TILLISON: The battle for gay rights marches on

By   /   August 17, 2012  /   No Comments

By Tom Tillison | Special to Florida Watchdog

ORLANDO — By a razor-thin 10-9 vote margin, the Jacksonville City Council rejected a bill on Wednesday that would have expanded the city’s human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

At first glance, one may think there are already federal and state laws in place that cover this, but in Florida workplaces, there is no state or federal protection based on sexual orientation.

Tom Tillison

Some Florida cities, however, do have ordinances offering protections for gays and lesbians, including the cities of West Palm Beach, Gainesville and Miami Beach, all passed within the past eight years, as did Broward County.

One also may be surprised to learn that there is a Florida Commission on Human Relations that addresses the areas of employment and housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, age and marital status.

The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 also prohibits discrimination in the areas of public lodging, public food service establishments and private clubs.

Tax dollars hard at work, yet sexual orientation continues to be excluded as a protected class.

At the federal level, there have been multiple attempts to address this through tabled legislation, often led by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the first openly gay representatives in Congress.  All efforts have thus far failed.

Perhaps, it is because the issue is seen by many as having more to do with forcing the gay lifestyle on the community at large than it does with discrimination.  What often proves to be a stumbling block is attempting to include “transgender people”’ and “gender identity and/or expression.”

In the ever-confusing gay community, these individuals are referred to as gender nonconforming people, which are defined by the federal government as “gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth,” according to an amendment adopted in September 2011 to the Fair Housing Act.

In effect, it would permit a man who feels like a woman to dress as a woman, even though he is clearly a man. Talk about confusion in the workplace!

You may recall a recent ruling in Arkansas where a transgendered student won the right to use the women’s washroom, even though “she” is waiting on sex reassignment surgery and still has male genitalia.

Right here in Florida, in the city of Gainesville, a gender identity provision added in 2008 to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance allows transgender residents to use whichever restroom they’re most comfortable using.

This also follows the trend of court rulings beginning to increasingly favor transgender rights.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a lower court decision that the Georgia Legislature had unlawfully discriminated against an employee for firing him as bill proofreader in 2007 after he informed supervisors he intended to transition from male to female.

Some who feel this issue forces a compromise of moral beliefs are increasingly concerned about the atmosphere of tolerance by those who promote these measures. We’re taught to accept all manners of behavior and buy into the “if it feels good, do it” mentality.

A concern that is warranted when it is revealed that top Homeland Security official Suzanne Barr, chief of staff for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is being placed on leave amid an internal review after being accused of cultivating a “frat-house”-style work environment, including discriminating against heterosexual male employees, according to the latest affidavits.

As for the proposed bill in Jacksonville, it initially included language that gave protection based on gender identity and gender expression, but was deleted before the vote.

Despite the setback, advocates for the bill vow to fight on.

“I guarantee you this — we are not done fighting for LGBT rights,” Jimmy Midyette, co-chairman of the Jacksonville Committee for Equality, told the Florida Times Union.

Tom Tillison is editor of Florida Political Press. Contact him [email protected]


Yaël formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.