Transgender debate draws crowd
By MEGAN ROLLAND
Sun staff writer
11:57 pm, January 28, 2008
City Hall was buzzing Monday night with both protest and support for a proposed city ordinance that would include gender identity as a class of people protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.
Continue to 2nd paragraph The auditorium had standing-room only, as did the entryway where a large crowd watched the decision on closed-circuit television. The vast majority of those who spoke on the issue were against the ordinance.
Those in favor of the ordinance lauded it as a step toward increased human rights for transgender individuals, who some said are marginalized in society.
The ordinance would add gender identity as a category of people protected from discrimination. Discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender are already outlawed in Gainesville.
City officials defined gender identity as a situation where people have an inner sense of being a gender other than their gender at birth.
Those opposed reiterated oft-cited concerns of having a man in a woman's restroom, as well as the burden it would place on business owners to provide accommodations in the case of changing facilities.
Commissioner Ed Braddy immediately made a motion to deny the ordinance, and Commissioner Rick Bryant quickly seconded the motion.
"When you boil it down the issue is that because of some people who have some sort of emotional or psychological issue, others have to change," Braddy said.
He said the ordinance would require separate facilities if a business owner decided to deny a transgender individual access to dressing rooms.
"In that sense it makes a claim on other people's property," Braddy said. "This is about granting special privileges to a class of people."
Commissioner Craig Lowe countered. "There is nothing special about being able to have a home, get a job, go to a restaurant," said Lowe adding that those are simple rights that are often taken for granted.
"It does a very simple thing for a group of people that is very intensely discriminated (against). They are few in number but sometimes it is the few in number who need the most protection," Lowe said.
Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa emphasized that there is a standard across the nation for these types of ordinances.
In Florida the cities of Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, Gulfport and Key West have anti-discrimination policies that protect gender identity, as do Orange, Monroe and Palm Beach counties.
Some residents quoted the Bible and expressed anger that the city would make an ordinance protecting people who in their minds were going against the way that God created them.
One man said the commissioners would suffer the wrath of God and another yelled "the blood is on your hands" for supporting the ordinance.
Several pastors, including the pastor of the Rock of Gainesville, also spoke against the ordinance. Many opposed to the ordinance said it was unfair to make the majority uncomfortable in order to protect a minority.
A University of Florida student said in the meeting it was a sad state of affairs when basic human rights were debatable not only among the public but also among elected officials.
Another UF student said, "We have a right not to be hassled, harassed, beat up or killed, and it happens everyday based on what people look like and what we wear."
By press time, the commission hadn't voted on the issue.
Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.