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On March 24, Gainesville Will Choose Between Hate and Human Rights

On March 24, residents of Gainesville, Florida will vote on Charter Amendment 1. A "Yes" vote on this amendment would remove key anti-discrimination protection for the LBGT community that has been put in place by the Gainesville City Commission. Here is the language that voters will see on the ballot:

SHALL THE CITY CHARTER BE AMENDED TO PROHIBIT THE ADOPTION OR ENFORCEMENT OF ORDINANCES, REGULATIONS, RULES OR POLICIES THAT PROVIDE PROTECTED STATUS, PREFERENCES OR DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS BASED ON CLASSIFICATIONS, CHARACTERISTICS OR ORIENTATIONS NOT RECOGNIZED BY THE FLORIDA CIVIL RIGHTS ACT? THE ACT RECOGNIZES RACE, COLOR, CREED, RELIGION, GENDER, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, HANDICAP, MARITAL AND FAMILIAL STATUS. ADDITIONALLY, THIS AMENDMENT VOIDS EXISTING ORDINANCES CONCERNING SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, AND OTHER ORDINANCES INCONSISTENT WITH THIS AMENDMENT.

As stated by the Gainesville Sun, "The issue that sparked the debate was the Gainesville City Commission’s decision in January 2008 to include the phrase “gender identity” in the city’s anti-discrimination code."

What is remarkable is that once gender identity was included in the anti-discrimination code, conservatives immediately began thinking about…bathrooms. Amazing, isn’t it?

Here are the first two paragraphs from the website of those who put the amendment on the ballot:

CGPP’s commercial warning came true on February 18, 2009, when a man dressed almost identically to our actor entered the ladies room at a 13th Street business and tried to photograph a woman under the door of one of the toilet stalls. Thanks to the Gender Identity Ordinance, this man’s presence in the restroom was perfectly legal. In other words, the ordinance made it easier for him to commit his crime.

This is exactly why our theme is the same as it always was: Keep men out of women’s restrooms!

[Emphasis in original.]

The ministers of the local United Church of Christ noted a historical theme in this emphasis on bathrooms in a letter to the editor:

Before one of the recent renovations at Shands Hospital, a friend asked if we knew why there were so many restrooms in close proximity to each another. As an example, he showed us four restrooms surrounding the chapel alone.

"No," we said, "Why so many restrooms?"

"Segregation," he said. "When this hospital was built, separate restrooms were required for white and ‘colored’."

It seems that the proponents of prejudice and division gravitate toward bad bathroom propaganda to stoke the fears of the masses. It was wrong when it was a tool of racial segregationists, and it is wrong when the advocates of Amendment 1 do it again today.

A coalition of human rights activists, political activists, the faith community and even the business community has come together to fight passage of Charter Amendment 1. They provide very useful information on their FAQ page. I will quote a large section of it below because the information it provides regarding other locations with human rights ordinances similar to the one being attacked in Gainesville and the source of the amendment should be useful to people anywhere:

Who is currently protected under Gainesville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

The Human Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit extension practices based on an individual’s sexual orientation, race, color, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status, disability or gender identity.

Who does the Florida Civil Rights Act protect?

The Florida Civil Rights Act (Florida Statute §§ 760.01-760.11, 509.092) prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and education based on race, color, creed, religion, gender, national origin, age, handicap, marital and familial status.

Are there other places that have nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity?

Yes, there are 8 cities and counties in Florida, 108 cities and counties nationwide, and 13 states and the District of Columbia that have nondiscrimination laws that are similar to Gainesville’s human rights ordinance.

/snip/

Who wrote Charter Amendment 1?

The proposed Charter Amendment was drafted by a conservative group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called the Thomas More Law Center. This non-profit law firm calls itself "The Sword and Shield for People of Faith" and its legal work a “ministry.” Their mission includes removing protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and they are working in cities and counties throughout the United States to promote their agenda. In a fundraising letter, their Chief Counsel states they are “currently helping several Florida pro-family groups oppose the radical homosexual agenda in their communities. …The law center also helped draft a charter amendment and organize Christians and business leaders in Gainesville to overturn a misguided attempt to give civil rights to the self-perceived gender identity of individuals.” Their intention could not be clearer. We encourage you to check it out for yourself: Google’s Copy of the page originally at http://www.thomasmore.org/qry/page.taf?id=20&_function=detail&sbtblct_uid1=350.

The world will be watching Gainesville on the 24th. Will hate and fear or tolerance and human rights win?

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Jim White

Jim White

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