“I love this town,” Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Lowe shouted to cheering supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the north-central Florida city that on Tuesday rejected a proposal to strike down a local anti-discrimination ordinance. “Today we showed what we are really made of. This has been an experience that none of us has asked for, but we have established that in Gainesville every person matters.”
Across the United States, members of the LGBT community still find themselves in the absurd and frightening position of having their rights submitted to the electorate for up and down votes. And this phenomenon tends to play out a lot in southern college towns, such as Gainesville.
On these progressive islands in more socially-conservative regions, long-standing LBGT communities often succeed in enacting and expanding upon local anti-discrimination ordinances only to have them challenged at the ballot box.
That’s precisely what happened in Gainesville, where Lowe led a push in early 2008 to enact anti-discrimination protections for transgender citizens. Gainesville had barred discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals since 1998. But the extension of the gender-identity protection created what national right-wing groups saw as an opening to roll back the entire anti-discrimination ordinance.
Citizens for Good Public Policy, a social conservative group, gathered 6,000 signatures on petitions that forced Tuesday’s referendum vote on Amendment 1, a proposal designed to repeal not just the protections for transgender people but also for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
The referendum campaign was bitter, divisive and, at least on the part of proponents of the amendment, crudely dishonest.
According to the Gainesville Sun,
[Citizens for Good Public Policy chair Mark] Minck said throughout the campaign that the goal of the ordinance was not to allow discrimination but rather to keep men out of women’s restrooms. Minck and other citizens interpreted the ‘gender identity’ clause included in Gainesville’s anti-discrimination ordinance as a vague definition that would allow men — even predators — to enter women’s restrooms without an enforceable law.
Amendment supporters used the slogan: “Vote yes on Amendment 1 to keep men out of women’s restrooms.”
Lowe and his allies countered the lies with the Equality is Gaineville’s Business campaign, which organized civil rights, religious and political activists to participate in a campaign that boldly declared: “We refuse to believe the lies and scare tactics, and know that Charter Amendment 1 is really about discrimination.”