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Anti-discrimination measure earns praise in Dunedin

DUNEDIN — Representatives of the local gay community are hailing a new city anti-discrimination measure as a positive first step.

"Can't build a pyramid without a solid base," said Debra Allen of Dunedin, who watched the commission vote Thursday from the audience with her partner of 25 years.

City commissioners okayed an addition to their anti-discrimination ordinance on the second reading, which gives the measure final approval.

An existing ordinance already required city hotels, motels, restaurants, entertainment venues and other establishments open to the public to give equal access to their facilities regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, sex or national origin. The list now includes "sexual orientation and gender identification or expression."

The city of Gulfport is the only other Pinellas County government that includes as part of its anti-discrimination ordinance "gender identification or expression."

Those are transgendered individuals like former Largo City Manager Steve Stanton, who have changed or would like to change their sex or crossdress.

Stanton was fired in March 2007 after his plans to become a woman were made public. He later had gender reassignment surgery and changed his name to Susan. She recently was hired as city manager in Lake Worth.

The Dunedin ordinance includes transgenders, but it only covers public accommodations like hotels and restaurants. It will not address discrimination in housing or employment.

City Attorney John Hubbard advised the commission that it would be expensive to set up procedures and a bureaucracy to enforce those measures, whereas the city's current code enforcement employees could inexpensively enforce the accommodations measure.

Under questioning by Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski on Thursday, Hubbard reversed an earlier opinion that transgendered people are well-protected by other governments in regard to housing and employment. Pinellas County's ordinance does not protect the transgendered, the group most likely to suffer hate crimes and discrimination in housing and employment according to the advocacy group Equality Florida.

Bujalski also questioned whether the city code enforcement staff has the right training to take on the issue.

The mechanism of enforcement was not explicitly settled during the meeting. And Bujalski said she would like to know more about where the city's residents can go to address discrimination in housing and employment.

She also noted that the ordinance is missing another factor that often engenders discrimination: age.

"That's an oversight we need to correct," she said.

Before the commission voted, two audience members spoke. One had some questions on wording, and the other wanted to thank the commission.

"My life partner and I own a home in Dunedin," said Ray Dabkowski, legally married in Santa Cruz, Calif., before the state stopped allowing same-sex marriage. "Our marriage is grandfathered in and remains valid."

While the ordinance additions don't fully address the discrimination issues he might face, he said it goes a long way toward easing the pain of Florida's rejection of same-sex marriage on November's ballot.

"It's an important step toward greater acceptance, it just makes you feel part of the community," Dabkowski said after the vote. "It sends a signal to others that this is a good place to live and work."

Two women in the audience came here recently from New Jersey as registered domestic partners.

"We came down here to this crazy Florida," said Ora Sue McKinnon. "Can we even live together here?"

They found Dunedin, she said, and "it's a wonderful thing."

But she was is painfully aware of her remaining legal limitations.

"I have a pension with Cigna — it's a lot of money," McKinnon said, looking over at her partner of 18 years. "I can't give this to her. I can't will this to her. I can't give her my Social Security."

She believes a remedy will come.

"It's going to happen nationwide," she said. "Equality for the gay-lesbian community."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at blackwellt@verizon.net.

Anti-discrimination measure earns praise in Dunedin 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 7:43pm]
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