For Orlando transgender advocate Gina Duncan, the city council's unanimous vote Monday to outlaw discrimination against transgender people "tied the loop" in making the city's non-discrimination protections equal across the LGBT community.
The Orlando City Council, led by Mayor Buddy Dyer, voted 7-0 to approve an amendment to the city's Human Rights Ordinance that adds "gender identity" as a protected class in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations. Previously, the ordinance included protections on the basis of "sexual orientation" among, race, sex, religion, disability and other protected classes.
For the first time, all citizens of Orlando are protected from discrimination, Duncan said as the amendment to the ordinance took affect immediately.
"We've completed the connectivity in the sense that the transgender community is running to catch up on equal rights," Duncan, who serves as the Transgender Inclusion Director at Equality Florida, told BuzzFeed. "Orlando is a great example of where we have been successful in catching up so that everyone has the same protections and the same rights across the spectrum of the LGBT community."
The unanimous approval for transgender non-discrimination protections comes amid intense debate over similar proposals across the country. On Tuesday, a measure that would add protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity narrowly failed in Billings, Mont. and late last week, voters in Chattanooga, Tenn. repealed a similar ordinance from November 2013 at the ballot box. Additionally, opponents of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance are taking their own repeal push to court after officials said they did not quality for a referendum on this November's ballot.
During Monday's city council meeting in Orlando, several people testified in support of the measure and nobody spoke in opposition, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The amendment was also approved unanimously on first reading in July as well as before the city's advisory board on Human Relations, Duncan said.
Duncan acknowledges that it took a great deal of time — over 12 years — since Orlando became one of the first cities to add "sexual orientation" to its Human Rights Ordinance to bring such an amendment forward and that its success is due to both advocacy and visibility of transgender people in the community.
"We have been fortunate in Central Florida that the city council has been open to new and progressive ideas," Duncan said. "Our city council members have had a decent amount of interaction with transgender people. As always, the success story comes from awareness, education, visibility and interaction with transgender people. The fear goes away and issues like the bathroom are discussed and people realize there is actually not a legitimate issue" with extending protections to transgender people.
Mayor Dyer spoke to how support has increased and attitudes have changed on the issue, telling the Sentinel, "We've gotten to the point where we can do — with very little controversy — things we ought to be doing, so I'm very proud of that."
Several other Florida municipalities, including Tampa and West Palm Beach, have previously approved similar LGBT protections, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
A message was left with Dyer's office seeking additional comment Wednesday.