Is there such a thing as good and bad discrimination? Ask your average pet owner desperately in need of an apartment. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – Have you ever wondered why some forms of discrimination are legal and others are not? Is it all just a part of the shifting winds of our societal attitudes?
Since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, the United States seems to have collectively agreed that in order to be a truly great nation, we need to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to successfully pursue the right to life, liberty and happiness, and that it can’t be impeded by discriminatory attitudes directed against certain groups of people.
So we have laws that make it illegal to refuse to hire or rent to someone if they’re black or part of another racial minority, or if they’re elderly, or if they’re disabled, or based on their religion, or if they were born female rather than male. These are all logical, common sense decisions that should have been made long before the 1960s.
On the other hand, we still tolerate other forms of discrimination, sometimes in subtle ways that no one pays attention to.
On Friday night, I went to a condominium complex to have dinner with a friend. As I parked my car and got out, I noticed the sign. And it made me realize that our societal protections don’t come down universally in favor of everyone.
The sign simply said … “No dogs.”
Now, okay, I’m sure you’re saying that it’s not fair to compare hoity toity condo complexes that ban pets with landlords who refuse to rent to blacks or Jews. I get that.
But keep in mind, there are a lot of renters out there who love Fido and FiFi and Millie the lazy white cat as much as the rest of us love a winning lottery ticket, and just ask any one of them and they’ll tell you that if there’s any group that faces discrimination on the apartment hunting trail, it’s pet owners. A lot of doors shut in their face on the day they show up with Rover on a leash.
Oh, those smelly dog hairs …. Those stinky litter boxes … the fleas those darn critters attract. I can hear the landlords whining now as they put the “No pets allowed” sign out front. The snobbery of the anti-pet crowd has always annoyed me. As a former landlord myself, I’ll admit I always welcomed in tenants with pets, and got pretty much everything imaginable in my home: dogs, cats, turtles, fish, birds, even goats at one point.
And I’ll admit that I’ve paid a price for that. Setting off flea bombs is no joyous task.
But I prefer that to thinking about the folks who have had to abandon their pets because they simply couldn’t find an apartment willing to rent to them.
Pets are not the only classification of what you might call “tolerable discrimination.” Solivita, the development in Poinciana, and the Villages, the even bigger city-in-the-makings-development in northern Lake County, are both “active adult” communities. What that means is you can play golf, take aerobics classes, and hear concerts at your development – as long as you’re an adult. No kids are allowed.
I guess the assumption is that families with children have plenty of other options for a place to live. But in a truly free society, shouldn’t hyperactive kids be allowed to mingle with retirees?
And besides, considering the strength of the senior citizen lobby in Florida, I doubt this situation is likely to change anytime soon.
For that matter, you can go up the road a bit from Solivita to another development in Poinciana called Cypress Cove, which is for adults who prefer to walk around naked. So they discriminate against those who prefer wearing clothes.
I doubt enough people care to force any changes at Cypress Cove.
It’s interesting in our modern age that we protect certain groups from getting fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment because of something they can’t change – such as their race, ethnicity, gender or disability – or something they could change but shouldn’t have to, such as their chosen religion. All very noble, but have you noticed that when we do allow discrimination – including against pet owners, families with children and people too shy to go buck naked in public – that it’s all supposed to be to help groups that really don’t want to have to associate with those types. Strange how picky/choosy we can get about who deserves protection and who doesn’t.
This can apply to job situations as well. Some employers are refusing to hire smokers, under the theory that they’ll raise the firm’s health care costs. Other businesses refuse to allow gun owners to pack some heat when they come to work. This is based on the shrill stereotype that if you own a gun, you must be prone to acts of violence. I know a lot of peaceful, law-abiding gun owners, and a lot of hot tempered nuts who have never seen a gun up close, but old stereotypes die hard.
Just the same, the workplace has become a hotbed of discrimination. Hiring smokers makes it too expensive to operate, and hiring gun owners makes fellow workers less safe. I guess if you repeat a dumb stereotype often enough, it sticks.
It’s weird, the way we proudly stand up for the rights of some, and happily disregard the rights of others. If you’re living in Florida and you’re gay, you’re facing a mixed bag. Most of the big cities like Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg have made it illegal to discriminate against you, while the rural areas have no such laws.
On the other hand, considering the disposable income that so many gay couples have, I suspect they’re about as likely to be turned down for an apartment as a member of the Royal Family would. In this economy, who turns down folks with steady paychecks?
And yet the irony is …. if that gay couple has two or more dogs, or if they adopted a child, they could get turned down for a place to rent in certain quarters.
And if one of the two gays smokes, and the other one owns a gun that they want to bring to work, they could both lose their jobs.
What a system.

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  1. The thing that always gets me is that everyone is always stressing the benefits of pet ownership on your health, and yet if you’re a renter owning anything beyond a fish is a huge detriment. And typically people who are renting don’t have a lot of other luxuries that homeowners can afford either…so basically it’s depriving them of their potential to be happy, in my opinion.

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