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25 Years Later, Miami Again Has Gay Rights Fight on Its Hands

Politics: In 1977, Anita Bryant led move that overturned anti-bias law. Now, a similar campaign is targeting an ordinance adopted in 1998.

September 05, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — The county where orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant mounted a crusade against gay rights 25 years ago is taking up the issue again.

In 1977, Miami was the site of one of the biggest battles of the gay rights movement when Bryant, then a successful pop singer, led a drive that repealed a Miami-Dade County ordinance protecting gays from discrimination. A new such ordinance was passed in 1998, and now gay rights opponents again want to overturn it.

The repeal measure is on Tuesday's ballot.

This time, though, the fight is not nearly as furious as it was a generation ago. Gay rights supporters have higher-profile backing than they enjoyed back then. And a poll released Wednesday by the Miami Herald found that the repeal effort is likely to fail.

The telephone poll of 600 probable voters found 54% against repeal, 34% in favor and 12% undecided.

Gay rights activists are fighting the measure and similar ones on the November ballot in Tacoma, Wash., and Ypsilanti, Mich.

"It's important that we beat back these repeal attempts," said Seth Kilbourn of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. "All we're asking for is to be treated equally."

Corporations such as BellSouth and Carnival Cruise Lines have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to preserve the ordinance, and 18 of the county's 32 mayors, including Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, have expressed support.

Officials from the Democratic National Committee have warned that repealing the ordinance could hurt Miami's chances of hosting the party's 2004 convention.

"We're a world-class city and we can't allow a small minority painting us as a community that favors discrimination," said Georg Ketelhohn, co-chair of the No to Discrimination/Save Dade campaign.

Gay rights opponents say homosexuals are seeking special treatment, not equal rights. "There's no ordinance protecting people with three nostrils," said Matt Dupree, director of the Florida Christian Coalition.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, from 66,000 to 85,000 gays and lesbians live in Miami-Dade County.

Miami-Dade's ordinance was reinstated at the end of a decade that saw the passage of gay rights measures in cities across the country. Florida is one of 38 states without a state law banning discrimination against gays.

Since the 1998 ordinance was adopted, Miami-Dade's Equal Opportunity Board has received nearly 70 complaints of anti-gay discrimination.

Alexandra Rodil of Miami filed a complaint in 2000 when she was fired from a real estate firm two days after her employer learned she was a lesbian. The board sided with Rodil, and she reached a settlement with the firm.

"This is not about special rights, this is about equality," Rodil said. "Am I not the kind of person who deserves a job?"

Miami lawyer Rosa Armesto de Gonzalez, an opponent of the gay rights ordinance, said gays have not proved a need for special protection as have blacks and others covered by civil rights laws.

"Everything they've asked for, they're given," she said.

Months of campaigning by conservatives returned the issue to the ballot despite the arrests of four people--including that of the county's Christian Coalition leader--on charges they submitted false signatures.

Elsewhere around the country, a November ballot measure in Nevada will ask voters to ban same-sex marriages. In Oregon, conservatives want to put a measure on the ballot to prohibit any discussion in public schools that casts a positive light on gayness.

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