Joe Dellosa

Writing

Pro-Amendment 1 group doesn’t deserve benefit of doubt


Notes & Context

I wrote this op-ed arguing against Gainesville's Charter Amendment 1 in UF's campus newspaper on behalf of HDN, my LGBT advocacy group.

Had it passed, Charter Amendment 1 would have removed anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people in Gainesville; it was ultimately rejected by Gainesville voters by a pretty wide margin.


I’ll be up–front: I think Charter Amendment 1 is abhorrent, and I hope it’s defeated. But I don’t think that anybody who feels differently is automatically a bigot.

This issue is one that lends itself to an honest, meaningful conversation about discrimination and the role of city government, but that’s a conversation Citizens for Good Public Policy, the local group pushing for the amendment’s passage, has made clear it isn’t interested in having.

Take their two TV commercials, available at youtube.com/humandecencynow.

The first ad shows a small girl — blonde–haired, cheerful and innocent — walking into a restroom at the playground. The screen goes black and white, then a sketchy–looking, unshaven man walks towards the bathroom, looks around to see if anybody is watching, and follows the girl in. Ominous text appears: “On January 28, 2008, your City Commission made this legal… Is that what you want in Gainesville?”

The implication is that the man intends to violate the girl; saying that the gender identity ordinance “made this legal” — as if a clause that made molestation lawful was written into the ordinance — directly links transgender people with child molesters.

CGPP’s insistence that the ad refers to those who would exploit the law, and not transgender people, rings hollow. There’s nothing in the ad that suggests that level of nuance, and 30–second TV commercials are hardly the medium by which nuanced political messages are communicated.

Rather, political TV spots are used for creating quick, visceral reactions and simplistic associations, and this one was no exception. Any suggestion by CGPP to the contrary is just posturing and an exercise in half–hearted plausible deniability. The damage is already done as soon as the association is formed, and no amount of, “We didn’t mean transgender people, honest!” can reverse that.

The second ad features footage from a Gainesville Home Depot security camera on Feb. 18 of a man who entered the women’s bathroom and tried to take cell phone pictures of a woman in a stall. A voiceover says, “What the city commission told us never would happen just did, right here in Gainesville.”

Except that, once again, it’s a sleight–of–hand trick. There’s no reference to gender identity in the GPD incident report, and the suspect didn’t attempt to cite the ordinance in his defense. According to a January 2009 Associated Press article, GPD hasn’t reported a single problem in public restrooms resulting from the ordinance.

On its Web site, CGPP lists about a dozen incidents from across the country about men acting lewdly or violently after entering women’s bathrooms as evidence that “restroom crimes are common occurrences.” They do mention that none of the incidents have anything to do with transgender people.

But none of them have anything to do with transgender protections, either. In fact, the list winds up inadvertently making an argument against CGPP’s position — these crimes take place irrespective of whatever anti–discrimination laws are or are not on the books.

I know advertising is a dirty business, and political advertising doubly so. But there’s something especially repugnant about advertising that exploits people’s fears and magnifies their worries for their children and grandchildren. It foments an atmosphere of paranoia that makes the stigmatization of minorities a lot easier.

I’m against Charter Amendment 1 because I believe anti–discrimination protection for Gainesville’s LGBT community is important, both as a practical matter and as a show of compassion and decency.

The rejection of the amendment will protect Gainesville’s reputation in the eyes of prospective students, residents and businesses.

After all, it’s one thing simply never to have had these protections, but it sends an entirely different — and horrible, and inaccurate — message about what kind of city Gainesville is to revoke them after the fact.

But a “no” vote on Charter Amendment 1 would also be a repudiation of CGPP’s manipulative, fear–mongering campaign and a statement that we expect a higher level of discourse.

Because we’re better than this. And more importantly, Gainesville deserves better.

Joe Dellosa is an advertising junior.


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