Unlike other cities and states in 2008, controversial politics in Gainesville, Florida
did not end with the election of Barack Obama. Immediately following the November general
elections, a local campaign began to decide an extremely divisive issue: the protected status of
transgendered citizens in the City of Gainesville. Following a yearlong campaign, voters had
to decide whether or not the city’s decision to pass an ordinance that prevented the denial of
employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit based on “gender identity” should stand.
Whereas the Florida Civil Rights Act states that individuals cannot be discriminated
against on the basis of race, sex, and religion – but says nothing about sexual orientation or
gender status – the Gainesville City Commission enacted an ordinance that provided protective
status for the transgendered. Passed on a divided 5-2 decision on January 28th, 2008, the original
ordinance was controversial from the beginning.
In response to the ordinance, a number of Gainesville citizens organized to oppose the
measure. Calling themselves Citizens for Good Public Policy (CGPP), the group sought to return
Gainesville civil rights law to the standards set forth in the State of Florida’s Civil Rights Act.
Views of the EqGB and CCGP and their related Advertisement Commercials.
In effect, this action would remove protective status on the basis of gender identity or
sexual orientation. To accomplish this goal, CGPP began a petition drive to put “Amendment
1” on the ballot for the city’s 2009 spring election. If passed, “Amendment 1” would overturn
the city’s ordinance. In all, CGPP had to collect 5,581 signatures to put their amendment on the
In support of the City Commission’s ordinance, Equality is Gainesville’s Business
(EqGB) organized to oppose CGPP. The battle lines were drawn: despite the State of Florida
trending liberal and supporting Obama in the 2008 presidential election, citizens also voted for
a state constitutional amendment that made gay marriage illegal in the same election. Clearly,
EqGB faced a difficult campaign over a very controversial issue.
Unlike traditional laws written and passed by a representative legislature, ballot
initiatives are laws that originate with, are written by, and enacted directly from voters. In this
case, “Amendment 1” began as a direct initiative to overturn the Gainesville City Charter by
proposing to “prohibit the adoption or enforcement of ordinances… not recognized by the Florida
Civil Rights Act.” Arguing that the Gainesville City Commission had overstepped its legal
bounds by enacting the protective ordinance, CGPP believed that it was necessary to rein in their
local government by appealing directly to Gainesville citizens.
While the Gainesville Charter traditionally protected certain classes of people on such
grounds as race, color, creed, religion, and sex; the addition of sexual orientation and gender
identity was controversial on a number of levels. As such, CGPP proposed as ballot measure
that would overturn the City Commission’s vote to include the words “gender identity” in the
list of protected classes of people. The major debate at hand was whether or not members of the
Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered (LGBT) community had the civil right to be a protected class; and if so, would such protection result in negative unintended consequences?
CGPP stated that there would be negative unintended consequences resulting from the
protected status. Their primary argument was straightforward: Because transgendered individuals
believe themselves to be of a different gender than their biological sex, providing protective
status to these individuals would allow them to enter the bathrooms or dressing rooms of their
choice. Under the ordinance, CGPP stated that men could lawfully enter women’s restrooms. The
issue here, according to CGPP, was not with transgendered individuals, but with sexual predators.
CGPP argued that these sexual predators could and would falsely claim to be transgendered so as
to gain legal access to women’s restrooms. At its roots, CGPP’s argument was that an initiative
to remove the transgendered ordinance was necessary so as to protect the safety of women and
children in the Gainesville community.
The vehicle used to make their argument was a particularly visceral television
advertisement. CGPP issued an ad that depicted a small girl at the playground. The girl leaves
the swing set to use the restroom. She is followed in by a seedy looking man. The intention is
to make the viewer think this man is entering the restroom to assault the innocent girl. A voice-
over states “your City Commission just made this legal.” The message was emotional: put this
amendment on the ballot or put your children in danger.
In opposition to CGPP, EqGB was a political committee created to defeat Gainesville’s
proposed “Amendment 1.” Membership in this committee was diverse, including Gainesville
City Commissioner (Craig Lowe), private citizens, and student groups and organizations from
the University of Florida. Further, EqGB was supported by a number of broader political
organizations including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Alachua County Democratic
Party, and multiple privately owned businesses. In general, EqGB was hierarchical in structure.
Decision making was top down with City Commissioner Craig Lowe as Chair, Joe Saunders as
Campaign Manager, and Michelle Ott as head of EqGB’s Steering Committee.
To win their campaign, EqGB faced a series of difficult questions for which there were
no easy answers. By putting yourself in the shoes of EqGB, you will look at three of the political
challenges the group’s campaign had to overcome. In doing so, you will have the opportunity to
make these decisions for yourself – based on the information that EqGB had at that time. Once
you have made your own decision, you can compare your choices to those actually made by