City Commission considers domestic partner registry and gender identity protections
The Gainesville City Commission voted on April 3 to refer to the city's Equal Opportunity Committee the two issues of implementing a domestic partner registry and including "gender identity and expression" as a protected category in the city's anti-discrimination code.
Commissioner Craig Lowe made the motion to begin the process of the city's inclusion of these two items, which he said many peer cities already have.
"We are pleased that Commissioner Lowe took the initiative to kick-start the process toward implementation of these two important human rights issues," said Human Rights Council of North Central Florida (HRCNCF) President Susan Eichner.
The Equal Opportunity Committee, which consisted of Commissioners Craig Lowe and Warren Nielsen, met on May 1 at City Hall along with a dozen citizens in favor of both issues. The meeting was one of Commissioner Nielsen's last meetings as a commissioner; Commissioner Jack Donovan was appointed by Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan to replace him on the two-member committee.
Several transgender individuals spoke on behalf of gender identity protections, while other individuals spoke in support of creating a domestic partner registry. HRCNCF Director Bob Karp introduced the issues to the Committee, stating that the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida recognized a basic need in the community for the passage of human rights ordinances on these two issues.
"Both domestic partner registries and gender identity protections were issues that we heard about repeatedly in community meetings over the past several years," said Karp.
The Equal Opportunity Committee agreed to take up the issues again at their next meeting on Monday, June 5, at 1 PM in Room 16 of City Hall, 200 E. University Ave., in downtown Gainesville. The Committee directed the City Attorney and the Equal Opportunity Director to look into peer cities' ordinances regarding the two issues.
Domestic partner registries are a way for two adults in a mutual caring relationship to officially register their relationships so they will be afforded the rights to make medical decisions, make hospital visits, help to care for a dependent child, etc. It also may provide the needed documentation for companies to offer domestic partner benefits for their employees.
"Since Florida law currently bans same-sex marriage, this provides a way for couples to have their relationships recognized and assure they can have at least some of the fundamental rights accorded to married couples," said Eichner.
Currently in Florida, West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Key West and Broward and Palm Beach Counties have domestic partner registries.
HRCNCF Vice President Terry Fleming said that adding gender identity and expression to the city's anti-discrimination code would go a long way to filling the gap of protecting the rights of transgender individuals not covered by the current "sexual orientation" protections.
In 1998, the Gainesville City Commission passed "sexual orientation" protections in its antidiscrimination code. A year later, the Commission also voted to extend domestic partner benefits to the unmarried same- and opposite-sex partners of city employees.
Last year the Alachua County School Board added "gender identity" as a protected category in its Student Code of Conduct. In an effort spearheaded by City Commissioner and then-Library Board of Governors Chair Craig Lowe, the Alachua County Library District recently added "gender identity and gender expression" protections to its Statement of Needs in the library's long-term strategic plan.
In Florida, Monroe County and the cities of Miami Beach and Gulfport include gender identity as a protected category in their antidiscrimination codes.
Eichner said it's very important that individuals in the community speak out personally about how a domestic partner registry or the addition of gender identity protections will positively impact them and/or their families.
"City commissioners need to hear directly from their constituents about how these changes will improve their lives," Eichner said. "HRCNCF is actively seeking out people who can speak to these issues in a personal way."
Eichner said that anyone who is interested in domestic partner registry issues can call HRCNCF Secretary Bob Karp at 352-371-5920 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those who can address gender identity and expression issues, please call Terry Fleming at 352-336-6802 or email at email@example.com.
Eichner urged advocates to attend the next Equal Opportunity Committee meeting on June 5, however she said there will be at least three more meetings both in committee and by the full city commission before a final vote is taken on the issues.
HRCNCF is eager to kick off its lobbying and education effort through our membership base in the Gainesville area, said Eichner. "We're glad to see Gainesville among the forefront of communities continuing to protect and advance human rights."
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