HRC Blog

Orlando Passes Transgender Protections

Gina Duncan with supporters of the ordinancePost submitted by Gina Duncan, Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida

This week, the Orlando City Council unanimously voted that people cannot be discriminated against based on gender identity or gender expression in the areas of employment, public accommodations and housing.

This victory was 12 years in the making. Orlando was one of the first cities in Florida to pass a human rights ordinance, and to include protected classes in what is called Chapter 57 of the ordinance. The ordinance was passed in 1973, easily becoming law with little objection from the LGBT community at that time, though it did not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. In 2002, a group of concerned LGBT leaders led a fight to add sexual orientation and gender identity. The Orlando Anti-Discrimination Alliance (OADO), fought for months to craft the wording and bring the ordinance to a vote. In a marathon session in 2002, that lasted until 2:00 AM, and was rife with opponents expressing hatred, disdain and openly insulting members of the LGBT community, Orlando's HRO was amended to include "sexual orientation" only. In 2002, the general population was certainly not prepared to embrace the transgender community. 

This week, however, with little fanfare and no opposition, the city council passed an amendment adding "gender identity," which included "gender expression" in its definition. I was proud to be a part of this initiative with the support of Michael Farmer, Equality Florida's statewide field director, and Mary Meeks, noted Orlando civil rights attorney. Last month, the amendment, once crafted by the Orlando City Attorney's office, went before Orlando's Human Relations Advisory Board. The board, in an emotional session, unanimously approved recommending the measure to the City Council. One board member expressed how their perceptions of transgender people had changed recently by having an open dialog with a member of the transgender community and learning of the difficulties of gender transitioning. Very few people left that meeting with dry eyes.

Mayor Buddy Dyer, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, spoke of how attitudes have changed on transgender issues, telling the Orlando Sentinel, "We've gotten to the point where we can do, with very little controversy, things we ought to be doing, so I am very proud of that." The City of Orlando has been focused on improving their ranking on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipality Equality Index and is continuing to focus on equality initiatives.

Oddly, because this very important event was happening with little notice, I was proud to present a transgender PRIDE flag to Mayor Dyer and the City Council for passing this measure and for their continued leadership in diversity, inclusion and social equality, saying;

"It cannot be overstated how important this is. For the first time, all people enjoy the same rights and protections in the "City Beautiful."

Orlando joins more than 200 cities and counties across the country with non-discrimination ordinances on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  For more information about HRC’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI)  ​, which ​ examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities around the country and rates them on how inclusive they are of LGBT people ​, ​please visit: www.hrc.org/mei

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