JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The Orlando city commission voted Oct. 21 to pursue a proposed amendment that would add the words “sexual orientation” to a human rights ordinance already written into the city’s code.
City commissioner Vicki Vargo told the Florida Baptist Witness four members of the commission agreed to proceed with the action, which calls for a reading of the revised ordinance Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.
Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando and former Southern Baptist Convention president, attended the meeting and said he was disappointed the issue was not dropped. He was positive, however, that citizens could still make a difference.
“We were encouraged by the very strong response of the community who were present to urge a ‘no’ vote,” Henry said. “We believe the larger community is being alerted to this important issue and continue to pray for its defeat.”
The proposed amendment, if adopted after the two additional public meetings, would add the words “sexual orientation” to the human rights ordinance, making it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in hiring, renting and accessing public accommodations. It would give homosexuals a protected class status similar to minorities, women and people with disabilities.
William Faulkner, director of missions for the Greater Orlando Baptist Association, said he was among an estimated 200 citizens who wore “Vote No” buttons to the meeting.
“I believe every Christian should be concerned,” Faulkner said. “It seems to me that the council is going ahead with the amendment agenda even though there is no evidence of any broad-based discrimination against gays in Orlando.”
Alan Chambers, executive director of Exodus International, North America, also at the meeting, said the only commissioners who opposed the issue were Betty Wyman and Vicki Vargo.
Chambers reported at least one commissioner compared those opposing the amendment to hatemongers in Nazi Germany. Chambers also said some commissioners told those present they were “afraid to live” in Orlando because of discrimination.
Exodus is an organization which promotes “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”
The public may express their views at the first reading of the ordinance Nov. 18, Vargo said.
Orlando’s director of communications, Susan Blexrud told the Witness the city received a total of 8,727 letters, e-mails and faxes about the ordinance. Of those 6,870 were from non-Orlando residents. Less than 1 percent of Orlando’s 185,915 population contacted city hall, with 55 percent in favor of amending the ordinance and 45 percent opposed.
Chambers also reported 300 Christians and over a thousand homosexuals at an Oct. 14 demonstration.
The issue surfaced in May 2001 when a citizen’s group, the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee, requested a review of the human rights ordinance by the Human Relations Board. After a public hearing April 16, the board decided to propose the change to the city commission.
“We are not trying to stir up trouble,” Chambers said. “We want to show our opposition in a loving manner.”