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Transgender protections come before Miami-Dade commission — again

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI
PMAZZEI@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A pair of Miami-Dade commissioners will attempt for the second time to add transgender protections Tuesday to a county law that bans discrimination in government employment and the delivery of public services.

“This country is evolving in a way where we’re more accepting, so I think this is a good time to bring it back,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said.

She and Bruno Barreiro withdrew the legislation last summer when it faced resistance in a key committee made up of five commissioners, some of whom indicated they would oppose expanding the county’s human-rights ordinance.

The difference now: One of those commissioners is on her way out the door.

Lynda Bell lost her reelection bid last month to Daniella Levine Cava, who was elected with the vocal support of SAVE, Miami-Dade’s leading gay-rights group that blamed Bell for the failure of last year’s trans-inclusive amendment. Bell, who received the backing of conservative activists, countered that hers was merely a single vote.

Levine Cava won’t be sworn in until Nov. 18. That means Bell will still be on the dais Tuesday, when Edmonson and Barreiro’s proposal is scheduled for a preliminary vote.

But Levine Cava would be on the board by the time the measure winds through the commission’s legislative process. A final vote would take place in December at the earliest.

That’s assuming the proposal advances Tuesday. It did so last year, with only one commissioner — Bell — voting against.

Edmonson, the chairwoman of the health committee, acknowledged the changing composition of the board in an interview Monday, but also noted a shift in society and popular culture as a reason for resuscitating the proposal now. After withdrawing it last year, she and Barreiro had to wait at least six months, under county rules, before bringing it back.

“It’s something that has to be dealt with,” Barreiro said.

As proposed, the amended law, which is also co-sponsored by Commissioner Sally Heyman, would extend the discrimination ban to “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

It’s already illegal in county government to discriminate against someone — in terms of their public employment, family leave, accommodations, credit and financing, or public housing — on the base of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, familial status or sexual orientation.

Adding “sexual orientation” to the law was a decades-long political fight recently examined in The Day It Snowed In Miami, a documentary co-produced by the Miami Herald.

But much has changed since voters approved the addition in 2002, passed by the commission in 1998. In 2003, Monroe County and Key West widened their human-rights ordinances to include transgender protections. Miami Beach did the same in 2004, Palm Beach County in 2007 and Broward County in 2008. Last year, Gainesville’s Alachua County passed a similar law.

In June, Miami Beach commissioners voted to provide city employees with transgender health insurance, which would cover treatments such as gender-reassignment surgery and hormone and psychological therapy but not cosmetic procedures.

Opponents organized by the conservative Christian Family Coalition last year claimed the county’s expanded definition would allow people who are not transgender to dress up as the other sex and walk into public restrooms to prey on victims. A flier produced by the group featured a man with beard stubble wearing a blonde wig and leering at a frightened little girl.

Anthony Verdugo, the organization’s executive director, said he doesn’t plan to attend Tuesday’s meeting because he’s out of town. But he continues to oppose the policy, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.”

“It legalizes discrimination, because it gives a reason for employers to fire employees,” Verdugo said. He cited the case of a Macy’s employee in Texas who lost her job in 2011 because the employee said she didn’t allow a transgender customer to use a women’s dressing room.

“There just simply is no evidence for the need for this,” Verdugo said.

Edmonson, however, dismissed that criticism — and the idea that expanding the county’s anti-discrimination law would somehow legalize preying on people in restrooms or other public places.

“That was just a smoke screen,” she said. “We’ve got at least 10 counties already in the state [with similar legislation], and no one’s having that problem.”

IF YOU GO

The Miami-Dade County Commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the 2nd floor chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW 1st St., Miami.

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