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GLBT rights activist pulls back on the "T"

BY BETH REINHARD, [email protected]

Bodiford_robin01Robin Bodiford, left, is not ``The Man.''

For one, she's a lesbian whose law practice almost exclusively represents gay clients. She spearheaded groundbreaking ordinances in Broward County to protect gay rights and allow same-sex couples to register as domestic partners. When the only county commissioner who voted against both ordinances, John Rodstrom, received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale, she staged a one-woman walkout.

In other words, she has devoted her life and career to sticking it to the you know who.

But now Bodiford finds herself in the most unlikeliest of roles. As a small but strident band of activists lobbies to add legal protections for transgender people to the county ordinance, Bodiford is pulling back.

Here's why: She and other political veterans fear that adding ''gender identity and expression'' to the ordinance will jeopardize hard-won rights already on the books. With three countywide elections looming in 2008 -- the presidential primary on Jan. 29, the Aug. 26. primary and the Nov. 4 general election -- gay-rights opponents would have three opportunities to get a repeal on the ballot.

On Wednesday, Bodiford and political consultant Richard Giorgio booked a room at the Gay and Lesbian Center to sound the alarm. Let's wait until May to add transgender to the ordinance, they said, to keep a potential repeal at bay until at least 2010.

''We've always proceeded carefully and slowly to make sure that when we fight for our rights, we keep those rights,'' Giorgio said. ``It makes little sense to secure transgender protections only to watch them get repealed six months later.''

They have reason for concern. The domestic partnership ordinance, which allows same-sex partners to secure hospital visitation rights like married couples, weathered a court challenge.

The ordinance that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation endured two petition drives aimed at repeal.

''You think after all the years that I could sit idly by and watch everything I worked for crash and burn without at least attempting to allow the greater gay and lesbian community know how their rights were being risked?'' Bodiford asked.

She may be overreacting. Miami Beach and other South Florida cities have added transgender protections without a backlash. A group organized to beat back a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage has raised more than $1 million, reflecting the gay community's fundraising and organization prowess.

At the meeting, about 10 people who favor the transgender amendment filed into the back of the room and tried to take over the microphone. Transgender people typically dress in the style of the opposite gender than they were born and may seek medical treatment to change their gender.

''Let them speak!'' shouted AIDS activist Michael Rajner. ``You've silenced them long enough!''

A tall woman dressed all in black took the floor.

''How dare you deny me my rights?'' demanded Tiffany Arieagus, an AIDS counselor well known in the local drag queen circuit. ``What about me?''

Bodiford was shaken. ''I'm not here to be your enemy,'' she said.

Step back and see what has happened here. The lesbian activist is no longer the radical agitating for change. Now she's the one controlling the microphone and representing the political establishment. Now she's ``The Man.''

And perhaps in some strange way, this is progress.

Beth Reinhard is the political writer for The Miami Herald.


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Go Robin!

Bodiford & Giorgio out of step with gay community


It's only natural that as we make more progress, we get more cautious because we have more to lose.

I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with either side on this issue, but if you support what Ms. Bodiford is doing, you only sound hypocritical if you criticize any of our presidential candidates for playing politics by never supporting equal marriage.

Dear Ms. Bodiford-
Thank you so much for your hard work obtaining the rights of the GLB community in Broward County. Lately, it seems as if some gay people have forgotten all that you have personally and professionally done for us. It is too bad that a small group of people with big mouths and canyon-like egos have been so stubborn and hard headily obnoxious about the issue of whether to wait until the time is right (a mere 6-8 months- nothing in the grand scheme of things) to add gender identity and expression to the human rights ordinance of Broward County.

I have worked for the Board of County Commissioners for the last 20 years and have been in Fort Lauderdale to see the progress that has been made concerning gay rights. Being a gay male, when I first went to work there, I was harassed on a daily basis for being "too feminine". Although it was extremely difficult at first, I held my head high, ignored the comments and innuendo, and performed my job impeccably. I am now a supervisor in my department. As a result of your hard work and devotion to the gay community I no longer have to fear losing my job because someone doesn't like gay people. Now it is safe for me to be "out", thanks to you, when it didn't used to be.

I have been quietly observing the goings on over the last few months regarding this addition to the law in Broward County. I was at the Human Rights Meeting in which you and your colleague were not permitted to fully voice your concerns. All I can say is, thank God for the press which, because of you, brought this out in the open, where it belongs, possibly before it is too late. I realize that it would have been in the press eventually, but most likely it would not have been before there was a chance to stop this train wreck of haste from happening. I was appalled to see "leaders" of the Dolphin Democrats, including the president, Amy Shoosmith who also sits on the the Human Rights board high fiving with each other as if some victory akin to winning a football game had been won. That was not a victory, it was a travesty of the process and a denial of free speech. Even though I now have to wonder about the intelligence of these "leaders" I will continue to quietly attend the meetings to keep abreast of their idiotic shenanigans.

I was at the meeting at the GLCC in which you succinctly explained why the timing of this matter is off. I remember when the mere thought of a GLCC was unrealistic. You both made it very clear that you are in agreement with the addition of gender identity and expression, just that right NOW is NOT the right time. I sat there and watched as Michael Rainyer(sp?), Dean Trantalis (he wants to be Mayor?- I don't want some hotheaded, ego-maniacal, idiot who is not willing to listen to opposing points of view as if he is some all knowing omnipotent entity to be my mayor- he is just as bad as that moron Jim Naugle!), Mike Albeta- a thug in a suit of an automobile salesman who can't seem to speak the King's English-(really, he is he related to George Bush? Is his "strategery" to intimidate and scream and hurl libelous slander at people he does not agree with- that sounds like Dick Cheney to me- oh I forgot, George and Dick actually went to universities and obtained degrees of higher education), Amy Shoosmith- I believe she said "I am one tough Mick-that's how my mother raised me"- (I wonder if her mother also raised her to scream and yell in public- is that exemplary lady-like behavior?) attempted to intimidate you and Mr. Giorgio and take over the meeting. Bravo to you and Mr. Giorgio for maintaining your calm, collected demeanor. Thank you for not caving into their cavemen like behavior and continuing your presentation in a courteous, professional manner even as they could not seem to exercise the minimal self control required to keep their mouths closed until the Q and A/ comment segment of the meeting, cross talking (or rather screaming like a bunch of shrews who need to be tamed) over you and Mr. Giorgio as you tried to speak, calmly and rationally. And that drag queen, forgot his/her name, who came in late and didn't even hear what you had to say, so really shouldn't have even commented, grabbed the microphone and went on and on about how no white people were there back in the days of the fight for civil rights for black people- that soliloquy was unbelievable- what does that have to do with anything? You asked people to limit their comments and questions to, I think, two or three minutes so obviously she can't tell time, she went on seemingly forever, while another young man/woman (honestly couldn't tell...) waited his/her turn to speak, but she hogged the microphone, denying others of THEIR opportunity to speak. How did she get that microphone anyway? I did not notice him/her threaten someone with a size 18 stiletto heeled pump- I was too busy viewing, in shock, the all white boy gay gestapo tactics of attempted overt intimidation at the back of the room (do followers of Hitler still abound? If they do, they live right here amongst us in Broward.) One member of that gestapo-like crew, I believe it was Mr. Rainyer shouted, rudely during your presentation "Let them speak, you've silenced them long enough!" Who was silencing who? Over all of these years I don't recall you ever "silencing" anyone, in fact, you have done the inverse, allowing the GLB community to speak up and be ourselves. That drag queen is who was, by acting like some sort of Diva and taking up all of that time. She needs to reserve that behavior for the gay club circuit he/she has been a member of since biblical times. It took everything I had not to succumb to my rage and yell out, to inform her that my white, Aryan nation poster boy looking, uncle, died in Mississippi after being beaten to a pulp for encouraging black people to register to vote and that quite a few of my ancestors from New York were killed during the civil war, fighting on the side of the Union... "her" ignorance of basic American History was at the least appalling, at the most, the inane rantings of a lunatic. And people wonder why the general public, while they accept gay people now, wonder if there is really something wrong with transgendered people. Although I didn't used to feel this way, lately I have been wondering myself. I wonder if, in addition to being confused about whether they are "really" male or female, transgendered persons have an intellectual deficit in addition to their confusion over the "gender identity". They say "God made me this way"... what way? If your born with a penis you are male, if your born with a vagina you are a female- how hard is that to figure out? Except for hermaphroditic people, bless their souls- that is a true "medical condition". One can go through all the surgeries possible, but genetically, we will all still be what we are born as... and THAT is the way the God made us. Besides that, what does trying to figure out if you are male or female have to do with sexual orientation? As far as I know, most transgendered people consider themselves to be "straight", but in the wrong kind of body. Their hope is to "pass" as the opposite sex of what they were born as and to marry someone of the same sex as they were born as. Then again, does that mean they are genetically gay but want to be straight or what? That is one thing that really confuses me... you knowledgeable about so very much, maybe you would kindly take time out of your busy schedule and respond to that single question.

I also attended the meeting in which supporters of gender identity and expression being added to the ordinance gathered at the GLCC. Honestly, I was waiting for someone to say something logical, and specific about why we should go forth with this NOW. Someone asked a question about that, but there was no answer, just a show of how many people supported moving forward now- what kind of answer is that? I asked too, but my question on the little index card was not read- and really I was glad because I signed my name to it and wondered if I would be mauled on the way out the door at the conclusion of the meeting had it been read just for asking in my attempt to understand both points of view. I heard the speeches, but no reason other than "we want our rights!, The time is now!" I did not see anyone verbally abusing the panel. It reminded me of a high school pep rally, and I guess that was the mentality of the people attending. When it was I over, I kept my head down and quietly left, ashamed at the idiocy of my "brothers and sisters" as we were referred to so many times during that exercise in lunacy.

I have read the articles in the papers of recent days, and I want to let you know that although people are publicly harassing you, that there are many gay people who are thankful to you for what you have done for the community as a whole. We just prefer to be constructive and e-mail the commissioners, the human rights board (which seems pointless- are they hell bent on making sure the rights you worked so hard to gain for us are thrown away?) and sit back and see what happens. And when the time comes I will go to the polls- because that is coming, although I don't know when, and vote to try and keep the very rights we enjoy because of your efforts for over more than the last decade.

We are going to have a tough fight on our hands next year... I can just see the commercials now... men in woman's' lingerie, or women in full leather garb, standing in front of a classroom of children, with a voice over saying "is this who you want teaching your kids?" The general public will freak at that. I hope that you will continue your efforts when the voter initiative brought on by the far right occurs, but after seeing how people have turned on you as if you were the enemy instead of the voice of reason, I wouldn't blame you one iota if you just sat back and watched us lose our rights and then said, "told y'all so... but you wouldn't listen" and then laughed. However, I know you have more class than these other idiots do and wouldn't gloat, as they do now. Will they be gloating when we lose our rights?

And to the people who say "we have statewide and nationwide support for this... remember... it is too bad that all of these "supporters" can't vote in Broward County, or did you forget everything you know about the voting process?

Also, Ms. Bodiford, thank you for letting the greater gay community know what is happening. Did the proponents of this ordinance amendment really think that the far right would not notice if the Commissioners added the "T" to the human rights ordinance? If they did, they know nothing about the procedure in changing a county ordinance. As soon as the amendment is passed it will be on the front page of the every newspaper and the opening story on every major television network in South Florida. Because of your bravery and commitment to the gay community, maybe Commissioner Keechl will back down on this for the time being... if he doesn't he will be a one term commissioner. He only won because of the gay vote, and gay voters will not re-elect him if we lose the rights we already have because of promises made before he was elected. Now he has the opportunity to use good sense, back down and delay this until the appropriate time. Please remember, however, that many of us in the gay community will realize that he will only do that because not to do so would be just plain stupid, and that had you not opened your mouth this would have gone forward now. He will take the credit if it is delayed and passes, but we will recall who REALLY made it stick, and that is you.

Again- thank you for your hard work and dedication for over a decade- making it possible for the "regular" people like me, be able to work and live in peace, knowing that I have the law behind me because of your efforts. Please continue to advocate for us, and remember, it is really only a small group of hard headed, ego maniacs who oppose the logical reasoning you have shown.

Teri Michaels
Fort Lauderdale, FL

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