Nadine Smith

BREAKING NEWS: Tampa Adds Gender Identity Protections

Filed By Nadine Smith | November 19, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Florida, gender identity, human rights ordinance, LGBT rights, Phil Dinkins, Tampa

The Tampa City Council should be commended for expanding non-discrimination protections to those who live, work and visit the city. Tampa is the latest city in Florida to add "gender identity" to its human rights ordinance that bans discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

Today's action comes at the request of the Tampa Human Rights Council led by its Chair, Phil Dinkins. Equality Florida has worked closely with the council in the months leading up to today's vote and assisted with documenting the clear need for such protections.

Equality Florida was born out of the struggle to expand Tampa's non-discrimination protections so they include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Today's vote, while long overdue, makes it clear that Tampa is a leader in Florida when it comes to protecting its citizens.

One extreme right organization launched an effort to derail today's vote, but Equality Florida members and allied organizations including Pride Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough LGBT Democratic Caucus stepped up and sent 3,096 emails to various Tampa City Council members encouraging them to stand strong in their conviction to protect all citizens. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, BB&T Bank, PepsiCo/FritoLay and other leaders in the business community spoke out debunking wild claims by the opposition by recounting the positive impact inclusive policies have had for their companies.

Tampa is not alone in adding "gender identity and gender expression" to its non-discrimination ordinance. Many public and private entities offer expanded protections to their citizens and employees. In fact, including "gender identity and gender expression" has become standard practice the last decade.

Here in Florida, sixteen local government entities offer these protections in Florida, including several right here in Tampa Bay. Among them are: Broward County, Palm Beach County, Monroe County, Miami Beach, Gainesville, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Gulfport, Miami Beach, Key West, Largo, Tequesta, Wilton Manors, Dunedin, Orlando, and Oakland Park.

Nationally, 108 local city and county governments, 13 states and Washington, D.C. include "gender identity and gender expression" in their non-discrimination laws.

Protecting employees from discrimination is also considered smart business. Of the top Fortune 100 companies, 60 have expanded protections, as do many of Florida's major employers, including: Honeywell, Raymond James, Hillsborough County Bar Association, Tech Data Corp., Carlton Fields, and others.

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This is incredibly good news! Thank you!

that's pretty cool that they added those protections in one fell swoop. In Nevada, it looks like they might be added one at a time: housing, employment and public accommodations.

Also, cool to see an advocate (Equality Florida) take that very hands-on role, and that those LGBTQ agencies and those businesses came to the measure's aid.

Nadine, will there be a referendum on this? If yes, will it be like Gainesville where they try to strip all LGBT rignts or will they just come after Ts?

Thanks for all the hard work, Nadine. Your team and your allies are making headway!

Thanks for the good words. This is a great day for Tampa and all of us working toward full legal equality.
As far as a referendum is concerned, we have to be ready for anything but for right now, it is the law throughout the City of Tampa.

I'm not surprised by these Tampa developments. I only lived in it's envrons for about 18 mos, but that town has a lot of 'forward-thinking' about it, despite it's 2nd cousin status among FL's grander, more exotic cities. It didn't measure up to my expectations a decade ago (coming from the intellectual elite of Los Angeles). But it's always held a seed of tolerance and inclusiveness, via it's rich history. To it's credit; Tampa is a town where you can sway a vote by buying a shot of whiskey - vs. an intellectual argument. And perhaps that's the way it should be? :)

from today's St. Pete Times:

TAMPA — Men who live as women, women living as men, clergy members, mothers and grandparents packed the Tampa City Council chambers Thursday to debate a new ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination.

Some argued that it's good business policy and simply the right thing to do. Others invoked religion and contended that the rules would give a stamp of approval to sexual deviants who might prey on children.

Donna Kuntz read Bible passages about God abandoning people who do "shameful things" and said sexual predators are probably celebrating.

"You're giving credibility and recognition to a behavior that is sinful," she said.

After two hours of testimony, the ordinance passed by a 5-1 vote with Charlie Miranda voting no and Linda Saul-Sena absent.

Miranda repeatedly raised concerns about disruptions caused by people who come to work one day dressed as one gender, and the next day as the other.

The new rules prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on "gender identity and expression," with that defined as someone who has an "inner sense of being a specific gender" regardless of their "assigned sex at birth."

Tampa's human rights ordinance already protects people from discrimination based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

Council chairman Tom Scott delivered a riveting speech before the vote, saying he didn't take the decision lightly.

"I did not sleep well last night. I spent most of my time as a Christian praying and seeking wisdom and direction on this particular ordinance," said Scott, who is pastor of 34th Street Church of God.

Scott, who is running for mayor in 2011, said he wasn't intimidated by those who threatened not to vote for him if he supported the ordinance.

"The only vote I care about is God's vote," he said, noting that as a county commissioner he voted against gay issues.

But the United States, he said, is founded on the principles of freedom and choice.

And as a preacher, he asked himself, "What would Jesus do?"

"I believe that Jesus loves every person in this room," he said. "I am a Christian. I am a pastor. I am a disciple of the man whom they call the friend to sinners."

Ultimately, he said, the ordinance is about protecting people from discrimination.

Council members Mary Mulhern and John Dingfelder referred to the Constitution.

"We're not in church. This is your Tampa City Council and we're legislators," Mulhern said. "When I look at my responsibility here, it does have to do with, as one of the speakers said, liberty and justice for all."

The council decided to broaden its human rights ordinance to include gender identity at the request of the city's Human Rights Board.

"The bottom line is discrimination is wrong, and history has proven that expanding the civil rights of our citizens is the right thing to do," said Philip Dinkins, the board's chairman.

He noted that Tampa isn't blazing any new trails on the issue because cities, states and companies across the country include gender identity in their antidiscrimination policies.

When the council preliminarily approved the ordinance by a 7-0 vote on Nov. 5, there was little discussion. A handful of people spoke on the issue, and all of them favored the change.

But the scene was vastly different for the final hearing.

At least 50 people lined up to speak, and they were split almost equally on the issue.

David Caton, executive director of the Florida Family Association, said protection under the human rights ordinance should be based on a pattern of discrimination that causes economic hardship.

"This is all about politics," Caton said. "It has nothing to do with real discrimination complaints."

Others, though, talked about the importance of all people being able to work and live without worry of discrimination, and said transgender people are not perverts or child molesters.

Rocco Vallerand, who also goes by the name Raquel, said he works in the Pasco County school system and has no desire to harm any children. He simply wants to be able to maintain a job to support his two daughters.

"I am saddened that people are using religion as a guise for hate," he said.

Tobias Packer, a member of Equality Florida who lives in Miami, told the council he is a transgender person and has been denied jobs even though he has an Ivy League education.

He referenced the thousands of e-mails and letters council members received from people who oppose the ordinance.

"They hope to inspire fear and confusion, but I really ask that you simply look at the facts and the legal realities of this measure," he said.

Stephanie Nichols, who was born male but now lives as a female, said she may not be the cookie-cutter image of a man or woman.

"But nobody's perfect," she said. She said she knows at least 15 people who have lost their jobs as they made the transition from one gender to the other.

"Passing this amendment is fair," she said. "It's the right thing to do."

Tampa's ordinance applies to organizations throughout the city. Among other things, the law makes it illegal to fire someone, refuse to hire them or decline to sell or rent them a home based on their gender identity. The ordinance provisions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity do not apply to religious organizations.

The ordinance also specifies that it's legal to segregate bathrooms based on sex, which is defined as a person's reproductive organs.

Violating the ordinance can result in lawsuits and financial penalties.

Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.

from November 21st - St Pete Times:

Tampa, Hillsborough County sexual discrimination policies illustrate political divide

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Saturday, November 21, 2009

TAMPA — Anyone seeking evidence of the deep social divide between the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County need look no further than the City Council's vote Thursday to expand its human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination against transgendered people.
The policy applies to organizations throughout the city.
Compare that to the Hillsborough County Commission's discussion last month of its internal discrimination policies.
When Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the board's only openly gay member, suggested it should specify protections for people based on sexual orientation, he hit a brick wall.
Commissioner Jim Norman accused Beckner of trying to make an end-run around the countywide human rights ordinance, which protected gays until 1995 when that provision was removed, with Norman voting to yank it.
Why the disconnect?
"The people who live in the more rural, less densely populated areas tend to be more conservative in their views," said April Schiff, a Republican political consultant.
The makeup of the two boards seems to demonstrate that. Six of the seven Tampa City Council members are Democrats. Only two Democrats sit on the seven-member County Commission.
That's the case even though Tampa does not have a great deal more registered Democrats than the county as a whole.
About 50 percent of the city's registered voters are Democrats. Countywide, the figure is 43 percent. And the county commissioners who object to giving legal protection from bias to homosexuals know who their voters are.
"You elect them to make decisions for you, and they make decisions with the belief that they're representing the will of their constituents," Schiff said.
Council Chairman Tom Scott, when he was a Hillsborough County commissioner, voted in 2005 to ban county sponsorship of gay pride events.
But Thursday, Scott, a pastor who is running for mayor of Tampa, voted to expand protections to people based on "gender identity and expression."
He said Friday the seemingly contradictory votes have nothing to do with politics.
"Discrimination is a much more serious issue in my mind than supporting homosexual parades or advertisement with taxpayer dollars," Scott said.
Gay people as well as people who feel compelled to live their lives different from the gender they were born with should be treated the same as everyone else, Scott said, even if he himself doesn't condone the lifestyle.
"They should be allowed the right to have decent housing and go into restaurants without being discriminated against or harassed," he said.
On the other hand, Scott said, the city's Human Rights Board needs to be careful about continuing to add specific groups of people to the ordinance.
"It will become trivialized," Scott said. "What are you going to do next? Add fat folks?"
That's the argument County Commissioner Mark Sharpe made when asked why he opposes specifically naming sexual orientation in the county's internal discrimination policy.
"It's just an unnecessary debate," Sharpe said, noting he would rather spend his time pushing for a sales tax to help pay for transit and other transportation projects. "That's so much more important to me than to add language that I'm not sure is legally necessary."
Sharpe said he would prefer to rely upon federal law to assure citizens of such equity.
Tampa council member John Dingfelder, who was among the 5-1 majority that voted in favor of Tampa's expanded protections, said he doesn't believe the federal law can do that.
"That's why these local laws are so important," said Dingfelder, a commission candidate.
And he doesn't believe that current commissioners were elected to promote a conservative social agenda.
"They just got voted in, and once they got there they spread their wings on those types of issues," he said. "The county inherently is a little bit more conservative than the city. But with that said, I don't think it's that profound. It's about leadership."
Beckner said for him the issue is simply a matter of making sure everyone who works for the county is treated with dignity, and to avoid lawsuits.
Commissioners are developing discrimination guidelines in the wake of a legal challenge brought against Commissioner Kevin White by a former aide. In the ruling against White, the judge rapped the county for not having more clear policies to prevent discrimination.
"We need to be able to say to the community that we've learned our lesson," Beckner said. "Without that, we're leaving ourselves open to more litigation."
Beckner said he has no interest at this time in expanding the county's human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation, understanding that it's a nonstarter with a conservative County Commission.
"They were uncomfortable with even talking about having a comprehensive internal policy," he said. "It's really unfortunate that some of my colleagues are really more interested in protecting politics rather than people."
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.