Panel Discusses History, Upcoming Referendum on Miami-Dade Human
|Joanne Harvest Koren, director of UM Law's
Academic Achievement Program,
with artist Xavier Cortada in front of Cortada's mural commemorating the 1977
Human Rights Ordinance. Koren, a member of the Miami-Dade County
Community Relations Board, organized the February 26 panel and arranged for
the discussion to be held at UM Law
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.
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 The law and the Anita Bryant-led referendum that repealed it focused national and international attention on Miami and Dade County's struggle to extend civil rights protection to a previously unprotected minority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.
|Speakers at the February 28 event included, from
left: Joanne Harvest
Koren; Prof. Bruce Winick; Mindy McNichols; Prof. Fred Fejes; Heddy
Peņa, Dr. Larry Capp, executive director of the Miami-Dade County
Community Relations Board; Prof. Stephen Schnably, associate dean of
UM Law; and Xavier Cortada.
The eyes of the world are on us," Peņa 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.
Published in TWN (The Weekly News), Miami, Florida, on January 24, 2002
Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board, and the University of Miami School of Law united Jan. 18 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Dade County Human Rights Ordinance. More than two decades ago, then-County Commissioner Ruth Shack sponsored the first ordinance to include sexual orientation protection; what followed with Anita Bryants "Save Our Children" campaign and the ordinances repeal helped to fuel the modern-day gay rights movement.
The anniversary carries even greater significance this year as Miami-Dade County once again seems destined to decide the fate of sexual orientation protection at the polls. The community leaders who participated in the event, held in the Miami-Dade County Commission chambers, had their eyes on the future as they acknowledged the past.
"One of the truest measures of a communitys quality is how it respects the rights of its people, and that means all of its people," Penelas said. "Were here to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the first Dade County Human Rights Ordinance, and were also here to honor the people who helped make that possible and, were also here in a bittersweet moment as we regroup and organize our efforts to confront this issue once again, which Im sure we will do successfully."
Among the participants in a Jan. 18 forum
Penelas honored Shack and UM School of Law professor Bruce Winick, who was the legal strategist for the 1977 ordinance, for their contributions on behalf of human rights. Miami-Dade County Commissioners Jimmy Morales and Katy Sorenson and elected officials from Miami Beach, South Miami, Miami Springs, Hialeah, and North Bay Village were also on hand to show their support many with proclamations from their districts to commemorate the date. Artist Xavier Cortada unveiled a new painting, which incorporates images from the struggle for human rights; the painting will be on exhibit in the Stephen P. Clark Center.
The presentations were followed by an educational forum that put the events of the past 25 years in perspective: Winick and Shack shared stories from the trenches; Florida Atlantic University professor Fred Fejes, who is writing a book on the early HRO days, provided additional historical context; and People for the American Ways Jorge Mursuli, who led SAVE Dade in the successful effort to pass sexual orientation protection in 1998, offered insight on the current situation.
"If we are in this playing the game of politics, then we are not going to be successful. This is not a game, this is life. This is the real time, this is not a civics lesson. This is our opportunity to pull this off," Shack said. "I urge you not to think of me as a hero, but just someone who was doing what it was they served public office to do. I thank those who stood side by side with me. I want us to do this not to send messages, but damn it, I want us to win."