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Hillsborough Commissioners Move to Protect Gay Rights


Hillsborough County Commissioners today voted to legislate protection of gay, bisexual and transgender people. If it is enacted in an upcoming session, the ordinance would be an about-face of a 1995 vote that excluded those civil rights protections.

The move authorizes the County Attorney’s Office to prepare an amendment to the Hillsborough County Human Rights Ordinance, which would "prohibit discrimination within Hillsborough County on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identification in connection with employment, public accommodations, real estate transactions and County contracting and procurement."

The amendment was introduced by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the commission's first openly gay member, and was unanimously approved 7-0.

One member of the public who spoke in favor of the ordinance was Gina Duncan, who repudiated arguments that it would infringe on people's rights to practice their religion as they see fit.

"This issue is not about religion. This issue is about treating all of our residents fairly, and with respect and equally under the laws of our cities and our counties."

Opposing it was Caroline Weatherland.

"I feel that this new protection is a violation of my liberty for religious freedom," she said, "and I also feel the government should have no control over regulating who I should and should not hire."

Currently, eight other Florida counties and 17 cities, including Tampa, prohibit employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification. Nationally, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 16 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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