On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Rollins professors and students participated in a historic Orange County Board of Commissioners’ (BCC) meeting. The topic of interest: a proposed Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to extend civil rights protections on the bases of marital status and sexual orientation (defined to include gender identity/expression as well). The HRO, which passed 6-to-1 (with Commissioner Brummer casting the only “nay”), makes it illegal to discriminate on the bases of employment, housing and provision of services (e.g., service at a hotel or restaurant).
Red-shirted supporters of the HRO filled the county chambers. Nineteen supporters registered to speak, five of whom came from Rollins. Mayor of Orange County Richard Crotty, who has taught at Rollins, publicly acknowledged turnout from the college.
Attending the HRO hearing were Professor of Political Science Rick Foglesong, Professor of Philosophy and Religion Margaret McLaren, Professor of Mathematical Sciences Jay Yellen, and myself; Brent Turner, director of the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership; students Ashley Green ’11 and Ed Leffler ’14; and alumni and former staff member Diane Hathaway.
In her testimony, Dr. McLaren urged the BCC to protect basic civil rights for the LGBT community. She called the HRO “a matter of justice and fairness,” adding that everyone—not just members of minority groups— benefits from inclusive policies.
Professor Yellen told the BCC: “This is the busiest and most stressful time of the year for faculty and students, but if I didn’t take the time to speak out in support of this ordinance, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or look my students in the eye. I’m not into politics, but I’m sure into deductive reasoning and I couldn’t feel more strongly that expanding our anti-discrimination code to include marital status and sexual orientation is, logically and morally, absolutely the right thing to do.”
Turner echoed these themes. He spoke of being inspired by the Arts and Sciences (A&S) Student Government Association (SGA), which unanimously passed a resolution in support of the ordinance. Green delivered the SGA resolution and indicated that passage of the HRO would render her more likely to make Orange County her permanent home.
After delivering a faculty petition in support of the HRO (with 113 signatures from A&S faculty), I offered testimony connecting the current LGBT struggle for civil rights to other social movements, saying, “Fifty years ago, Woolworth’s infamously refused to serve four black students at a whites-only lunch counter—appalling then and almost unthinkable now. Yet today, if a lunch counter refused to serve someone perceived to be gay or to have an unconventional gender expression, this would be perfectly legal.” There are no federal or Florida-based protections on these bases (sexual orientation is a protected class in 21 other states, gender identity/expression in 13 states).
State Representative Scott Randolph and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan also testified. Sheehan personalized the issue by offering her experiences with marginalization, prejudice and discrimination— experiences that, years ago, contributed to a suicide attempt.
The HRO’s passage culminates several years of lobbying by Equality Florida and by the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee (OADO). Prior to the Nov. 23 meeting, Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling Kathryn Norsworthy and I met several times with Commissioner Bill Segal, who played an instrumental role in the passage of the ordinance, as did Commissioner Linda Stewart, who sent the initial memo to Mayor Crotty, requesting that the HRO be put on the BCC agenda. Rollins President Lewis Duncan, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and several other community leaders contacted Mayor Crotty and the commissioners to express support for the HRO.
At the Nov. 23 hearing, OADO members Michael Slaymaker and Tom Woodard demonstrated the need for the HRO by recounting experiences of being fi red for no other reason than their sexual orientation. Attorneys Mary Meeks, Patrick Howell, and OADO, gave pro-bono legal consultation to assist the county in drafting the HRO. In her remarks, Meeks urged the BCC to listen patiently to the testimony of LBGT citizens.
Rollins has locally lead the move for LGBT inclusivity. The college added sexual orientation to its equal opportunity policy in 1990 and gender identity/ expression in 2009.
Rollins has offered domestic partner benefits for both same-sex and different-sex couples since 2001. Rollins similarly advocates off campus. In 2001-02, the city of Orlando debated adding sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy (the measure passed 4 votes to 3). The A&S SGA passed a resolution in support, as did the A&S faculty, and testified at the public hearing.
Dr. Norsworthy and I, in collaboration with Equality Florida and OADO, also participated in the successful movements to add sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the protected classes for the Orange County Fair Housing Code (2006)
Said Dr. Norsworthy about the latest development: “I am very proud that our Rollins community provided such strong leadership in the passage of the HRO. This is a great example of enacting Rollins’ mission of community-based leadership and social responsibility, particularly since the passage of the ordinance ensures civil rights protections for a significant segment of Rollins employees, students and their family members.”