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Residents protest possible amendment to anti–discrimination policy

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Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 12:00 am

People of all ages, colors and sexual orientations came to the steps of City Hall Thursday afternoon in support of Gainesville's anti-discrimination policy.

Members of the group Equality is Gainesville's Business spoke against a charter amendment that would nullify the city's anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people.

"All of us believe it is Gainesville's business to ensure equality for all residents," member Michelle Ott said.

The group was formed in opposition to the amendment, which has been pushed for by the organization Citizens for Good Public Policy.

Citizens for Good Public Policy has collected enough signatures to put the amendment on the ballot, though it remains uncertain when it will appear.

If the amendment passes, the city would be subject to the Florida Civil Rights Act instead of its current policy.

This would remove protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit the city from adding new categories, like pregnancy, socioeconomic status or party affiliation.

The state policy will still provide protection for groups based on race, color, religion, sex, nationalorigin, age, handicap and marital status.

Kim Emery, a UF English professor who spoke Thursday, said hearing about the charter amendment made her feel as if citizens of Gainesville thought it was acceptable to strip others of their human rights.

"It would make us something less than citizens," Emery said.

Cain Davis, chairman of Citizens for Good Public Policy, said the amendment is not about restricting rights, but protecting citizens.

"It's a public safety issue," Davis said. "For some reason, they keep missing that point."

Theoretically, he said, men could use women's restrooms and take advantage of the policy by claiming to be transgender.

The group believes that adding gender identity to the city's anti-discrimination policy in January was a mistake by the City Commission, he said.

"They ought to use common sense," Davis said.

Alachua County Commissioner Paula DeLaney said it's important to take the "high road" and realize the fight is over real people.

"There is no excuse for discrimination," DeLaney said.

Dr. Glenn Dickinson, of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, said opposition to the city's policy has created unnecessary fear.

"I pray for a change of heart and mind," Dickinson said.

Some citizens who attended the press conference said they were concerned about what the amendment would mean for their lives.

Amanda Bisson said the amendment was just another way of taking away rights from people.

"I think it's a disgrace," Bisson said. "I'm very worried."

Her domestic partner, Angela Downs, said she thought the amendment was based on fear and lack of education.

"It's not intended to hurt anyone," Downs said.

But both Bisson and Downs said action is important.

Welcome to the discussion.