GAINESVILLE (FBW)—Concerned that a year-old “gender identity” law will jeopardize the safety of women and girls in public restrooms, citizens in Gainesville have mounted a referendum campaign to overturn the ordinance in March 24 city elections.
Citizens for Good Public Policy, the group sponsoring the referendum, was organized after the City Commission approved a revision to the city’s discrimination ordinance adding “gender identity” to the list of protected classes prohibiting discrimination in employment, public accommodation, housing and credit.
“Gender identity” is defined as “an inner sense of being a specific gender, or the expression of a gender identity by verbal statement, appearance, or mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”
CGPP calls the gender identity provision an example of “government gone wild.”
Of most concern to CGPP is a provision which permits the use of “public facilities”—including restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms—by transgender persons who have not transitioned to the opposite gender “whether mentally or physically,” spokesperson Jim Gilbert told Florida Baptist Witness.
“The ordinance is so vaguely worded in this regard that any person can use any facility without having to make such a claim in advance. In other words, any male—or female—can legally use either gender-designated facility—like men’s restroom, women’s locker room—and later simply claim to have felt like the opposite gender at the time,” he elaborated.
Although 200 citizens spoke against the ordinance at a Jan. 28, 2008, meeting of the City Commission, the measure was adopted on a 4-3 vote. Gilbert believes with the term-limited departures of two commissioners who opposed the ordinance, the body is now unanimously in favor of the new law.
CGPP garnered 8,600 signatures for an amendment to the city charter to repeal the gender identity ordinance. While 5,581 city voters were required, nearly 6,400 were validated to place the matter on the March 24 city election ballot, according to Gilbert.
Gilbert said his group is non-sectarian in an effort to “accommodate those citizens of Gainesville who may share our political objective, but not our religious affiliation.”
Still, CGPP has included the involvement of some churches, although “overall church support has been thin.”
Florida Baptists in Gainesville, however, have been active in the effort, according to Santa Fe River Baptist Association director of missions Wayne Harvey. The SFRBA is located in Gainesville.
Calling the gender identity provision “more radical” than similar laws of “gay-friendly” Key West and San Francisco, Harvey told the Witness he has encouraged pastors to attend information meetings and educate their members about the issue.
Greg Magruder, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, has been active in petition effort, encouraging his members to sign and participate.
“I am appalled by the callous consideration of citizen complaints by our city commissioners and by public officials misrepresenting the efforts of petitioners as being discriminatory and bigoted,” Magruder told the Witness.
“I could not stand by and watch public officials place citizens in situations that would compromise their safety and their consciences,” he added.
Magruder stressed it is the defenders of the gender identity provision who “continue to make this a discrimination issue.”
Instead, “This effort has been only about the protection and safety of our citizens, especially ladies and girls who would be exposed to males in public restrooms and locker rooms,” he said.
Gary Crawford, pastor of Westside Baptist Church, told the Witness he supports repeal of the gender identity provision “because the ordinance opposes biblical morality, is contrary to community values, opens the door for abuse, is costly to business community, and lacks common sense.”
Members of Westside have been educated about the issue “from the pulpit” and by other means, including the establishment of a church-based “Current Issues Committee,” Crawford said.
Adoption of the amendment would also repeal the city’s sexual orientation discrimination laws because of the inter-relatedness of those provisions with the gender identity provisions, CGPP says.
“The City Commission chose to draw the battle lines, and since have gotten caught in the crossfire of their own social agenda,” CGPP says on its Web site.
Home of the University of Florida, Gainesville is generally regarded as a liberal city in the midst of a more conservative Alachua County. Gilbert noted, however, that CGPP’s petition effort garnered more signatures than the current mayor received in the last city election.
The gender identity ordinance vote is getting the attention of national homosexual organizations, according to Gilbert.
“Various national pro-gay/lesbian/transgender groups are mounting organized opposition to us on the grounds that our case is likely to set a precedent for many other cities,” he said.
While opponents have pledged to raise $100,000 to defeat the amendment, Gilbert said his group is “grassroots effort” comprised of volunteers and welcomes support via its Web site (www.citizensforgoodpublicpolicy.org).