Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leon County, FL Broadens Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Leon County is home to Tallahassee, FL. Our PFLAG chapter there is led by Susan Gage (pictured), who works tirelessly fighting for GLBT rights. Last night she, along with hundreds of other supporters, were able to claim victory as the Leon County Commission, in a 5-2 vote, approved the wildly controversial changes to the county's current human-rights ordinance. The changes are designed to deter discrimination and include more protection for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

According to the local Tallahassee news, it turned into an issue that struck emotions deeper than many expected. Residents made their feelings known in a barrage of e-mails and in phone calls, whipping up a frenzy usually reserved for a too-close-to-call fall election.

In Susan's own words:

"What a night!! After almost five hours of public testimony, attempts at last minute changes, and many years of hard work... the Leon County Commission voted 5-2 Tuesday night to adopt a Human Rights Ordinance that bans discrimination on the basis of traditionally protected classes such as race, sex, disability and religion... and now adds to it gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation.

I cried. I didn't think I would, but as this reality hit me, that a growing majority of the Leon County Commission was willing to go on record to support an ordinance that protects minority persons from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation, I couldn't help but cry a little. Times have changed from when I first moved to this community twenty years ago. We used to have to beg to have a proclamation from local government for Gay Pride Week... and even when we finally got it, the city commissioners would only agree to call it "Pride Week" because to call it "gay pride" would somehow cause a problem. Our Gay Pride committees would plan our big celebrations to occur in remote locations because the LGBT community was afraid to be seen.

Luck of the draw had me testify early in the evening. And, as prepared as I thought I would be, all the back and forth... threats of new language and delaying the public hearing to the next month... not to mention the nagging voices in my head about what I should or shouldn't say... I was totally unprepared. Thank God I had taken time in the hour before the meeting to go to St. John's, light a few candles, and pray aloud the words of Psalm 35. Coming from that place of being centered, I spoke my truth. Yes, I knew what it meant to experience discrimination because in my prior life as a reporter, I almost didn't get a promotion due to a manager who was concerned about "the way I dressed" (a popular euphemism at the time for "lesbian"). I was careful not to use names, but I am still well-known in this community, and people could figure it out.

Probably the most stunning part of the evening came during the preliminary discussion of the ordinance. Commissioner Bill Proctor, who came in for a good deal of earned criticism on this blog, calmly talked about how he has felt under attack... and maintained the attacks were unfair because he "has always been in support of anti-discrimination"... and he felt the Human Rights Ordinance had a 'blood line from the 14th Amendment' of the United States Constitution. In a seven minute statement, the Commissioner told us (a) I want to vote on the ordinance tonight (b) I'm for it and (c) this is a legitimate civil rights issue. What a HUGE change from two weeks ago where he was talking about "homosexual church people". I don't know what changed in two weeks. Perhaps the furor in the wake of his letter about another friend, Terry Galloway, and her deafness, made Proctor do a turnabout.

The reasons for the change aren't as important. The important part was that he finally saw this as a civil rights issue that would benefit all people, not just gay people. And so, I go to bed tonight happier with and prouder of my local government officials."

To read all of Susan's comments on this historic night, click here.

No comments: