Osceola Commissioners unanimously approve HRO

Editor’s note: this story was updated 8/19/15 to clarify and provide more detail about how the HRO was drafted and what protections it includes.

Kissimmee – All five Osceola County Commissioners are in agreement that it should be illegal for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Supporters applauded as the Commissioners Aug. 17 unanimously approved an updated human rights ordinance that added LGBT protections to the county’s existing discrimination ordinance. The HRO covers employment, housing and public accommodations and was introduced by Commissioner Viviana Janer earlier this month.

Commissioner Cheryl Grieb called the unanimous vote “tremendous.”

“[The HRO] was the right thing to do and everyone recognized that,” Grieb says. “There’s no room for discrimination and we want to make sure that legally now you can’t be discriminated against.”

Orlando attorney Mary Meeks drafted the HRO, which is the most progressive in the state.

“I crafted the language of the religious exemption to make it explicit that religious organizations can ‘discriminate’ based on religion but are prohibited from discriminating on any other basis covered by the HRO,” Meeks wrote in an email to Watermark. “This explicit language is not contained in any other HRO, I don’t believe, and many HROs have broader exemptions that make it easier for religious orgs to discriminate against LGBTs.”

Meeks says the HRO also contains a bathroom exemption, to ensure transgender individuals may use the restroom that matches their gender identity, ” without any restrictive or qualifying language contained in a lot of other HROs. ”

Several dozen people spoke both in support and against the ordinance, including Dr. John Littell, who made headlines last year trying to shut down a Kissimmee Planned Parenthood clinic. Littell insisted on continuing to speak against the HRO so far past the three-minute limit that sheriff’s deputies had to escort him from the podium. The HRO lets churches discriminate when it comes to membership but not employment, and Grieb says Littell was arguing that businesses should be exempt from the HRO as well.

“It comes down to fear, people not understanding, not knowing what would happen,” Grieb says. “[The anti-HRO speakers] kept talking about this is the first in a series of… I don’t know what.”

Osceola joins 32 other Florida cities and counties with similar protections in place.

“It’s a very exciting day for Osceola County,” Grieb says. “This truly puts us on the path of being an inclusive and welcoming community, and that’s what I want my community to be.”

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