Tampa Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously voted to move forward with an authorization for an amendment that would prohibit discrimination within the county on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The 7-0 vote is a stark change to previous LGBT initiatives, which have typically failed or split the board.
Prior to the July 16 vote, the floor was open to comments and 23 citizens spoke. Fourteen of those speakers supported the amendment to the HRO and nine spoke against it.
The naysayers focused on the alleged persecution that the amendment might pose to religion. Most of the offended parties identified themselves as Christians. A few others simply described themselves as “religious.”
Highlights included self-proclaimed “ex-gay” Mark Culligan, who complained of reverse discrimination since “becoming straight,” as well as Troy Cluft, who read Leviticus 18:22, the verse commonly cited when arguing the Bible outlaws same-sex sexual encounters.
A diverse group of gay, straight, lesbian and transgender speakers spoke in favor of passing the protections. The argued that Hillsborough would receive an economical, moral boon should they pass the amendment. Some of them were married, some were not.
Pete Johnson, an HIV-positive man who was infected from an early blood transfusion became emotional when he recalled losing “friends, jobs and associates throughout his life from discrimination.”
Transgender resident Stephanie Nicols wore a red shirt to symbolize the “target” she, as well as many other, transgender citizens face from the moment they start the transition to the end stages of adjusting to their new identity.
Not all the speakers were LGBT. A heterosexual women who “despite never even dabbling a little” as a lesbian became visibly emotional when she recalled how similar the anti-LGBT culture now is to the anti-women culture when she joined the workforce 30-plus years ago.
“I was judged by simply having this body,” she recounted. “So I know what it feels like.”
Commissioner Kevin Beckner closed the meeting with an impassioned and concise argument as to why he felt the amendment can and must move forward. Rather than mention his own personal experience as a gay man, he drove home the point that to deny equal rights is to deny growth to Hillsborough itself.
“Ninety-one percent of Fortune 500 companies support equal opportunity for gay/lesbian employees and 61% support rights for transgender,” Beckner said.
Attorney Gary Sasso discussed how his firm has benefited throughout its history by hiring top candidates regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation and religion.
Public Defender Julianne Holt mirrored Sasso and Beckner’s sentiments with the closing words.
“No one should have to come into our community in fear,” Holt said. “We as elected officials must do everything we can to eliminate discrimination. We must recruit and retain the best of the best.”
The amendment will now be drafted by the County Attorney’s office and will be presented at a future meeting for discussion and approval.