Hillsborough amends HRO, proceeds with registry formation

Tampa – With a unanimous vote, Hillsborough County Commissioners passed a law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law, which became effective immediately, re-establishes protections that were eliminated in the 1990s, when that former commission repealed amendments to its human rights ordinance protecting the gay community.

“There’s been a cultural and political shift,” said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who pushed for the HRO amendment. “I think people are beginning to realize the importance of making sure everyone is treated equally and fairly.”

At Beckner’s request, the commissioners also agreed unanimously to set Oct. 15 as the date for a public hearing on a domestic partnership registry. Last year, only three of the seven commissioners supported the registry, which gives qualifying unmarried couples¬ — gay and straight — rights to hospital visitation and end-of-life decision making.

A majority of the public who addressed the LGBT-themed issues were supportive of them.

“It’s important to note the distinction between the equal rights ordinance and domestic partnership registry,” said Equality Florida’s Gina Duncan. “While the equal rights ordinance expands some rights it is purely contractual between to parties, DPR acknowledges the validity of same-sex households and the existence of a loving family relationship.”

Several representatives from Equality Florida and private citizens spoke on the morning of Oct. 1.

Commissioner Les Miller was happy with the resulting vote, and he supported the domestic partnership registry in 2013.

“I have faced discrimination eyeball to eyeball,” Miller said. “No one should face discrimination, regardless of who they may be.”
The new ordinance added to the HRO also prohibits discrimination in credit extension and county contracting and procuring. The victory is seen as a big plus in Hillsborough County’s business community.

“Your action on this matter will have a profound impact on the business climate in Hillsborough County,” Gary Sasso, president of Carlton Fields Jordan Burt law firm told the commission.

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