03.25.2009 8:46am EDT
(Gainesville, Florida) Voters on Tuesday turned down a measure that could have stripped Gainesville government’s anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote was 58 percent against changing the law.
“Gainesville is a place that will not allow discrimination,” said Craig Lowe, a city commissioner who led the group known as Equality is Gainesville’s Business to defeat the charter amendment. “Gainesville has shown itself to be a welcoming place.”
The fight began after the city commission last year revised Gainesville’s anti-discrimination ordinance to protect transgender people – those who are born one sex but identify with the other. That allows the city’s approximately 100 transgender residents to use the public restroom of their choosing, along with protecting them from job and housing discrimination.
The charter amendment would have voided the city’s ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The vote was 11,717 or 58.32 percent against changing the law compared with 8,375 or 41.6 percent in favor.
Jim Gilbert, a spokesman for Citizens for Good Public Policy, had said the message of those supporting repeal has remained consistent: “Keep men out of women’s restrooms!”
The group said it regrets the outcome of the referendum.
Its chairman Mark Minck said in a news release that the group also regrets that “out-of-town money and influence played such a major role in diverting attention away from the real issue of public safety, to highly implausible scenarios of discrimination, which, in fact, pose little threat in a city long known for openness.”
On the other side was Equality is Gainesville’s Business, which argued the city ordinance does not need amending and that the transgender argument is really a screen for a larger attack on sexual minorities. Home to the University of Florida, Gainesville is generally considered a gay-friendly city surrounded by conservative north Florida.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the Equality effort, applauded the decision.
“Protecting Gainesville’s anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is a significant achievement. I congratulate everyone who worked so hard to help bring about today’s victory,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
The measure also would have prohibited the city from enforcing anti-discrimination laws that protect other categories of people not specified by the Florida Civil Rights Act, which recognizes race, color, creed, religion, gender, national origin, age, handicap, martial and familial status.
A steady line of students cast ballots at the Reitz Student Union.
Jeanette Paulino, 20, a political science major from Miami, voted to keep the city’s policy in place.
“I don’t think we should discriminate against anyone,” she said.
Alex Harper, 21, a public relations major from West Palm Beach, said he also voted to retain the city’s protections and viewed it as a free speech issue.
Harper said he viewed the restroom issue as “conservative propaganda.”
University of Florida President Bernie Machen and his wife, Chris, said they both opposed changing the law.
“It’s not needed,” said Machen, who added that one of the things his family likes about Gainesville is its diversity.