Date: Monday, April 17, 1995

Source: By Jean Latz Griffin, Tribune Staff Writer

Copyright Chicago Tribune



Three major Illinois corporations have lent their support to a bill pending in the state legislature that would add sexual orientation to the state's anti- discrimination laws regarding housing, employment and public accommodations.

The Quaker Oats Co., the CNA Insurance Cos. and Commonwealth Edison have sent letters of support to the Illinois Federation for Human Rights and the senators who will be voting Wednesday on the bill in the Senate Executive Committee.

"This is the first time we have had major corporations supporting a gay and lesbian rights bill," said Rick Garcia, executive director of the federation. "In the past, some legislators thought this would be another regulation that would hurt business. But with these major companies saying that they have these policies and they are good for business, I think we have a much better chance."

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill have taken to cyberspace to build support. An "action alert" posted on the Internet by the federation and the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force this week urged supporters to write their state senators and representatives about the bill.

Both Quaker Oats and CNA Insurance state in their letters they are among the half of all Fortune 500 companies that have extended their non- discrimination policies to include sexual orientation.

"CNA believes that policies that assure fair and non-discriminatory employment opportunities are good for Illinois businesses and their employees," wrote Robert Keith, CNA vice president for corporate employee relations.

Quaker Oats, with corporate headquarters in Chicago and research facilities in Barrington, said it supported the bill because the company "values the benefits provided by the diversity of our work force. (Non- discrimination policies) are good for Quaker's business."

And Samuel Skinner, president of Commonwealth Edison, said the utility company supported the bill because "any discriminatory employment practice is unjust."

If the bill passes, Illinois will join eight other states and more than 200 local governments across the nation that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In Illinois, Senate President James "Pate" Philip (R-Wood Dale) has opposed similar bills in the past, and a major hurdle this year is whether Philip will allow it out of the Senate Executive Committee.

Similar bills died in Senate committees in 1993 and 1994, but passed the House in 1993.

Co-sponsored by Republican Sen. David Barkhausen from Lake Forest and Democratic Sen. Bruce Farley of Chicago, the bill would exempt owner- occupied buildings of fewer than five units. Nothing in the bill would require quotas or affirmative action for gays or lesbians.

"We are cautiously optimistic," Garcia said. "We hope Sen. Philip will allow it out of committee so people can vote their consciences. Do we have the votes? We don't know. Are we close? Yes."

Barkhausen said, "I think it helps the bill's chances significantly to see that major employees in Illinois not only have employment policies of their own preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation, but are also willing to support legislation banning such practices by all employers."

March 30, 1995

Mr. Rick Garcia
Executive Director
Illinois Federation for Human Rights
3712 N. Broadway, Suite 125
Chicago, IL 60613

Dear Mr. Garcia:

Thank you for your March 21st letter informing us of legislation pending in the Illinois General Assembly amending the Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

It is ComEd's policy to provide equal opportunities to all qualified persons regardless of their race, color, religion, age, gender, national origin, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation. ComEd as a company firmly believes that all individuals should be given the opportunity to achieve his/her full potential in concert with business objectives, and that any discriminatory employment practice is unjust.

Consequently, ComEd supports the passage of Senate Bill 994.


Samuel K. Skinner