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Brodhead seeks gay human rights protection

(ran West, Seminole, Beach editions)

When a resident asked Commissioner Harry Brodhead to put something on the books that would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people from discrimination, Brodhead told him those groups already were protected.

The man told Brodhead he should do some research.

The commissioner said he looked at state and federal discrimination laws and couldn't find anything that covered those specific groups.

Brodhead wants to change that in Gulfport, a city known for its gay and lesbian community. He said endorsing such legislation could hurt his chances for re-election in March, but he believes it's the right thing to do.

"It's a dicey issue, I know, but it's time to talk about it," said Brodhead, who is running for a second term on the City Council.

Brodhead suggested at a recent council meeting that the city adopt a human rights ordinance that would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. About 50 people attended the meeting to show their support.

"I brought it up at the meeting that Gulfport should lead the way," he said.

The city has scheduled two workshops to discuss a human rights ordinance. On Feb. 12, the council will seek input from the public. On March 11, City Attorney Tim Driscoll will present a report to the council about human rights ordinances in other cities. Both meetings will be at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S.

Gulfport isn't alone in dealing with this. A coalition of gay rights groups that backed a failed attempt to get Largo to adopt a human rights ordinance last August is pushing for a countywide measure.

Members of Equality Florida, Transgender Forge, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other political activists intend to ask the Pinellas County Commission to add protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to the county's 20-year-old human rights ordinance. The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and lending in every city in the county.

The groups also are pursuing the addition of protections for transgenders to Tampa's human rights ordinance, which protects gays.

St. Petersburg, where the coalition and its allies organized their first push for a human rights ordinance in 2001, is the only Pinellas city that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. No city prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, which would protect men and women who dress like the opposite gender.

Federal and state laws do not protect gays, lesbians or transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and lending.

"That's why people are coming out and saying we need these particular regulations," City Manager Tom Brobeil said. "I don't know whether we have this type of discrimination here or not."

Brodhead said such discrimination exists in Gulfport. He talked to residents who claim they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. He said a lesbian told him a landlord refused to renew a lease to her and her partner.

"As I look into this more and more, I see that there are folks who are in these classes who have been discriminated against," Brodhead said. "What's fair for one is fair for all."

Vonn New, a field director for Equality Florida, a statewide gay rights organization based in Tampa, said passing a human rights ordinance in Gulfport would send a message that Gulfport has "the values of diversity and inclusiveness."

New said she is working with a group of residents and business owners in Gulfport who support a human rights ordinance that includes protection for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

"It's very important to them," she said.

Resident Jackie Mirkin said she doesn't want any special treatment. "We're not asking for extra rights," said Mirkin, 73, who is lesbian. "We're asking for the same rights other citizens have."