Hearing coming up on county's human rights law


Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission is considering amendments to its human rights ordinance that would provide protection against discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

At its Tuesday evening meeting, the board on a 4-1 vote directed the county to advertise a public hearing of the proposed amendments, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent.

If the amendments are eventually approved, the ordinance would become applicable countywide, except in any municipality that already has or later adopts its own human rights ordinance. It only applies to unincorporated county areas at present.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of giving municipalities the choice to opt in regarding the ordinance rather than stick with the current proposal to apply it countywide unless a city opts out.

The staff also recommended lowering the threshold for an employer covered under this ordinance from one with 15 or more employees to one with five or more, among other changes.

The ordinance doesn’t apply to religious organizations or private membership clubs, said Jacqueline Chung, equal opportunity manager of the county’s Equal Opportunity Office.

The city of Gainesville provides anti-discrimination protection regarding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression within its own ordinance.

The majority of the 20-or-so people at the meeting raised their hands to express their support for the ordinance, including lowering the employer-size threshold, at speaker Terry Fleming’s behest.

Fleming called a tougher human rights ordinance “an important step forward that brings the county into alignment with many other progressive communities in Florida and around the country in recognizing the importance of these protections to the economic development of the county.”

Alachua County added sexual orientation as a protected characteristic to its human rights ordinance in 1993, but voters removed it from the measure the following year.

Voters also approved a charter amendment that banned the county from adopting ordinances that prohibited discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people later on, although a court ruling overturned it.

The proposed amendments to the human rights ordinance are expected to come before the commission again in August.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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