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Fight expected over move to expand Tampa's human rights ordinance

TAMPA — The City Council's unanimous vote to expand Tampa's human rights ordinance to cover transgender people happened Nov. 5 with little discussion.

But when the council takes its final vote on the ordinance Thursday, members could face a different scene.

Groups who both favor and object to the expanded protections are rallying their troops.

"We're trying to mobilize people to stand in opposition to what is a bad law," said Terry Kemple, president of the Community Issues Council, an organization with the stated mission of promoting "Judeo-Christian values." "It discriminates against Christians and provides special privileges for people based on sexually aberrant behavior."

Last week, Kemple sent an e-mail to supporters that said the Tampa law would allow sexual predators to go into restrooms designated for the opposite sex and force business owners, regardless of their religious beliefs, to hire cross-dressers.

Already, council members have received a handful of e-mails blasting them for the Nov. 5 vote.

Supporters of the ordinance say they also plan to show up at Thursday's meeting.

"Now that Kemple sent out his alert to his people, we're mobilizing furiously," said Zeke Fread, director of Pride Tampa Bay.

Kemple said no one from his organization went to the Nov. 5 City Council meeting because they learned of the vote too late to organize. Fread said no one from his group went because they knew the ordinance would pass.

Both sides say they doubt the council will change its vote.

Fread, though, would like it to once again pass unanimously, in part to send a message to the Hillsborough County Commission. In 2005, the commission voted to ban any county government participation in gay pride events. And commissioners are now resisting specifically including sexual orientation in its internal anti-discrimination policy.

"At least the city is coming back and saying we're inclusive, we're protecting everybody," Fread said.

Kemple, too, said he doubts his group will sway the council.

"It would be kind of hard to turn this train around," he said. "I'm just doing what I feel called to do, and the ultimate outcome is up to the Lord."

The new language specifically prohibits housing, employment and other discrimination of people based on "gender identity and expression." That would apply to people who choose to live as a gender that differs from the body they were born with.

The council decided to add the group as a protected class at the request of the city's Human Rights Board.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Fight expected over move to expand Tampa's human rights ordinance 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:43pm]
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