Background

Introduction - Hans



Background - Hans



Gender and Sexual Orientation Laws - Saunders



How the Ordinance Got Its Start - Lowe



Getting the University Involved - Garner

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.

EqGB:

CCGP:


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 ballot.

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 EqGB.



Part 1: Challenging Citizens for Good Public Policy

Time to Play Defense? – Hans



The Campaign’s Prospective – Saunders



The University Prospective - Garner

From the very start of the issue, Commissioner Lowe, Ott, and other members of the committee faced numerous difficult decisions. Their first decision was whether or not to respond to CGPP’s petition drive. If CGPP was successful in their petition drive, then the Amendment would appear on the ballot in the upcoming Gainesville city elections. If the petition drive failed, the protective status ordinance would not be challenged.

In making their decision, Commissioner Lowe and Ott had to weigh several options. The chance that CGPP had in getting the necessary number of signatures for their petition was unknown. As a college town, the city of Gainesville tends to be accepting of progressive politics. The average voter tends to be more liberal, and most representatives in local office are from the Democratic Party. As such, some members of EqGB believed that Gainesville voters would continue to support the ordinance and refuse to sign a petition.

In their meetings, Ott voiced this opinion by stating, “There is no way that our city is going to believe the CGPP argument. We don’t need to publicly oppose their petition drive because the people will oppose it on their own.” Commissioner Lowe also stated to the group that CGPP should be ignored, so as to not give them undue attention. Others in the group disagreed. They believed that if CGPP were allowed to make their argument without challenge that citizens who heard only one side of the issue could be persuaded to be against the ordinance.

EqGB gathered to consider the possible benefits of ignoring the petition drive. The group had to decide if by reacting to their political competition, that they may hurt their own interests. In this case, if EqGB chose to issue a counter argument, they might only serve to bring undue attention to CGPP’s cause. By ignoring the petition drive, CGPP might not be able to generate the public attention necessary to get people to sign their petition.

On the other hand, EqGB also considered the possible benefits of publicly disputing CGPP’s argument. In controversial political campaigns, reacting to your political competition may prevent them from controlling the message that voters hear. That is, ignoring your political competition may hurt your interests. In this case, if EqGB chose not to issue a counter argument, CGPP might be able to control the debate surrounding the controversy. By ignoring the petition drive, EqGB may put themselves at a disadvantage because voters would hear only one side of the argument.

Decision Forcing Moment:

EqGB had to make a decision. How should EqGB react to the petition drive? Should they ignore it, or dispute it? What would you do?
Part 2: Deciding whether or not polls are worth the money

Polling Background – Hans



The Campaign’s Prospective on Polling - Saunders

Because EqGB chose not to challenge CGPP during the petition drive, they were forced to engage them in the local city election. More importantly, in choosing to ignore their competition, EqGB found themselves at a disadvantage from the very beginning of the campaign. Because of their visceral message and the momentum of their successful petition drive, CGPP had become a more effective organization that was able to raise money, produce television advertisements, distribute printed fliers, and rent campaign offices. EqGB knew that it had to develop a comprehensive campaign strategy if it were to be able to prevent the passage of “Amendment 1.”

Their first move was to hire an official campaign manager. EqGB chose Joe Saunders, who had a significant amount of experience with campaigns that dealt with gay, lesbian, and transgendered issues. Saunders immediately recognized that EqGB biggest problem was the group’s “message deficit.” At a Steering Committee meeting, Saunders informed the other members of EqGB that “CGPP is pummeling us on the ground through their ads.” With such an emotion driven series of television advertisements, CGPP was persuading even the most progressive of voters.

Based on their meetings, Commissioner Lowe, Saunders, Ott, and the other members of the group knew they had to develop their message in a way that could compete with CGPP. To make sure they “got their message right,” many in the group argued EqGB should hire an independent firm to take a poll of Gainesville voters. The problem was one of money: Conducting a poll would nearly bankrupt EqGB, leaving little money for campaign advertisements and other necessary expenditures. The members of the committee were deeply divided.

On the one hand, polling would give EqGB a clearer idea of how to campaign against “Amendment 1.” Being that they were already so far behind, many members believed that without a poll, there would be no way to know whether or not their campaign message would be effective. As such, they believed that a poll must be conducted, no matter what the cost. On the other hand, many members argued that even if the poll showed their message to be effective, such information would be useless as there would no money left over after the poll.

The group was at a standstill and had to make a decision before it could develop their campaign. As head of the Steering Committee, Ott reported the disagreement to Commissioner Lowe and Saunders: “Craig and Joe, half the members said we needed to spend the money even if it means taking our coffers down to zero. They believe we must know if our message is working or not, otherwise any other money spent might be worthless if our message is wrong. The other half asked what the point of spending all of our money is only to find out if our message was getting through or not. If we do that, how do we get our message out, even if it is correct? What happens if the CGPP issues a new message and we have no money to counter it? We have a real divide on our hands: some of the members even threatened to leave if we don’t choose their side. What should we do?”

Decision Forcing Moment:

Should EqGB conduct a poll to find out the effectiveness of their message at the risk of depleting their funds, or should they save their money and forgo the poll? What would you do?
Part 3: Communicating the Message

Campaign Message – Saunders



Lowe



Student Message – Garner

By choosing not to conduct a poll, EqGB understood that it had to be extremely careful in how it crafted and distributed its message. CGPP’s argument continued to dominate the campaign. In referring to the question of “Amendment 1,” policy makers, the newspaper, and the public alike referred to it as the “Bathroom Amendment.”

The group considered a number of options for their message: Because Gainesville is a college town, some said that the message should argue that the reputation of the university would be harmed. Others argued that the message should be one of protecting local businesses – if certain groups are not protected, this camp believed that those groups would not conduct business in Gainesville. Finally, a portion of the group argued that what it all boiled down to was civil rights.

By taking away their protected status – these members argued – you were discriminating against people on the basis of something they could not control (in this case, gender identity).

Decision Forcing Moment:

Which message would you choose, and why? What other messages would you consider?
Part 4: Crafting the Message

Message Background – Hans



EqGB’s commercial – Female Firefighter - Garner

Though they chose to focus on the civil rights aspect of issue, EqGB was constantly afraid that their message was too cerebral to compete against the visceral message of CGPP. The fear was that while protecting innocent children is simple to understand and is an easy choice, arguing to protect the transgendered – a poorly understood group – was not so easy.

There was real alarm within the ranks that EqGB’s strongest message to date (that being civil rights and discrimination) did not hold water against the bathroom argument in the eyes of voters. EqGB had to decide what kind of civil rights message it was going to issue.

On the one hand, because the debate is such a complex issue, a complex argument might be necessary. Some within the group believed that the message should seek to educate people about the transgendered and make them aware of broader LGBT issues. The legal ramifications of voting for the Amendment must be fully thrashed out as well. Further, the message should explain to voters why they should not fear people of different lifestyles, especially when it comes to the safety of children. If EqGB takes the time to make sure people understand all the facts, these members argued, the voters will side with us.

Others with the EqGB campaign disagreed. They argued that because CGPP’s message is gut-wrenching, their message must be deeply emotional as well. EqGB must ask the voters a simple question: are they willing to cast a vote that takes away another person’s rights?

Decision Forcing Moment:



How would you craft the message: complex and thoughtful or simple and emotional? Based on your response, what sorts of activities would you conduct to present your message to the community? For example, how might your advertisements look or sound?
Part 5: Confronting the “Bathroom Issue.”

Hans



Saunders



Garner

By making an emotional argument, EqGB did their best to present a cerebral message in a visceral way. Though they had chosen their message, EqGB still had to decide whether or not to respond to CGPP directly. Even at the final stages of the campaign, the issue remained popularly referred to as the “Bathroom Amendment.” During most of the campaign, EqGB refrained from responding to the bathroom issue, believing that it would prevent them from focusing on their own argument. Importantly, EqGB did not want to address the bathroom argument simply because it was a hypothetical argument. If they responded to CGPP’s argument, EqGB feared that some voters might misconstrue the statement as an admission of its possibility.

In the final days of the campaign, CGPP ran an advertisement that claimed to show security footage of a man entering a women’s restroom. The tag-line was, “Though some told you this would never happen, it just did.” While the footage did show a man entering a local women’s restroom, it gave no indication of whether or not the man in question claimed transgendered protected status to do so (in fact, he had not).

EqGB:

CCGP:




In the final days of the campaign, EqGB had to make a decision whether or not to address the bathroom question head on.

Decision Forcing Moment:

Should EqGB address the bathroom issue or not? If so, how might you do it? For example, would you give an interview, issue a press release, or even produce a last minute advertisement?
Teaching Notes
Please visit http://www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu/civic/civic-library to download a copy of the complete teaching notes.

Professors should read through the text with their students and THEN watch the videos associated with that page in the order that they are presented.

The State of Florida safeguards against discrimination based on race and gender. When the City of Gainesville decided to add gender and sexuality to its city charter, the result was a local campaign full of emotion and finger pointing. On one side of the argument, Citizens for Good Public Policy (CGPP), sought to return Gainesville civil rights law to the standards set forth in the State of Florida’s Civil Rights Act. In effect, this action would remove protective status on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation from Gainesville’s Charter. To accomplish this goal, CGPP began a petition drive to put “Amendment 1” on the ballot for the city’s 2009 spring election.

In support of the City Commission’s ordinance, Equality is Gainesville’s Business (EqGB) organized to oppose CGPP. EqGB faced a very difficult campaign due to the emotional nature of the message being circulated by CGPP.

This case study is designed to foster academic debate about the political decisions that EqGB had to make during the spring of 2009 to overcome the strong visceral message supported by the opposition. By assessing real-world questions, students will have the opportunity to place themselves in the role of EqGB, and – based on the same information known by EqGB – make decisions about those questions for themselves. Once students have made their own decisions on how they believe EqGB ought to have acted, they can compare their choices to those actually made by EqGB.

Because this case deals with a sensitive topic, and because it forces students to place themselves in the role of defending a political group that wants to extend civil rights protections to a controversial group, you may encounter certain problems. Specifically, many students are unfamiliar with transgender individuals, and may not understand that gender definition. Teachers should take time to explain this gender definition and how the transgendered relate to the LGBT community.

Further, some students – whom may disagree with the goals of EqGB – may find themselves arguing for CGPP. It should be noted from the beginning of the case study that students are not being asked to support civil rights for the transgendered. That is, this case study is designed to teach students how campaigns deal with difficult circumstances, and how to succeed in electoral politics in an adverse political context. Professors should ensure students that their job is not to “support” EqGB, but to figure out how to win the campaign!

Note: The opinions expressed in this case study are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of the University of Florida or of the Bob Graham Center.