City vote focuses on gender
Published: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 11:58 p.m.
The City of Gainesville is one vote away from joining a list of six cities and counties in Florida that have passed anti-discrimination policies protecting transgender people.
Tonight, commissioners will discuss the ordinance to include the words "gender identity" into a list of protected classes of people, which already includes, among other things, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
The issue isn't without controversy, however, as city commissioners were barraged by e-mails expressing both support and disgust over the issue.
"The manner that some individuals have irresponsibly whipped up prejudices over this issue points to the very need for this ordinance," said Commissioner Craig Lowe, who helped draft the ordinance as a member of the Equal Opportunity Committee.
The last time the ordinance, which prevents the denial of employment, housing, public accommodation and credit based on "gender identity," went before the commission it was approved 5-2 with commissioners Rick Bryant and Ed Braddy both dissenting. The ordinance needs to be passed one more time before being implemented.
Braddy said he opposed the ordinance because it wasn't a "live-and-let-live" type of law.
"It requires other people to change. It makes a claim on other people's property that because of this identity crisis other people are having to accommodate them. No other protected class requires that," said Braddy.
Language in the ordinance says that an employer who provides facilities where "being seen fully unclothed is unavoidable," can deny access to those facilities based on gender identity only if reasonable access to other facilities is provided. Braddy said that clause is too inhibitive of small business and could be detrimental.
Lowe countered that statement by saying: "As long as the business owners do not discriminate based on gender identity then there would not be a burden upon them."
Other opponents to the ordinance say that the city's definition of gender identity - "an inner sense of being a specific gender" - is ripe for abuse by sexual predators who will use the protection for access to women's bathrooms.
"There is a lot of disinformation out there and prejudices that people are latching onto whatever thin thread that they can, to oppose this," Lowe said. "But the problems that some individuals have expressed have no basis in fact. The cities that have enacted ordinances for transgender protection have not experienced any kind of these situations."
Other cities in Florida that have enacted similar ordinances are the municipalities of Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, Gulfport and Key West and the counties of Orange, Monroe and Palm Beach, according to Equality Florida, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization.
There is also an effort in Broward County to implement transgender protections, according to the organization.
Brian Winfield, director of communications for Equality Florida, said that none of those cities have had problems.
"That actually is one of the craziest arguments against non-gender discrimination I've ever heard," Winfield said.
"The City of Gainesville has to make a decision about whether they are going to make laws and judgments based on a fear of what is possible, or on the strength to say we expect our citizens to respect each other."
Braddy said that he is concerned about the definition.
"The heart of the definition is not on any type of objective or measurable criteria, it simply goes on how someone feels," he said. "This ordinance explicitly recommends we stereotype people based on their mannerisms."
Braddy said he is also concerned that the ordinance excludes the City of Gainesville from compliance.
"We are exempting government agencies from these," Braddy said.
"That epitomizes the elitist attitude of someone who will make rules for other people to live by and then we exempt ourselves."
In general, the city exempts itself as a protection from lawsuits.
Both Lowe and Winfield agreed that this was not a good policy.
"It's sort of an unfortunate thing that it does not cover any governmental entity," Lowe said.
Winfield said that this is the first time he has heard of an anti-discrimination ordinance that didn't apply to government.
"Usually, it's that local governments are willing to live up to the standards they are setting," Winfield said. "Really what that's saying is that 'While we're going to hold public employers to very high standards, we as public employers don't want to have that same burden.'Â "
Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.
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