Pinellas to consider adding protections for transgender people - FOX 13 News

Pinellas to consider adding protections for transgender people

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

Pinellas County commissioners will consider extending anti-discrimination protections to transgender people.

The county's human rights ordinance has long banned discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or gender. And more recently, protections were extended to sexual orientation.

"You look at the LGBT -- Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender -- and a lot of time, the ‘T' gets dropped on several things," said Chris Rudisill, director of LGBT Community Center Services. "It's an issue that needs to be addressed, it needs to be talked about, it's definitely an area of discrimination in our area."

Brenda Marcelo is a transgender woman who spent the better part of her life in the military, married and raising children.

"Even my wife didn't know about it and I had to just keep it hidden, had to be the macho person -- which I'm not," Marcelo told FOX 13 News.

When she retired from the military, she adopted the lifestyle of a woman and moved to Pinellas County. She found a place to live, but "I was told there are some places that won't accept you because you are transgender."

Her transgender status is a factor when shopping.

"For me, it would be like going to, let's say Walmart, to try some clothes on, or using the bathroom," Marcelo explained.

A hint of the combat veteran came out when she said, "when it comes to human rights, I have the same right as you have."

County Commissioner Charlie Justice said the issue emerged last year during his campaign for election, and county staff was already studying the possibility of expanding Pinellas's human rights ordinance.

Then in June, county officials received a letter from the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Chairman David Punzak urged county commissioners to strengthen the existing ordinance "...by adding gender identity or expression. This language has become standard with many of our nation's largest employers, because they understand that attracting a robust and diverse workforce requires inclusiveness of all people."

Pointing to that letter, commissioner Justice said, "It's not just an issue for a small segment of our community, it's an issue for our entire community."

Tuesday, commissioners will consider setting the proposed language change for a public hearing on August 20th. The protections would be countywide, with any discrimination complaints investigated by the county.

"You might live in Largo but work in Seminole, so let's do it countywide instead of having to worry about which jurisdiction something happened in," Justice explained.

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