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Transgender issue divides Gainesville as vote nears

GAINESVILLE — A blond girl heads from a playground into a women's restroom. A scruffy man, lurking outside, darts in behind her. "Your City Commission Made This Legal," the words on the TV screen read.

The dark ad came from opponents of a gender identity provision added last year to the city's antidiscrimination ordinance, which now allows the city's roughly 100 transgender residents to use whichever restroom they're most comfortable using.

Foes want to repeal the new protection with a March 24 ballot measure that has divided Gainesville, a generally gay-friendly university city surrounded by staunchly conservative North Florida.

Those who support the transgender protections say their opponents are really unleashing a broader attack on the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals in general.

The City Commission approved the restroom provision by a 4-3 vote a year ago. Before the ink could dry, Bible-quoting opponents angrily began working for its repeal.

"You are trying to operate in a realm you do not have the authority to operate in," one pastor told the commissioners.

The debate is expected to become noisier as the vote nears.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said 108 cities and counties nationwide have similar transgender protections.

Citizens for Good Public Policy, the group behind the commercial that aired in the summer in Gainesville, collected more than 6,000 signatures to win a referendum. If approved, the repeal measure would also prevent the commission from adding protections for statuses beyond what the state requires: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability and marital status.

Cain Davis, chairman of Citizens for Good Public Policy, said the issue is about regulating a government gone wild and ensuring public safety.

City Commissioner Craig Lowe, leader of a group called Equality is Gainesville's Business, called the ads from Davis' group a distorted attempt to whip up fears.

Lowe's group believes antidiscrimination protections for people who change their sexual orientation are good for business and foster diversity. He noted that 433 of the Fortune 500 companies have policies covering sexual orientation and 153 cover gender identity.

Since the ordinance took effect, police have reported no problems in public restrooms stemming from the law.

Transgender issue divides Gainesville as vote nears 01/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:48am]
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