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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Transgender ordinance takes stand against bigotry

Published Aug. 19, 2013

Tampa Bay has made great strides in recent years toward ensuring that people cannot be denied a job, housing or public services because of bigotry. But discrimination still occurs, and the Pinellas County Commission can take another significant step tonight toward inclusiveness. The commission should approve an ordinance that protects people from discrimination because of their gender identity, which would protect transgender individuals.

Pinellas commissioners had an opportunity to add gender identity to the county's human rights ordinance five years ago when they voted to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. But after hearing from critics, Commissioner Susan Latvala's motion to add gender identity received no support from her colleagues. Since then, the community and the commission in particular have become more aware of the challenges facing transgender individuals, and three of the seven commissioners have taken office since the 2008 vote.

The county's human rights office reasonably proposes that the wording changes include both gender identity and expression, pointing out that there is little protection provided to people identifying themselves as male or female if they cannot express themselves as male or female. It also says the predictable fears spread by critics or concerns about expensive new mandates on employers are unfounded or unsubstantiated in other communities that have adopted identical protections.

Sixteen states and more than 150 local governments nationwide, including Tampa, Dunedin and Gulfport, have ordinances protecting transgender individuals from discrimination. The population affected by these protections is relatively small, but the Pinellas County Commission can send a loud message about inclusiveness tonight by expanding the human rights ordinance to include gender identity and expression.

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