Pinellas to vote on transgender protections

By : Steve Blanchard, Susan Clary
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Clearwater – Nearly five years after the Human Rights Ordinance was passed in Pinellas County, there is hope transgender people will be included in its legal protections.

Commissioners will vote Aug. 20 on whether to replace the term “sexual identity” with “gender identity” in the wording of the ordinance.

That small change in language would expand protections to transgender people if they face discrimination such as job termination, denial of housing or if they are banned from public accommodations simply because of whether they identify as a man or a woman.

“This will be an important vote because we don’t want to leave anyone behind,” said Susan McGrath, President of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County. “We owe that to the people who are transgender, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to have the same protections as everybody else who is in Pinellas County.”

When the Human Rights Ordinance was passed in 2008, the Commission opted not to include the term “gender identity.” In the five years since, three new commissioners have taken office. The Pinellas County Chamber of Commerce has provided a letter of support.

Commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 6 to move forward with the discussion of a change in the ordinance, but that doesn’t mean they will all agree with the final vote comes to pass.

Commissioners Karen Seel and John Morroni voted against the measure in 2008. Commissioner Norm Roche, a conservative who was not on the commission then, has expressed tentative support.

Critics of the change say it might adversely impact businesses if they are expected to accommodate transgender individuals by adding unisex bathrooms. However, the county has said people will use the restroom that corresponds with the gender they identify with.

If it passes, Pinellas County would be the fourth government to provide protections following in the footsteps of Gulfport, Dunedin and Tampa. Most Fortune 500 companies consider it important.

“This makes great business sense,” McGrath said. “I’m optimistic that it’s a sign we are moving forward.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, expressed her thanks to the commission for their unanimous vote on Facebook.

“Kudos to the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners,” she said. She also encouraged people who support the ordinance to attend the meeting.

Opponents of the policy, especially those aligned with conservative religious groups, are expected to voice their opinions during the public comment portion of the meeting.
But commissioners have been vocal about ensuring religious freedoms in the ordinance, meaning that the law would not apply to religious institutions. It would also not affect businesses with fewer than five employees or public schools.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Pinellas County Courthouse on the 5th Floor at 315 Court Street in Clearwater.

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