Miami-Dade County’s human-rights ordinance, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in 1998, might be expanded again by the County Commission — this time, to include gender identity and expression. This means that discrimination will be prohibited in the areas of employment, housing, credit and finance and public accommodation.
As the prime sponsor of the 1998 ordinance, it’s heartening to see our community moving forward to embrace all minority classes of people, especially those striving to be their authentic selves in a difficult world — and asking only for acceptance and the right to live peacefully, free from discrimination.
Recently, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen did something remarkable and revolutionary, and it will forge a path forward for many families. She, her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, and their transgender child Rodrigo were interviewed by CBS4’s Jim DeFede and talked about their family’s journey as daughter Amanda transitioned to son Rodrigo. Their positive attitude, courage, insight, matter-of-factness and message of unconditional love were inspiring. What a strong message from a Republican Congresswoman — to her party, to transgender people and their families, to her community and to her country.
So many transgender people — even those who have resolved their own questions of identity — live in fear and are subject to insults and discriminatory treatment. My husband and I have close friends who are parents of a transgender child, and my friend Joanne recently wrote: “Open discriminatory behavior toward them is one issue, and then there is also the issue of personal safety. It is indeed complicated. I’m glad that we have been actively a part of and involved in our child’s transition and that we are embraced by their friends, as their community is a very important part of being able to thrive. The unfortunate part is that a lot of emotional energy is invested in being trans, and I think that it limits what is available for other things.”
The emotional energy she referred to is the energy trans people have to muster to fight the hate and bullying they experience.
One of the most inane arguments used to oppose the ordinance, and it seems foes’ principal one, revolves around what bathrooms transgender people will use, as if this were the defining issue on the rightness or wrongness of discrimination.
Assuming everyone is currently figuring out where to go when the need arises, this seems either alarmist or a red herring. Curious, I went to Matt Kailey’s Tranifesto blog on this question, and he made the following five points:
“1. Trans people are in the bathroom for the same reason that you are — to use the facilities and be on our way. 2. The use of public restrooms is far more of a safety issue for trans people than it is for non-trans people in the next stall. 3. Regardless of what opponents argue, public-accommodations laws and other laws regarding trans restroom use do not allow adult men to enter women’s or girls’ restrooms. 4. You really don’t know the genitalia of anyone using the stall next to yours. 5. Unisex bathrooms can be good for a variety of situations, if they are clean and available to all.”
Now that we’ve settled that pressing issue, as Rodney King once said so simply, “Can we all just get along?” Or as Rep. Ros-Lehtinen responded to me when I thanked her and her family for their courageous discussion in a public forum: “We hope that it inspires others to live an honest and open life. Our lives are too brief to be living up to others’ expectations.”
Katy Sorenson is president and CEO of The Good Government Initiative and a former Miami-Dade County commissioner.