Rollins Rallies for Human Rights

December 03, 2010



On November 23, 2010, Rollins professors and students participated in a historic Orange County Board of Commissioners’ (BCC) meeting. The topic of interest: a proposed Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to extend civil rights protections on the bases of marital status and sexual orientation (defined to include gender identity/expression as well). The HRO, which passed 6 to 1, makes it illegal to discriminate on these bases in employment, housing, and provision of services (e.g., service at a hotel or restaurant).

Red-shirted supporters of the HRO filled the county chambers. Of the 19 people registered to speak in support of the ordinance, five came from Rollins. County Mayor Richard Crotty, who has taught at Rollins, publicly acknowledged turnout from the college.

Attending the HRO hearing were Professors Rick Foglesong, Margaret McLaren, Jay Yellen, and Lisa Tillmann; Brent Turner, director of the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership; students Ashley Green (Class of 2011) and Ed Leffler (Class of 2012); and alum and former staff member Diane Hathaway. "This is good public policy," said Foglesong. "It will enable Orange County to attract big employers who are GLBT-friendly."

In her testimony, Professor of Philosophy Margaret McLaren urged the BCC to protect basic civil rights for the LGBT community. She called the HRO “a matter of justice and fairness,” adding that everyone—not just members of minority groups—benefits from inclusive policies. 

Professor of Mathematics Jay Yellen told the BCC: “This is the busiest and most stressful time of the year for faculty and students, but if I didn’t take the time to speak out in support of this ordinance, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or look my students in the eye. I’m not into politics, but I’m sure into deductive reasoning, and I couldn’t feel more strongly that expanding our anti-discrimination code to include marital status and sexual orientation is, logically and morally, absolutely the right thing to do.”

Brent Turner echoed these themes. He spoke of being inspired by the Arts and Sciences (A&S) Student Government Association (SGA), which unanimously passed a resolution in support of the ordinance. That support, said Turner, was courageous and right. Ashley Green delivered the SGA resolution and indicated that passage of the HRO would render her more likely to make Orange County her permanent home.

After delivering a faculty petition in support of the HRO (113 signatures from Arts and Sciences faculty), Tillmann offered testimony connecting the current LGBT struggle for civil rights to other social movements: “Fifty years ago, Woolworth’s infamously refused to serve four Black students at a ‘whites-only’ lunch counter—appalling then and almost unthinkable now. Yet today, if a lunch counter refused to serve someone perceived to be gay or to have an unconventional gender expression, this would be perfectly legal.” There are no federal and no state of Florida protections on these bases (sexual orientation is a protected class in 21 other states, gender identity/expression in 13 states).

The HRO’s passage culminates several years of lobbying by Equality Florida and by the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee (OADO). Though unable to attend the hearing, Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling Kathryn Norsworthy has been an active member of both groups.

Prior to the November 23 meeting, Norsworthy and Tillmann met several times with Commissioner Bill Segal, who played an instrumental role in the passage of the ordinance, as did Commissioner Linda Stewart, who sent the initial memo to Mayor Crotty requesting that the HRO be put on the BCC agenda. President Lewis Duncan, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and several other community leaders contacted Mayor Crotty and the commissioners to express support for the HRO.

Beginning 20 years ago, Rollins has been a local leader on LGBT inclusivity. Rollins added sexual orientation to its equal opportunity policy in 1990 and gender identity/expression in 2009. Rollins has offered domestic partner benefits for both same-sex and different-sex couples since 2001.

Outside our walls, Rollins has a similar history of LGBT advocacy. In 2001-02, the city of Orlando debated whether to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy (the measure passed 4 to 3). The A&S SGA passed a resolution in support, as did the A&S faculty. Professors and students testified at the public hearings. As happened with Mayor Crotty at the HRO hearing, then-Mayor Glenda Hood publicly recognized Rollins’ presence.

By Lisa M. Tillmann, professor and chair of Critical Media and Cultural Studies

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