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Gulfport: Candidates differ on need for rights law

One Ward 3 candidate sees a need for a ban on sexual discrimination. His opponent wants to gauge citizen attitudes.

Published February 29, 2004

GULFPORT - A proposed human rights ordinance separates two candidates for City Council more than any other issue.

Incumbent Harry Brodhead, winding up his first term in public office, has introduced the ordinance after gay and lesbian individuals told Brodhead they had been discriminated against. His proposed remedy would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Brodhead's opponent in Ward 3, Bob Worthington, questioned the need for an ordinance and whether it would work but stopped short of ruling out support.

Worthington is a retired engineering technician from Honeywell seeking his first council post. He described himself as a friend of development if it cleans up blighted properties, such as the 11 rental units on the 5300 block of 26th Avenue S now being leveled to make way for seven homes. He said he learned at Honeywell how to work with groups of people, how to negotiate and solve problems.

Brodhead voted against efforts by a McDonald's restaurant on 22nd Avenue S to retain its 50-foot golden arches, which violated the city's sign ordinance. The restaurant's current arches stand 15 feet high. But it's the small things that mean the most, he said.

A widow called Brodhead, saying she was about to lose her phone service. After transferring the phone from her husband's name to her own, she faced hundreds of dollars in deposits. Brodhead said he called the phone company and the charges were eliminated.

"They say you can't fight City Hall," Brodhead said. "Well, yes you can if you have the right person."

Brodhead first began exploring discrimination law in October after hearing complaints from residents. He wants to craft an ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination based on their sexual identity.

"Gays and lesbians who are lodging have no recourse," he said. "Their leases are canceled by landlords because of who they are."

About 70 people showed up at a city-sponsored human rights workshop earlier in February. Another human rights workshop will take place at 6 p.m. March 11 in council chambers, City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S.

Worthington is not ready to sign on to drafting an anti-discrimination law. "I don't know if an ordinance at the city of Gulfport level is going to accomplish anything," he said.

To educate himself on issues of equality, Worthington attended an equal rights amendment seminar at the Stetson law school. "That's one thing I did at Honeywell. I investigated things. My boss used to tell me, "Don't come to me with a complaint and tell me it doesn't work. Give me a solution for how we can fix it."'

Worthington said he also attended the Gulfport human rights workshop, and noted that some of the stories appeared dated. He questioned whether all of the incidences of discrimination being recounted had happened in Gulfport.

Even so, Worthington would not categorically oppose a human rights ordinance: "I don't want to invoke my personal feelings on it, I want to do whatever the citizens want to do."

Brodhead said the proposed law would provide civil and criminal penalties against people who discriminate based on sexual orientation. "It's kind of like the speed limit," Brodhead said. "It doesn't always work, but it makes people stop and think about what they're violating."

Both Brodhead and Worthington gave the police high marks, and reject the idea of saving money by contracting police and fire services to the county.

[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]

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