By STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
“I started at SAVE five years ago and it was part of our five-year strategy,” said C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, the county’s largest gay-rights group. “Along with getting an openly gay person elected to state office, we had also set a goal of passing a trans-inclusive human rights ordinance.”
In 2012, SAVE Dade helped elect gay accountant David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, to the Florida Legislature. Now, the focus is on transgender rights.
“Being that gender rights were never included in the original human rights ordinance, transgenders here in Miami-Dade County have no protection when it comes to employment discrimination, housing discrimination, etc.,” said trans activist Aryah Lester. “Unless you live under a certain jurisdiction such as Miami Beach, which has its own ordinance, you can be fired legally just simply for being transgender, with no other reason.”
Miami-Dade County passed its first gay-rights ordinance in January 1977. A campaign by singer Anita Bryant led to its repeal the following June. Twenty one years later, the county commission passed a new law, one which voters upheld in 2002.
The existing Miami-Dade law doesn’t cover transgender people. Monroe County and Key West updated their human rights ordinances in 2003, Miami Beach in 2004, Palm Beach County in 2007 and Broward in 2008. Other Florida cities that protect on the basis of gender identity and expression include Gainesville, Tampa and Oakland Park.
“We want to keep up with the times,” said Lester, 33, who transitioned from male to female at age 18. “This is an issue that personally affected me in the past. I’ve had lots of employment discrimination. I got fired from a job when I first started transitioning, because it was something the owners didn’t feel comfortable with,” Lester said.
Ortuño believes Miami-Dade County will update its ordinance by the end of the year.
In May, Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Audrey Edmonson filed a trans-inclusive amendment, which was co-sponsored by Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Sally Heyman. The amendment passed on first reading with an 11-1 vote. Only Miami-Dade Commission Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell voted against.
Next, the amendment must pass the commission’s Health and Social Services Committee, which is chaired by Edmonson. A vote is scheduled on July 8. If three of five committee members approve the amendment, it goes back to the full commission for a final vote, probably in the fall.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said he will sign the amendment, according to Ortuño.