City considers adding sexual orientation to anti-discrimination ordinance--again
The City of Gainesville's ad hoc committee on human rights is composed of Mayor commissioner Bruce Delaney and commissioner Pegeen Hanrahan and has been meeting recently to discuss the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The committee will meet a final time on Dec 15 before issuing a recommendation to the full commission on whether to consider adding sexual orientation to the city's antidiscrimination ordinance.
The committee was formed after a request from representatives of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida (HRCNCF) at the June 23 meeting of the city commission. In addressing the commission, HRCNCF President Craig Lowe presented commissioners with a petition signed by nearly 1000 people in support of the action. Lowe said, "this ordinance is not about special rights. This ordinance is about equal rights. This ordinance is about ensuring that all residents of Gainesville will enjoy the benefits of living in a community with people of diverse backgrounds, a community which accepts the contributions of all of its people, and a community which has reputation for tolerance."
Almost as soon as Alachua County added sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination ordinance in 1993, a local group called Concerned Citizens of Alachua County (CCAC) mounted a campaign of misinformation to overturn the measure (see Iguana Sept. & Oct. 94). The group succeeded in getting two initiatives placed on the county ballot in November 1994, the first one overturning the original measure and the second, a charter amendment, which would prevent the county from ever passing such an ordinance again. Both initiatives were passed with about 58% of the vote (see Iguana, December '94). Legal challenges were filed almost immediately and, two years later, prevailed when a circuit court found that the charter amendment was unconstitutional. (See Iguana, Jan. '97.)
At the October 20 meeting of the committee, most in attendance appeared to be in support of the proposed change but resident Steve Summerlin of CCAC and several like-minded associates were also present. The committee heard from city staff on the results of a survey of cities (mostly in Florida) with antidiscrimination ordinances that address sexual orientation. Bob Karp of HRCNCF also spoke on a local survey taken to attempt to determine the scope of the problem of discrimination due to sexual orientation. His survey showed that 57% of those responding said that they had been the victims of some form of discrimination. (See the July/Aug. '97 Iguana article in which local citizens recount their experiences in discrimination based on sexual orientation.) Third on the agenda were the authors of a new book, Personal Lives, Public Conflicts. University of Florida professors James Button, Barbara Rienzo, and Ken Wald examine sexual orientation ordinances in over 100 communities nationwide and find that these laws do in fact reduce the incidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Eighty-six percent of the communities reported no negative effects on business in the community as a result of the laws. It was also noted that 72% of Fortune 1000 companies surveyed in 1993 had anti-discrimination policies including sexual orientation and that over 50% had included the topic in their training programs.
Summerlin spoke to the committee during the public comment period and after requesting and receiving permission to exceed the three minute limit and to "exceed the parameters prescribed by the chair" asked "what about the 33,000 voters who cast their vote on this issue in the privacy of the voting booth" in 1994. Commissioner Hanrahan reminded Summerlin that the majority cannot decide rights for the minority and that the committee is interested in what's best for the city and not countywide (referring to the referendum which was a county issue in 1994, not a city one).
The most recent meeting, held on Nov 3, was well-attended with late arrivals forced to watch from the monitor outside the commission chambers. First on the agenda was Assistant City Attorney Richard Whidden, who briefed the committee on hate crime laws and their constitutionality. He then spoke mostly to the matter of coverage of same-sex partners under city health insurance and to the applicability of the ordinance to other government agencies (school board, UF, etc). Human Resources Director Tom Motes mentioned the sections of chapter 8 of the city code which would be affected and mentioned the possible claims under Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and COBRA, which allows continuation of medical insurance after someone leaves employment with the city. When asked by Hanrahan about the fact that the ordinance included all citizens regardless of sexual orientation, he appeared hesitant to confirm this, instead stating, "it would depend upon how you word such an ordinance."
Craig Lowe then spoke and stated that the proposed definition of sexual orientation would be the state of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, or the history of such or the perception of being such. He also noted that the proposal included exemptions for religious and educational institutions with respect to employment and housing.
Next on the agenda was Summerlin, who said "Mayor Delaney, I'm going to defer for the moment, I'd like to go after Dr. Ralph Grams, he has shown up..." Here it is interesting to note that Mr. Grams was not on the agenda, but Delaney stated that he (Grams) had called requesting to speak and that "we were unable to contact him..." The appearance is that the committee is falling over backwards trying to accomodate Summerlin and his disciples, first allowing Summerlin more time at the first meeting, then allowing Grams to speak before the public comment period began. As this issue progresses I hope I don't hear a word from these people about how the city officials are unresponsive and one sided, because they have given opponents of this proposal wide latitude in time allowed and in allowing them to speak outside the issue at hand. Grams used his time to present what he called his own survey "done of none other than god almighty." Grams further stated, "I think we are really dealing with a moral and ethical issue here...I've heard what some other experts are claiming and I wanted to hear what our expert has to say." He then proceeded to pose a number of questions which were answered by quotes from the Bible. What any of this has to do with the issue at hand escapes me.
Summerlin was next, having no one else to defer to, and used the survey results from the last meeting to determine the size of the "problem." "I took my internet and went down the population of these communities [the communities in the survey from the previous meeting] and found a total of 27 complaints here out of a total population of 2,831,376. If you put that in percentage form, I identified that as the size of the problem. That's .000009. That's the total cases of sexual orientation complaints filed out of a total population of 2,831,376. I don't even know how to say it without just calling out the zeroes, do you know what the percentage is, can you state that in percentage?" Summerlin asked. Delaney replied, "looks to me like 1 in 100,000." "No, go a few more zeroes," said Summerlin. (It's actually just .000001 away from being 1 in 100,000, so Delaney was correct). Summerlin then recalls from Motes' presentation that the respondents in the survey were not aware of any significant positive or negative impacts and wrongly assumes that this means that the ordinances did no good.
Summerlin then asked for additional time to "wrap things up," saying, "I was not aware that my time was going to be up as quickly as it was." Ten minutes usually goes by in ten minutes, as far as I can tell. He then requested to begin public comment himself, effectively using this time to extend his presentation. "If homosexuals are going to be homosexuals, let them be homosexuals, but not at the expense of the voters," he rambled. What the hell does this mean?
The very appearance at these meetings of people like Summerlin, Grams, and Tim Jackson, who wanted to know if insurance rates would rise because of people catching AIDS from "these people" is an indication that there is a valid reason to outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in Gainesville.
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