Hillsborough County voters may get to vote on LGBT discrimination in 2016

By : Staff Report
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Hillsborough’s Charter Review Board discussed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the charter’s anti-discrimination section at their most recent meeting Nov. 3.

The review board, a 14-member group selected and appointed by the county’s seven commissioners, meets every five years to review and recommend changes to the county charter.

Hillsborough County already has a Human Right Ordinance passed by the County Commission in 2014; however, this would make a permanent change to the county charter and allow the people of Hillsborough County to have a vote in saying whether they welcome equality.

The review board discussed the referendum and while no one openly spoke out against it some ignorant to LGBT issues questioned what it meant.

“I don’t understand what gender identity is,” said board member Joe Affronti. “Does that mean like in some areas where if a boy says he is really a female he can go into the female bathroom?”

Affronti, who is the former mayor of Temple Terrace continued, “My point is not whether this should pass or not. The point is I need to know what I’m going to vote on.”

In order to have the referendum placed on the 2016 ballot and go to the voters it must first be approved by a super majority, or 10 members, of the board.

Some who attend the meeting felt it wasn’t necessary to adjust the county charter.

“I’m questioning why this is being brought up as a charter change. It is already in effect law,” said Amber Kelly, a field director for Florida Family Action, at the meeting. “It makes it much more difficult to change things should they need to be changed later on.”

Hillsborough County passed LGBT protections in 1991 only to have them removed in 1995; something Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the county’s first openly gay commissioner, told the Tampa Bay Times could be prevented from happening again by adding those protections to the charter.

It’s very personally moving for myself,” Beckner said to the Times. “Not only for me personally but for the future of our community and our children so that by the letter of the law they can embrace themselves and live their version of the American dream without fear of discrimination from government.”

Hillsborough County has traditionally been behind other Tampa Bay counties when it comes to LGBT rights. Pinellas County added sexual orientation to its HRO in 2008 and gender identity in 2013, and Sarasota County enacted an HRO which included sexual orientation in 2003.

The board is expected to vote when they meet again Dec. 1.

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