The city council of Tampa, Fla., voted unanimously last week to include “gender identity and expression” as a protected class under the city’s human rights ordinance, leading some to fear the council has opened the city’s public bathroom doors to sexual predators masquerading as protected transsexuals.
A statement from the American Family Association explained, “Tampa Police arrested Robert Johnson in February 2008 for hanging out in the locker room–restroom area at Lifestyle Fitness and watching women in an undressed state. The City of Tampa’s ‘gender identity’ ordinance could provide a legal defense to future cases like this if the accused claims that his gender is female.”
The council’s decision, which won’t be codified as law until a final vote is taken Thursday night, defines gender identity and expression as “gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
The city’s current ordinance forbids discrimination on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, handicap, familial status or marital status mostly in areas of labor and employment.
But the section that makes it illegal to “segregate any person at a place of public accommodation, or to segregate any person in regards to … facilities” leads some to worry about the consequences of forbidding discrimination “regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.”
“This ordinance will give lawful protection to cross-dressing males to patronize women’s restrooms,” the Florida Family Association said in a statement. “And men dressed as women or women who perceive themselves as men can also use men’s restrooms.”
City Attorney Chip Fletcher told The Tampa Tribune the changes are not meant to protect the occasional cross-dresser, but individuals who are undergoing sexual reassignment surgery.
“This is intended to address people who are dealing with gender identity,” he said.
Nonetheless, the council’s decision has sparked a public outcry.
The American Family Association has created a contact page, where concerned Americans can, with one form, send out emails objecting to the ordinance change to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and all seven council members at once.
“We’re trying to mobilize people to stand in opposition to what is a bad law,” said Terry Kemple, president of the Community Issues Council, in a St. Petersburg Times report. “It discriminates against Christians and provides special privileges for people based on sexually aberrant behavior.”
On the flip side, Zeke Fread, director of Pride Tampa Bay, says his group plans to organize supporters of the change to rally at Thursday’s council meeting.
“Now that Kemple sent out his alert to his people, we’re mobilizing furiously,” Fread said.
The gender identity ordinance makes exception for religious organizations, nonprofits and parochial schools, but does not exempt private businesses, public restrooms, public schools or nonreligious day-care centers.
Therefore, the AFA pointed out, the issue moves beyond just public restrooms.
“The gender identity ordinance also provides legal protection for transgenders to teach schoolchildren one day as a man and another day as a woman,” AFA President Tim Wildmon wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, the ordinance does not attempt to qualify who really is a transgender and who is not. That is left up to the individual to determine what his ‘gender identity’ is that day.”
WND reported on a similar plan adopted by fiat in Montgomery County, Md., where opponents feared the law would open up women’s locker rooms to men who say they are women.
The issue also has come up in Colorado, where Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a plan that effectively strikes gender-specific restrooms across the state.
And city officials in Kalamazoo, Mich., only weeks after adopting a “perceived gender” bias plan have abandoned it in the face of massive public opposition.