The nascent Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee rises again to tackle gun reform

By : Billy Manes
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ORLANDO – “Should OADO do something to eradicate automatic and semi-automatic weapons from American life?” the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee posted on its Facebook page July 3. “Who is up for the challenge?”

It was the first post from the legendary Orlando activist group in almost exactly two years. OADO has a long list of human-rights successes in the Orlando and Orange County areas, ranging from Orlando’s hot-tempered, pro-LGBT Chapter 57 battle in 2002, fair-housing ordinances, human rights ordinances, gender-identity ordinances, domestic partnership registries (the group notoriously argued with Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs through 2012 on this issue and its importance, forcing her to eventually, if half-heartedly, acquiesce). To most watching or involved, OADO had managed all that it could on a local level, and it had done so with great results and a lot of volunteer time spent.

Then the June 12 massacre at Pulse Orlando happened. Predictably, the philanthropic group was shaken back into action, only this time on a broader scale.

“I’ll be quite honest,” OADO member and former leader of the GLBT Center Randy Stephens says. “We had our 16 successful arguments about getting ordinances before the local election officials, and we succeeded after marriage equality, so it’s like, ‘Ok, now what?’ And then Pulse happened, and we all started talking again, going, ‘We’ve got to do something’ and we didn’t know what. Then we met and thought, ‘We’ll at least get the local politicians first.’”

Joining a chorus of organizations across the city, state and nation that are coming to terms with the worst single gun massacre in America, the group is moving forward with its “Pledge for Pulse” campaign, an attempt to pressure and educate politicians on progressive gun-control policies.

“It isn’t necessarily gay rights, though OADO people typically know us for anti-discrimination ordinances and policies for LGBT folks,” OADO committee member Michael Slaymaker says. “But this is something that all of our committee members agreed upon, and are on the same page on, and this is what we can do to affect common sense gun safety laws.”

The concept is fairly simple. OADO is sending out letters to all federal and state officials and candidates related to Florida and who wish to keep their offices in the manner they have come to expect.

“Signing this pledge shows your commitment to prevent more tragedies,” the letter reads. “Hundreds of thousands of Florida voters will see your dedication to our safety when they visit pledgeforpulse.org. How will you be remembered?”

With each letter is a pledge sheet.

“I, _____, to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre and because mass shootings steal our freedom, pledge to vote for common sense gun safety laws,”the pledge says.

On its website pledgeforpulse.org, readers can click on the names of their favored candidates or politicians running for state and federal offices and measure their private votes against the political platform concerns – or lack thereof – for enhancing firearm protections. As of press time, the group had received about 20 responses, Stephens says, with only one of them – predictably from the panhandle – issuing a stern “no.”

The move follows Mayor Jacobs’ sea change on LGBT issues over the past few years, something that pushed her to convince her fellow Central Floridian Republicans to sign a resolution to fight for the workplace rights of the gay community as this political season reaches its polemical nadir.

“These are what I like to think are the new generation of Republicans,” Jacobs said at a July 28 ceremony. “What we grieved over a few weeks ago wasn’t a loss of gay people or Hispanic people, it was a loss of human beings. Human beings regardless of where they come from or who they love, had dreams and aspirations just like you and I.”

Skeptics bristled at the thought of some in the conservative lineup, but for the most part, Jacobs’ olive branch to the community rang true. Slaymaker, a Republican, appreciates the gesture.

“More than 50 percent of the people who signed the pledge have already voted yes on every LGBT thing that we’ve put in front of them,” he says. “So that wasn’t a surprise to me. Otherwise, there were a couple surprises; John Mica, was a big surprise and was exciting to see. But more importantly it helped to widen our base of people who are open to listening to the LGBT community and our concerns.

“I liked the phrase that Mayor Jacobs put in her speech: ‘New Republicans,’” he adds, “because I think there is a time for that and I think that time is now.”

OADO has reached out to groups like the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence (a political action committee with ties to Florida) and Gays Against Guns (a more demonstrative activist group) in order to make certain that the political overlap wasn’t overwhelming.

“All of these different organizations together, whether they’re working in concert or not, are looking at the whole gun issue and are going to be able to affect it monumentally,” Slaymaker says. (The group lists numerous other organizations on its website.)

By intentionally staying politically nonpartisan on the gun issue, OADO hopes to be an even-handed means of communication and understanding – even education – between the governmental hive mind and the voting public. There is no shaming, just information. The end goal, of course, is to affect change while keeping the process honest.

“It’s not just a gay issue. It’s an issue for everybody,” Stephens says. “We’re trying to get candidates to know that we’re not trying to embarrass anybody by having them sign this. If anything, we’re trying to let them express themselves more clearly.”

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