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A human rights issue that will benefit everyone

I have been absolutely astounded by the debate recently over the amendments to Hillsborough County's human rights ordinances. The issue, clearly, has been about extending and clarifying human rights protections to all people. These amendments do nothing to support, promote or encourage any lifestyle. Legal recourse for an act of discrimination is all they do. This is not a gay rights issue; it is a human rights issue that will benefit everyone. Individual Americans may decide not to agree with a particular religion, creed or lifestyle, but they should never be able to fire or evict someone because of it. If true freedom is to be protected, we must be able to acknowledge the rights of those with whom we disagree.

Some local organizations have tried to make this into a debate on the morality/immorality of homosexuality. This is not what any human rights legislation is about. Perhaps these groups could find more appropriate avenues to vent their beliefs and attitudes than in such a limited political arena. Maybe they could even learn to discuss the issue among themselves. But please, do not waste valuable time and money not discussing the issue.

Laws against hatred, bigotry and discrimination must be promoted and made even more comprehensive. Anything less would be un-American, questionably religious and definitely indecent.

Timothy J. Hollis, St. Petersburg

Thank you for having the courage to publish your editorial of May 31, Tampa's profiles in courage.

I am not one of the minority groups which has experienced discrimination and the other evils of intolerance. I have, however, seen the "hate-twisted" faces of the intolerant, and it is a sickening and frightening experience.

It was reassuring to read your words and to know there are others who feel as I do.

Betty Mitchell, St. Petersburg

I just want to commend the St. Petersburg Times for its courage in defending and supporting the values which are the "DNA" of America, and indeed of all free people.

Your editorial Tampa's profiles in courage, was clearly and cleanly written; it left no room for misinterpretation. You have shown the courage of the early founders and editors of this great country _ the courage to speak the truth even when it may not be the popular thing to do. You are the conscience of our society, and we are fortunate that your voice is not muffled.

The article about attorney Bruce Rogow (Freedom fighter, May 31) was a timely complement to the issues of human rights and your editorial. It's nice to know that not all the heroes are dead.

Nancy Kelly, Belleair

Bravo to the city of Tampa and the Hillsborough County Commission which finally helped end discrimination for all members of this community! The new ordinances are not gay rights ordinances but human rights ordinances. They realized that the morals of the audience were not the issue at hand but rather discrimination against basic human rights.

Your paper frequently noted that two-thirds of the audience was in opposition to the ordinance. I wonder how many were at council meetings in the '50s when civil rights were being discussed. They may have spoken up then, but they would never speak up against black Americans now! Also, how many black Americans were in the audience voicing their opposition to basic human rights for a fellow minority group in this country? Your paper failed to mention this.

You also mention that the audience left in fear of the gay Americans who were in the audience. What were they afraid of? Fear of harassment, fear of beatings, fear of name calling, fear of losing their jobs or housing? I doubt it. These fears are the fears that all gay Americans are forced to live with each day. This is why only one-third of the audience voiced their support for the ordinance.

We as gay Americans do not ask you to agree with our lifestyle; however, we do ask you for the basic human rights afforded all Americans. The anti-gay activists are calling for a referendum. If this does happen and if these measures are not passed, we will then be no better off than we were 150 years ago when an entire race was enslaved by the fear of the majority.

Let us all stop living in fear of each other and learn to cooperate with one another for the single purpose of a better, freer United States of America.

T. Burton, St. Petersburg

Design appears to be correct

Re: Where is engineering?, Opinion, May 22.

I was annoyed with the letter to the editor criticizing the Pinellas Trail engineering work. My impression from reading the letter was that the writer was either not a designer or, if he was a designer, he is quite retired. In either case, he does not know current standard public design requirements.

I am a registered architect and have worked extensively with engineers in many disciplines on both public and private work. Whenever public human access to a facility is required, handicapped accessibility is also now required. This means that if it is decided that the Pinellas Trail should be built, it must be accessible to the physically handicapped, and usually this means people who use wheelchairs.

According to the code, wheelchair access means ramps at certain maximum inclines are needed to go from one level to another. If ramps are not practical, then elevators are required instead.

In the case of the trail, one must be able to traverse from grade to an elevation high enough to pass above the tallest vehicle using the roadway below. This ramp cannot slope up more than 1 to 12. Under certain circumstances and political jurisdictions, a 1 to 10 slope is permitted. The ramps on the trail appear to me to comply.

The ramp also must have flat landings at regular intervals along its length for the handicapped person to rest. These ramps appear to me to be so equipped.

Taking these code requirements into account, using rudimentary geometry and algebra, it can be determined what length a ramp must be to legally rise high enough to span over the roadway. Because the height the walkway needs to reach is so high, it is easy to see that long ramps are required.

The bridge span itself must also be designed for public safety, and a completely enclosed cage must be built so that it is very unlikely pedestrian users will be harmed by falling from the bridge to the roadway below; hence the total enclosure by chain-link fencing.

I did not agree with the decision to build the trail in the first place. It seemed to me the decision makers were ill-informed and groping to find a use for the old railroad right-of-way that was being abandoned. Instead, I believe the property should have been deeded back to the adjacent property owners. It would have saved the taxpayers a lot of money and design debates would have been avoided.

Instead, it was decided the trail should be built. If the trail should be built, the design must meet the code. It seems to me that the current bridge design complies with the code, and the letter writer is mistaken that the trail bridge is poorly designed.

Since we are now committed to the project, I will expect similar bridges to be built over every major vehicular roadway the trail crosses so that rush hour traffic does not have to stop for pedestrians or cyclists at their leisure.

Our commissioners must ultimately justify the wisdom of the decision that was made. The design, however, appears to be correct.

Gregory H. Young, AIA, Seminole

Celebrations puzzling

Thank you Garry Trudeau for your May 25 Doonesbury cartoon. I, too, wonder why all the celebrations when we still have our soldiers right in the middle of Iraq in hostile territory. It's not over until they all are back home and out of there.

I'm sure my son and all his Marine buddies will readily agree, and other military mothers and fathers as well.

Again, please America, remember your (our) soldiers that are still there.

Rosalie Mitchell-Wilbur, Seminole

Machine gun and shoot show

Re: Machine gun enthusiasts whoop it up in Texas, May 26.

On a holiday weekend, set aside to honor all those who died in the service of our country, it was irreverent to their memory to read of the machine gun and shoot show held in Hecotes, Tex., recently. It was disgusting to read the promoters of the event billing it as "family entertainment _ giving kids the fun of discovering a new hobby." For adults, "great therapy _ more relaxing than a six-pack of beer."

I don't believe the framers of our Constitution had such phraseology in mind when they drafted Article II in the Bill of Rights giving people the right to keep and bear arms. Most states ban the purchase of explosive fireworks on the Fourth of July because of the hazards involved, but it was okay to allow this "therapeutic event" to take place in the Lone Star State.

Because we are a nation of faddists this hobby may spread across the country where not only adults but little Johnny and Jane can learn to use these deadly weapons instead of cap guns and water pistols. Be a good boy, Johnny, and Santa may have an M-16 under the tree for you next Christmas.

Bob McDonald, Dunedin

Re: Machine gun enthusiasts whoop it up in Texas, May 26.

Our society must be very, very sick mentally if we require firing machine guns for relaxation.

What's the next step? Are we going to shoot people en masse to relax? We are as is the most violent society in this so-called civilized world. It is about time to put an end to this kind of foolishness and get our laws and priorities in order.

News media _ newspapers, radio, TV _ should express loud and clear some sensible opinion on this subject.

There is definitely enough shooting around the world without shooting for pleasure and relaxation!

Henry R. Sloan, Spring Hill

Doing his job

Re: The stand that pushes the bounds of a bishop, by Howard Troxler, May 27.

Our Bishop John Favalora is doing the job he has been selected for in defending the faith as vicar of Christ.

As a bishop, he must answer to his ultimate boss, our Lord.

As an American, he is stating his beliefs as revealed in the Bible.

Madeline L. Muekeley, Seminole

Animal Rights Awareness

The week of June 9-16 has been designated the first annual Animal Rights Awareness Week, to celebrate and advance the tradition of advocacy for the rights of our fellow creatures. To this tradition belong many of the greatest thinkers, artists and human rights leaders in history people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Gandhi, Einstein and Lincoln, who all held the conviction that animals are not mere resources but fellow beings that must be treated with respect and compassion.

Abraham Lincoln, the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, stated: "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." And in the present day, the voices speaking out for animals range from novelist Alice Walker to that great advocate of sea mammals, Jacques Cousteau.

And yet, our society's treatment of animals remains so abusive that we are loath to confront it in pictures from the slaughterhouse, the laboratory or the factory farming. Animal Rights Awareness Week is offered in the hope that we will learn to treat animals as living beings _ not as objects.

The public is invited to take a closer look at animal rights, the alternatives to animal exploitation and their benefits to humankind. Events nationwide will include music and vegetarian food festivals, cruelty-free product fairs, contests, teach-ins and informational displays. Readers who wish to find out more can contact the national co-sponsor group, In Defense of Animals, at (415) 453-9984.

Eva Martin, St. Petersburg

The deciding factor?

It is an undeniable fact that our country is faced with a crisis of daily, ever increasing and runaway uncontrollable health care costs, and a workable affordable solution is of necessity now being given priority consideration and evaluation by prominent medical professionals. The American people have been long suffering, literally, in the hope that Congress would take the leadership role, oppose the strong AMA lobbying for status quo, and call for health reforms. It is ironical that members of Congress and other official dignitaries are freed from worry over personal health care. It just doesn't concern them or their families. The irony being that the taxpayers are footing the bill. Changes need to be made. A national health program will be a major issue at the next election and may very well be the deciding factor. I know that Sir Winston Churchill, hero that he was after World War II, failed to regain re-election to the Conservative Party because the Labor Party promised the British people there would be a comprehensive national health program if elected. The rest is history. The British people's feelings for Mr. Churchill had to take second place to their own need for drastic health reforms and they have not regretted it.

Margaret Fuhro, Ruskin

Help for auto industry

Our automobile industry is very important to our economy, and we need to get our priorities into the right order in regulating it.

We want safety, fuel economy, freedom from pollution and ability to outsell foreign competition.

The question is: Which of these things do we want first and how much of it? To an unfortunate point, they conflict with each other. Safety features such as bracing and padding sides, and bigger air conditioning units using a non-pollutant fluid, add weight. The weight detracts from fuel economy. All add to the cost of the vehicle.

Unfortunately, these problems are frequently dealt with singly, rather than as parts of one big related problem.

It certainly would be to the common advantage if a joint House and Senate committee or subcommittee with some ex-officio members from the auto industry were set up to deal with this problem. This committee could sit down and decide on priorities _ what should be done first and how much of it.

This would give our auto industry a chance to proceed with planning and development with less scrapping of work already done. It would give the public better vehicles at lower costs. It would help us to compete with a foreign industry whose government insures their industry better rates on capital investment.

Let us stand behind what is good for our country.

Richard C. Hodnett, Spring Hill

Women's lives, bodies

When will the people who run the government stop trying to control women's lives regarding their choice of reproduction?

I am neither for or against abortions; but I am for women's rights. The rule banning federally funded clinics from discussing abortion is preposterous.

Abortion should be a choice, not a threat. Consider how many women who are out there that have been raped or molested and are pregnant. That baby is being forced upon them, causing a psychological conflict within the mother. Rape and molestation are a trauma, abortion isn't. Therefore, abortions should be available for those types of victims.

Also, what about a woman whose life is being endangered by an unborn child? It should be the woman's choice to decide if it would be her life or the baby's. I most certainly would like to keep my life; another baby could be possible.

The government should stay out of the abortion rulings and leave the decisions up to the women themselves. It's not only their bodies, it's their lives, too.

J. E. Bryant, St. Petersburg

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