Commission votes to broaden City anti-discrimination ordinance
Steve Schell
February 1998

As expected, the Gainesville City Commission on Monday voted to include sexual orientation in the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Commissioners Paula Delaney and Ed Jennings dissented. There had been some question on how Commissioner Sande Calkins would vote but Calkins, speaking during the commission comment period, ended any speculation, noting that there were people on both sides of the issue among her supporters but also that there was evidence that people had been discriminated against. She voted with Bruce DeLaney and Pegeen Hanrahan.

During the days leading up to Monday's commission meeting, news reports said that a large crowd was expected and also that the issue would be among the last on the agenda to be discussed. When the floor was open to public comment, about 20 people spoke on the matter, the majority of them in support of the proposal. Citizen Steve Summerlin was there with the same report he presented to the ad hoc committee in which he concluded that since complaints were rare in cities with similar ordinances, that there really was no problem. He was also again successful in squeezing more than the allotted time from the commission, at one point saying, "Ok you can start my time now."

Once public comment was heard, and the commissioners began discussing the issue, Jennings said that he wanted to see the evidence that Craig Lowe had mentioned during public comment. Lowe, president of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida, had cited evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation from a survey presented to the ad hoc committee as well as from the book, Private Lives, Public Conflict. Jennings later said that sexual orientation discrimination would be impossible to prove in court and would cost businesses a lot of money to defend. Jennings asserted that it wasn't like racial discrimination because in that case you only have to prove "that you're black" and in the case of sexual orientation "there's a whole lot more to prove." Some speakers had previously mentioned a concern over how to define sexual orientation. But any ordinance on this issue will begin by defining what sexual orientation is.

The larger question had to do with the administration of such an ordinance. The city is currently discussing plans with Alachua County officials to turn over administration of discrimination complaints to the county, but the consensus among commissioners was that the county would not deal with sexual orientation issues because the county doesn't have a similar ordinance. Jennings worried that the city would still need to have a staff to investigate such complaints and that this duplication would be a waste of taxpayer money. If this were the case, it would be a waste, but as Hanrahan pointed out, average number of complaints according to the study presented to the ad hoc committee was about 1 per 100,000 population. "It's nine in one million," Summerlin called out from the audience. OK, so then its 0.9 per 100,000, Steve. Let's just say it's one, since you don't have nine tenths of a complaint. With so few complaints expected, the current staff would be able to handle any complaints.

On the subject of domestic partner benefits for city employees, Paula Delaney said that she was uncomfortable addressing the issue "without any backup." Delaney felt that more information should be provided to the commission and other commissioners agreed, voting to revisit the issue on April 20, with more information from staff. This date is also hoped to be the date for a first reading of the ordinance changing the wording of the anti discrimination ordinance. Write, call, or email your commissioners to let them know you support this ordinance. Especially contact Jennings and Paula Delaney, the two who oppose it.

Some have said that the city should just vote to put the issue on the ballot and let the voters decide. On the plus side of that idea is the fact that the city could then decide the ballot language, making it less confusing than the items on the county ballot in the past. But civil rights is not an issue to be decided by the majority of those who turn out to vote. And this issue is about civil rights, not "special rights." Someone please tell me how this ordinance gives a right to one group but not another. You can write to me at the Iguana.

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