Panel Discusses History, Upcoming Referendum on Miami-Dade Human Rights Ordinance

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University of Miami School of Law Publication


A panel discussion of the three-year-old Miami-Dade Human Rights Ordinance and its 1977 predecessor brought some of the law’s strongest proponents to UM Law February 26. The current ordinance, which faces a repeal vote on the September 10 ballot, extends protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, financing, and public accommodations.

Sponsored by the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board and moderated by UM Law alumnus Xavier Cortada, an internationally acclaimed artist who chairs the board’s Forums Committee, the discussion focused on the history and effects of the 1977 law and prospects for the embattled current law. Panelists included:

  • Bruce Winick, a UM Law professor who not only laid out the strategy and drafted the 1977 ordinance but also testified in favor of it at the Dade County Commission and successfully defended it when it was legally challenged.
  • Fred Fejes, a Florida Atlantic University professor who is writing a book about the 1977 law.
  • Mindy McNichols, a lawyer who is chief of staff to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, sponsor of the current ordinance.
  • Heddy Peña, chair of SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone) Dade, an organization that is organizing supporters to defeat the repeal movement.

Passage of the 1977 ordinance was a defining moment for Miami-Dade County and brought into focus one of today’s most important civil rights struggles. The law and the Anita Bryant-led referendum that repealed it focused national and international attention on Miami and Dade County’s struggle to extend civil rights protection to a previously unprotected minority group-the gay and lesbian community.

What followed was a national debate, which in the past 25 years has helped promote a more tolerant society.

Panelists agreed that the move to repeal the current ordinance once again places Miami-Dade County in the international spotlight and that the outcome will have a major effect on similar battles brewing across the nation.

The eyes of the world are on us,” Peña said, citing as examples a recent New York Times lead editorial on the subject and frequent calls to her office by BBC journalists.

Although opinion polls show that a substantial majority of Miami-Dade citizens favor keeping the ordinance in force, she pointed out, what matters is who actually shows up to vote. Emphasizing that voter apathy is a real concern, she said that SAVE Dade estimates that about 167,000 “no” votes will be needed to defeat the referendum.

Along with the panel discussion, the February 26 event featured a showing of a mural by Cortada commemorating the 1977 Human Rights Ordinance. Entitled All Are Equal 1, But Some Are More Equal Than Others 2, the 48 x 108-inch mixed media on canvas work will be displayed in the School’s Law Library throughout March.