DUNEDIN — When a team of African-American police officers came down from Chicago 20 or 25 years ago to compete in the Highland Games tug-of-war, a local restaurant refused to serve them, City Attorney John Hubbard said.
So Dunedin adopted an ordinance that requires businesses open to the public like restaurants, hotels and amusement venues to give equal access to their facilities regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, sex or national origin.
Now the city is looking to expand the ordinance to prohibit discrimination in two more categories: sexual orientation and gender identification or expression.
"We value people who are different in ways that other communities don't," said Hubbard, noting that no one had to demonstrate for the change. "We just knew it was the right thing to do."
City commissioners approved the first reading of the ordinance at their last meeting and will take it up again Thursday for final approval.
The Dunedin ordinance is important because it includes both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, said Brian Winfield, communications director of Equality Florida, a statewide education and advocacy organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and class.
Equality Florida encourages federal, state and local governments to be fully inclusive, he said, "and cover our entire community."
The gender identity or expression group includes people who are transgender, those who crossdress or are transsexuals. Susan Stanton, the former city manager of Largo, is a well-known transgendered individual who lost her job while changing from a man to a woman.
So far, the city of Gulfport is the only Pinellas County government that includes "gender identification or expression" as part of its anti-discrimination ordinance.
The St. Petersburg ordinance does not include it and a majority of the County Commission backed away from including transgenders in its anti-discrimination legislation last year. At the time, Commission Chairman Calvin Harris said he didn't know what a transgender was.
That kind of unfamiliarity with terms and people who are transgender often causes politicians to avoid controversy and leave a highly vulnerable group out of legislation, Winfield said.
"Most often, when somebody is attacked in an anti-gay hate crime," he said, it's mostly because they are not viewed as acting feminine or masculine enough for their sex. "It's really important, for the gay community to be fully protected, that we have gender identity expression included."
He said transgender people are the most likely to lose jobs, to be passed over for employment or to be discriminated against in housing.
The Dunedin ordinance includes transgenders, but it only covers public accommodations like restaurants. It will not address discrimination in housing or employment.
It would be expensive to set up procedures and a bureaucracy to enforce those measures, Hubbard said. The city's current code enforcement employees could enforce the accommodations measure inexpensively.
Besides, he said, he can't recall a single complaint of discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in the 35 years he has been the city attorney.
"It needs to be done on a broader basis, at the county or state level," he said. "Ideally, it would be countrywide."
The ordinance will not affect business at Kelly's Restaurant, the Chic A Boom Room or Blur Nightclub, said co-owner Virgel Kelly.
"We welcome everybody anyway," he said. "We always have."
He says the proposed ordinance is a great step, but the city needs to go farther.
"Definitely," he said. "Housing and employment."
Gregory Brady, the owner of Gregory's Salon, said he grew up as a victim of discrimination and favors any ordinance that bans it.
"We've had any and all walks of life in this salon," he said. "We've had transgendered individuals, gays, lesbians, heterosexuals, all races and religions.
"It does not matter to us. People are people."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.