn, who represents Dranesville District, were the other two who voted against the measure.

Supervisors who voted for the change, all Democrats, were: Katherine K. Hanley, board chairman; Catherine M. Hudgins, Hunter Mill District; Penelope A. Gross, Mason District; Dana Kauffman, Lee District; Sharon Bulova, Braddock District; Gerald Hyland, Mount Vernon District; and Mr. Connolly.

Homosexual-rights advocates, who for years urged Fairfax County officials to add the policy, praised the board's decision.

"Clearly, this new language would help try to curb harassment not only against gay employees but all other employees as well," said Jeff Berns, a member of the homosexual-rights group Fairfax Alliance for Citizen Equality, which has pushed to enact such protection.

While the policy went into effect immediately after the vote, employees will be able to address any concerns before the county's Civil Service Commission, which deals with personnel regulations, a county spokeswoman said. The policy could be amended if concerns arise.

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