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After being left out of a memo on diversity, the Wilton Manors City Commission intends to add gender identity and expression in a draft policy that will be presented in January, says Commissioner Chris Caputo. 

During the city’s Nov. 24 commission meeting, the Community Affairs Advisory Board (CAAB) presented a memo defining diversity and recruitment ideas to bring people with diverse voices and experience to the city’s boards. During public comments, former Vice Commissioner Julie Carson noted that the list did not include gender identity and expression.

After much discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to have staff draft a policy based on CAAB’s memo.

“It will have gender identity and expression,” Caputo stressed in a call with SFGN on Wednesday. “It would not become a resolution without this language because it is a city standard.”

The memo, crafted by CAAB as a part of the city’s diversity efforts, reads:

“Diversity is a recognition of all those differences that make us unique, and includes, but is not limited to, race, color, ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, marital status, education, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, age and physical or mental ability. We recognize that individuals can affiliate as such in one or more ways. The goal is to create an environment by which any individual or group can feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued in order to fully participate.”

When asked about the draft, Misty Eyez, a trans advocate and the director of women’s services, transgender services and training/education services at SunServe, said she wasn’t surprised that gender identity and expression were left out.

“The T is often forgotten, left out, and kicked to the curb,” she wrote in an email. “Yes even within and from our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.”

However, Michael Sansevero, the chairman of the board, told SFGN that gender identity and expression were not included in the initial draft because “that seems to be parsing it into pieces.”

“There’s a lot of things that aren’t included in the list that could be subsets. It seems to me that that still comes within gender diversity,” he explained. “It’s not an exhaustive list. It says ‘including but not limited to.’”

He went on to add: “It clearly states that the policy informs people that all people are welcome, all people’s opinions are sought, including but not limited to all those groups. I guess the trans community is feeling left out a lot these days and I can identify with that, however, every single thing we do doesn’t have to have the word ‘trans’ or ‘gender identity’ to make them feel included. The main thing you don't want to do is exclude anyone and the policy we adopted is not exclusive; it’s inclusive.”

Sansevero then sent a text message about the definition of gender and “why a separate listing of gender identity is redundant.”

Tony Lima, the COO of Arianna’s Center, said “no it’s not. It’s not redundant at all.”

“In a city like Wilton Manors, that prides itself on its LGBTQI diversity, there are no such things as givens,” he said. “It’s important to note that the most marginalized within our community are Black trans women and we need to protect Black trans women and we need to uplift their narrative. We need to be able to protect our community.”

According to Rand Hoch, the president and founder of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, historically, many organizations grouped transgender people under “gender” protections because it was seen to be easier to pass a law or ordinance that way. However, for more than a decade, his organization has specifically named gender identity and expression.

“In my opinion — and PBCHRC's — specifically excluding the terms "gender identity" and "gender expression" is a disservice to the trans community,” he said in an email to SFGN. “They have been included in all of the laws and policies enacted and promulgated in Palm Beach County and in our proposed legislation dating back to the mid-2000s.”

Arianna Lint, the CEO and founder of Arianna’s Center, told SFGN in an email: “There are no if, and or buts about this. There is no question that gender identity and expression should be included.”

Looking forward, Caputo also wanted to note that the city work will not be done even after creating the policy. What’s more important are the actions that the city takes after a resolution is created. That includes conducting outreach and making personal invitations to people to join the board, and one of his goals is to resurrect Island City University, which provided mentorship and training to people who are interested in being more involved with the city.

“We’ve got to reach out to our community and say ‘You’re important, you are a part of our community, you have not been represented properly and I want to change that,” Caputo said. “How can I amplify your voice?’”

During the Nov. 24 meeting, Sansevero noted that the board had made a list of different organizations throughout the city that they would reach out to about board openings. Misty Eyez noted that the city has already reached out to her to invite transgender people to apply for positions in the city.

“If you want diversity you have to do it a different way,” Sansevero said.