Push for LGBT civil rights should continue

The Tampa City Council voted 5-1 Thursday to ban discrimination in employment, housing and public facilities against transgender people. The ordinance conforms to a blooming national trend of upholding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights.

Much of the opposition had religious concerns when it came to homosexuality and transgender behavior. However, this thinking does not recognize that in the legal context, denying civil rights is a sin.

“I spent most of my time as a Christian praying and seeking wisdom and direction on this particular ordinance,” said council chairman Tom Scott just before voting in affirmation. “What would Jesus do?”

Human rights are integral in U.S. ideals, and when in conflict, they ought to supersede other concerns like religious expression and even free speech. The Tampa City Council set a good example for the rest of the country as it embraces change.

The LGBT civil rights victory followed the U.S. Senate passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October, which extends protection against attacks on people of different genders, sexual orientations, gender identities or disabilities. The long-awaited Employment Non-Discrimination Act is also moving through both houses of Congress and it could pass by the end of the year.

Critics claim that any national protection of LGBT rights coerces communities to accept unwanted behavior and is an undue infringement on freedom of speech. House Minority Leader John Boehner has described it as “radical social policy,” according to the Washington Post.

“We already have laws against violent crime. The only purpose of hate crime legislation is to stifle politically incorrect speech,” said 2008 Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo on his blog.

But Tancredo, Boehner and other opponents are wrong. Hate crimes and speech go far beyond normal crime. These crimes abuse individuals and persecute entire groups to which they belong.

Members of the LGBT community have been quintessential targets of these attacks. According to the FBI, 25 of Florida’s 166 reported hate crimes in 2007 were related to the victims’ sexual orientation.

There is no worse reminder of the need for extended human rights protection than the recent decapitation and dismembering of 19-year-old homosexual Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in Puerto Rico.

As the American Civil Liberty Union’s support of LGBT initiatives suggests, hate speech laws are a necessary restriction of free speech. By passing them, the government expresses its condemnation of destructive social attitudes and the violent actions to which they lead.

When coupled with anti-discrimination efforts, this legislation will ensure protection for the LGBT community just as it does everyone else, so even those of different sexual orientations will have a fair opportunity to succeed.

Tampa’s new ordinance is a piece of a much bigger battle for tolerance and human rights. Every little portion counts, and the city council made the right decision.

Neil Manimala is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences.