BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Calling Lynda Bell "bigoted," gay-rights group SAVE Dade on Wednesday blamed the Miami-Dade Commission vice chairwoman for sabotaging a proposal to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
"Time and again Commissioner Bell has taken the side of bigotry and discrimination," SAVE Dade Deputy Director Maria Barth said in a news release after commission co-sponsors dropped a proposed addition to the county’s gay-rights ordinance. "Lynda Bell’s outdated and anti-family views are completely out of step with her district. Her bigoted positions have no place in our county government."
Bell struck back by calling the SAVE Dade attack “dishonest and slanderous.”
“I am one vote on the commission, and I do not have the power to single-handedly derail any piece of legislation,” Bell said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “To indicate or suggest otherwise, based on the results of one preliminary vote is misleading at best and divisionary and inflammatory at worst.”
Barth said SAVE Dade blames Bell because she was the only commissioner to vote against the proposal in its first reading three months ago.
“The only way to achieve the policies we all need is for the community to elect people that represent the voters,” incoming SAVE Dade Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. “Commissioner Bell doesn’t represent the voters. As long as Commissioner Bell continues to vote against the interests of her district, SAVE will work to engage the community to hold the commissioner accountable. District 8 deserves better.”
SAVE Dade activists are particularly outraged because District 8 previously was represented by Katy Sorenson, who in 1998 championed passage of the county’s current gay-rights law.
“Lynda Bell’s district is most progressive. It was represented by Katy Sorenson, who is a huge supporter of equality,” Barth said. “It’s a sad day when we have an elected official who doesn't understand the needs of her district, whether it’s Katy’s seat or any other district.”
The county’s existing gay-rights law, upheld by voters in 2002, 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 County in 2008. Tuesday night, Equality Florida, the statewide gay-rights group, announced a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination law passed 4-0 in Alachua County, including the Gainesville area.
In May, Miami-Dade Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Audrey Edmonson filed a trans-inclusive amendment, co-sponsored by Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Sally Heyman, which would have banned discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment based on gender identity or expression.
After the amendment passed on first reading with an 11-1 vote, the proposal went to the commission’s Health and Social Services Committee, comprised of chairwoman Edmonson, Bell, Commissioners Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Jean Monestime and Javier D. Souto.
After lobbying by Miami-Dade's statewide Christian Family Coalition, the committee declined to discuss the proposal at its July 8 meeting and originally decided to defer until Aug. 26. Realizing the committee votes weren’t there, co-sponsors dropped the proposal on Tuesday.
Christian Family Coalition Executive Director Anthony Verdugo praised commissioners for their decision, saying the gender law would have been “harmful and unnecessary.”
Verdugo also criticized SAVE Dade for blaming Bell.
“Politics is a microcosm of life. And in politics, as in life, one must always remain gracious in both victory and defeat,” Verdugo said. “The ad hominem attacks made as a result of yesterday's developments are extremely disappointing, as well as their thinly veiled threat of elected officials.”