Orlando residents demand gay rights vote

BY Advocate.com Editors

October 16 2002 12:00 AM ET

More than 400 people rallied on the steps of City Hall in Orlando, Fla., on Monday to demand a vote on gay rights legislation, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The two-hour protest was organized by the Orlando Antidiscrimination Ordinance Committee, a grassroots organization that two years ago asked city officials to bring gays and lesbians under the umbrella of Orlando's existing antidiscrimination ordinance.

The protesters accused Mayor Glenda Hood of dragging her feet in bringing the proposal to a vote before the city council. "We met with various officials, and for more than two years we jumped through every bureaucratic hoop.... Despite these efforts, we were told again and again and again at City Hall that the time is not right," said Larry Smith, an attorney and member of the committee.

Twenty-two speakers, including out lesbian city council member Patty Sheehan and openly gay Orange County deputy sheriff Tom Woodard, addressed the crowd. Woodard said former sheriff Walt Gallagher fired him in 1989 because of his sexual orientation and tried to get him to identify other gays in the department. Woodard went to court and won his job back when the judge ruled that his privacy had been violated. "[Gallagher] said there was no place at the Orange County sheriff's office for someone who is gay," Woodard said.

Sheehan accused the mayor of delaying the proposal because it would hurt Hood's chances of earning a political appointment in the Republican administration of Florida governor Jeb Bush. "I could understand if we were the first to [pass this legislation], but there have been over 100 cities and counties that have already done this," Sheehan said.

If adopted, the ordinance would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Churches, religious organizations, and private clubs would be exempt, as would landlords with only a few rental units and businesses with only a few employees.

Hood did not attend the rally but repeated denials that she has delayed the proposal for any reason, political or otherwise. In a Monday memo to council members, she said the council would discuss the proposal again at a workshop next Monday. If the council wants to move forward, a preliminary vote will be taken November 18, and a final vote, if necessary, in December. She has not said whether she supports the proposal.

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