More than 35 years after Anita Bryant's crusade to have gays and lesbians denied basic rights in Miami-Dade and following a more recent political battle that saw a once powerful county commissioner defeated earlier this year, the county's Human Rights Ordinance now finally protects citizens on the basis of gender identity.
The historic vote came last night after four hours of intense public discourse and debate, and the ordinance was ultimately passed 8-3.
Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Daniella Levine Cava, Rebecca Sosa, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez voted in favor. Commissioners Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Esteban "Steve" Bovo, and Juan C. Zapata voted against. Two commissioner, Dennis C. Moss and Javier Souto, were absent.
The bill now means that no one can discriminate against transgender and non-gender conforming people in housing, public accommodations and employment. Miami-Dade joins a growing list of more than two dozen municipalities in Florida that have enacted such protections. North Miami, Miami and Miami Beach had already enacted transgender protections within their borders.
But Miami-Dade's adoption of the law is especially symbolic. Back in 1977, the county commission passed an ordinance protecting the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Christian singer and Florida Orange Juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant then lead a massive campaign, dubbed "Save Our Children," to successfully repeal the ordinance through referendum. The movement was noted as one of the first times that the Christian right organized a political fight against gay rights, and Bryant went on to become the national face of the anti-gay movement.
The county commissioner reauthorized the ordinance in 1998, and voters defeated another attempt to repeal it in 2002.
Since then, rights for the LGB parts of the LGBT community have advanced forward at full speed. Thirty five states (not including Florida ... yet) now recognize same-sex marriage. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed. Florida's ban on gay parents adopting children was struck down back during the Charlie Crist administration. Meanwhile, rights for the T portion of the community have lagged behind. It's still legal to fire someone simply for being transgender in large swaths of the country and, up until last night, in Miami-Dade County.
Commissioner Barreiro, a Cuban-American registered Republican, and Audrey Edmonson, an African-American registered Democrat, joined forces last year to introduce a trans-inclusive rights ordinance, but that bill languished in committee. Many placed the blame for that on former Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell.
Bell then faced a rare fate for an incumbent county commissioner in August: she lost to Daniella Levine Cava, who unequivocally supported the ordinance.
Adding to the local political picture was the fact that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the grande dame of Miami-Dade Republicans, gave a very open interview to CBS4 last month alongside her transgender son Rodrigo. Though, Rodrigo's gender identity has been public knowledge since 2010, it was the first time the Ros-Lehtinens had discussed it in depth.
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"As parents we wanted to make sure Rigo understood we were totally fine with it," Ros-Lehtinen told CBS4, "We wanted to make sure he was safe. Our society is sometimes not inviting and not caring enough and there is no mystery that LGBT kids when they are younger are bullied."
The looming vote on the ordinance wasn't addressed in that interview, but the timing was unmistakable.
Though the ordinance has finally passed, some fear that another ballot initiative to repel it could be forthcoming.