Five years after they banned housing and employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, Pinellas County commissioners are considering extending the law's protections to include transgender people.
On Tuesday, the board is set to vote on whether to hold a public hearing to amend its human rights ordinance, replacing the word "sex" with "gender." The move, which several commissioners said has a majority of the board's support, would make transgender people — those who identify with a different gender than the one listed on their birth certificates — a protected group, a status they already have in cities such as Gulfport and Dunedin, and in a handful of other counties in Florida.
The proposed change would give transgender people the means to protest being fired from a job or denied housing because of discrimination. It would also permit them to use public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms designated for the sex with which they identify.
It would not apply to the county's public schools or to religious institutions, nor would it require the county or businesses to build extra bathrooms or other accommodations for transgender people.
Currently, the county's human rights law protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status or disability.
"To me, it seems like the right thing to do," said Commissioner Charlie Justice, who has pushed the board to consider including gender identity in its ordinance. The Pinellas Stonewall Democrats organization pushed him to advocate for it as a candidate last year, he said, and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce recently sent the commissioner a letter supporting the move.
In 2008, when the board first debated broadening its human rights ordinance to include gays and lesbians, only two of the seven commissioners, Ken Welch and Susan Latvala, supported including gender identity, according to Welch. But with the election last year of two Democrats eager to prove that Pinellas is more accepting than neighboring Hillsborough, the board is more likely to support amending the law.
"Pinellas is continuing to move forward and progress and we're, I think, years ahead of a lot of the other counties around us," Justice said.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.