Palm Bay Council rejects addition of LGBT-protections to HRO

By : Jamie Hyman
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In a 4-1 vote that didn’t happen until about 1:30 a.m., the Palm Bay City Council rejected a proposal that would have added LGBT protections to the city’s existing human rights ordinance.

Councilwoman Michele Paccione proposed adding the protections, which turned out to be extremely controversial. More than 500 people attended the meeting, and according to Space Coast Pride president Lexi Wright, there was a line of people snaking around the corner of the building and into the parking lot hoping to get in. The considerable overflow watched the meeting from outside in the courtyard. After about 45 minutes of regular business, the discussion began and lasted nearly six hours.
Wright says the climate was hostile toward the pro-HRO speakers from the start. Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s transgender inclusion director, and attorney and LGBT rights activist Mary Meeks had both obtained previous permission from the council for expanded podium time, but people who came out in opposition to the HRO loudly protested, and so their time was cut.

“I’m incredibly embarrassed that they were exposed to that here in our city,” Wright says, adding that once comments were opened to the public, attendees opposed to the LGBT protections would shout interruptions during the speeches of those in support.

“The mayor had to remind people over and over again to let people speak,” she says. “The opposition was incredibly vocal.”

Much of the council said their opposition was not necessarily to the expanded HRO, but to the way it was presented, claiming it was rushed through.

“I think as a roundtable, community and council, we could have given better directions to the city attorney to draft something everyone could have lived with,” Mayor William Capote told Watermark after the vote. “Dialogue should have happened before it was presented on the agenda to council.”

Wright says she attempted to meet with council members in the months leading up to the meeting, but they did not respond to her requests.

“I believe there was no personal responsibility taken by the council –with the exclusion of [Paccione] – to meet with people on both sides of the issue,” Wright says.

At the meeting, some council members also expressed that LGBT discrimination is not a problem in Palm Bay and therefore, the expanded HRO isn’t needed.

“This also further illustrates the fact that they didn’t listen to the people who got up to speak out on behalf of the HRO, including myself,” Wright says. “During my speech I recounted several situations where my family felt endangered in Palm Bay.”

During Mayor Capote’s conversation with Watermark, he was asked why the council members were not reassured by the fact that dozens of municipalities across Florida have expanded their HROs with no negative impact.

“One size doesn’t fit all; every community is not the same,” he responded.

Capote repeatedly stated that change takes time and “things come to people that have patience,” but when asked what would have been a reasonable time to consider an HRO, he said he doesn’t know.

“We would have to be in dialogue for me to understand and have the temperature of the room and the temperature of the people,” Capote says, adding that “When you start putting a time table on something, people start feeling uncomfortable, because now you’re forcing people to do something.”

Now that the expanded HRO has been voted down, city law states that it can’t come before the council again for a full year. Wright says she and other LGBT activists will use that time to push to elect different council members and educating the people who hold the seats.

“We’ll rally our people in support of a fully inclusive HRO,” Wright says. “I’m incredibly disappointed in my city.”

Edited to add: Here’s a video from local LGBT activist and filmmaker Vicki Nantz about the Palm Bay fiasco.

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