|This August, the Orlando City Council voted unanimously to pass an amendment that guaranteed that people cannot be discriminated against for gender expression or gender identity when it comes to public accommodations and housing, and employment. Surprisingly, the amendment passed with no opposition.Perhaps the amendment’s passing isn’t so surprising if one looks back on Orlando’s history. It was one of the first cities in the state to pass a human rights ordinance. This ordinance was passed in 1973. Though it specified protected classes like sex and religion, it did not list sexual orientation or gender expression — a class that would help protect members of the LGBT community from experiencing workplace and government discrimination.
In 2002, LGBT state leaders began asking for these protections to be added to the existing ordinance. The vote finally came to a head after several months, and the session to determine whether the ordinance could be altered lasted well into the night. A heated debate involved opponents openly insulting the members of the LGBT community present at the meeting. The City Council eventually agreed to include “sexual orientation,” but failed to agree to gender identity and expression, thus leaving out the transgender community. After 12 years, their rights are finally protected, too, in the city’s legislation.
Gina Duncan, the Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida, was part of the initiative and noted that, “One board member expressed how their perceptions of transgender people had changed recently by having an open dialog with a member of the transgender community and learning of the difficulties of gender transitioning.” Many others noted how, in just a few short years, attitudes regarding transgender issues have changed, and awareness of the discrimination transgender people face has increased.
Thanks to this move, which prevents Orlando businesses from denying jobs to people for reason of gender identity, and makes it illegal for businesses to deny service, gender identity is now a protected class, just like religion, age, disability, and race.
Orlando is now one of over 200 cities and counties nationwide that include non-discrimination ordinances for transgender people. Unfortunately, the U.S. still lags behind in guaranteeing these rights nationally. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, only race, gender, national origin, and religion are protected classes when it comes to employment discrimination.
Michael Slaymaker, who advocated for the ordinance, sees this as a positive step for Orlando. “We’ve changed, we’ve grown up, and we are an inclusive city,” said Slaymaker in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.