Miami-Dade county commissioners made history on Dec. 2 by passing an amendment to the human rights ordinance, which will allow for the nondiscrimination and protection of people who are transgender.
The amendment had failed to pass in the summer of 2013, when Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson made the proposal. Many blamed Commissioner Lynda Bell, who then lost her reelection to Daniella Levine Cava, a supporter of the cause. On Tuesday, the amendment was passed with eight supporting votes against three in opposition.
Senior Shelby Juarez, a member of the undergraduate LGBTQ group SpectrUM/UPride, attended the meeting and was struck by the impassioned discussion.
“They were going through the agenda and then it got really heated,” she said. “People would go up and had two minutes to speak, so there was a lot of emotion and passion and everything got really intense.”
According to Juarez, the discussion lasted about three hours before the county commission took a vote at 6:30 p.m.
“The passing of the amendment is great because people who are transgender now have something they can go to, a feeling of safety,” Juarez said. “Also, they finally have a sense of justice, because we talk about LGBTQ but we really don’t touch upon the ‘T’ a lot.”
For junior Tori MacDonell, this decision stands to have a personal impact.
“I don’t present myself like a girl,” MacDonell, who identifies as transgender, said. “I don’t identify as a girl. That’s not who I am. I’ve actually lost a job because of how I present myself. It really hurt, too. I hope that this amendment prevents that from happening to someone else. My identity and my gender expression hold nothing against my ability to work.”
The meeting also brought together supporters from SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone, formerly SAVE Dade), Florida’s leading organization for the protection of LGBTQ rights. Members and volunteers have been working for more than a year to reach the milestone achieved Tuesday.
“I’m overjoyed at the result,” said Devin Cordero, Coordinator of Communications for SAVE. “It was a long time coming. In politics there is a saying: Elections have consequences. A lot of people don’t believe that anymore, and while I’ve always believed in the concept in theory, I think that the result proves that it applies in reality.”
After Bell’s opposition to the proposal last summer, SAVE was committed to canvas and campaign in support of now-commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. The organization then lobbied the commission for a reconsideration of the amendment, which started being readdressed in September.
The amendment prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Before the passing of the new law, Cordero explained, the only way in which someone could file a complaint would be if the offender explicitly called out their particular sexual orientation.
Jacob Rudolph, president of SpectrUM/UPride, identified one of the amendment’s major benefits.
“When you have something that enables transgender people to get jobs and have protection in these jobs, that … will give them opportunities to live the American dream,” he said.
While the meeting saw a lot of support for the cause, attendees against the change used arguments like the potential lack of privacy and safety in bathrooms. According to Juarez, some speakers made hurtful references to pedophilia and sexual abuse.
“The people who weren’t there in support of this voiced fears and concerns, which are not unwarranted,” Juarez said. “What we need to do now is continue with education and awareness so that the people who had all these fears don’t feel that they’ve lost because everyone is winning here.”
SAVE continues to advocate for equality and LGBTQ rights. For more information on how to get involved with SAVE visit www.savedade.org or follow SAVELGBT on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
William Riggin contributed to this report.