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Friday, August 11, 2017

Anti-gay advocates want Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith to stop 'bullying' Rick Scott over LGBTQ order

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 5:02 PM

  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Listen up everyone: It's time to stop bullying Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

That's the latest public service announcement from the Florida Family Policy Council, the state's leading "pro-life, pro-family" conservative organization, in response to LGBTQ advocates who want Scott to sign an order that would prevent discrimination against LGBTQ state employees.

FFPC called out Equality Florida and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, on Twitter after an article from the Associated Press quoted Smith saying the governor broke his promise to the LGBTQ community to sign the ordinance after the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse that killed 49 people.

FFPC – the same organization whose president, John Stemberger, once compared legalizing same-sex marriage to legalizing incest – was so outraged, it tweeted this:

So let's recap, shall we? LGBTQ advocates say shortly after the June 12 attack in 2016, the governor was getting heat for his past anti-gay stances and his initial refusal to say Pulse was a gay club. His staff reportedly met with Orlando leaders, including Smith, to talk about Scott signing an executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state hires. The order would have added "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to existing anti-discrimination protections for state employees.

Advocates say the governor's staff promised they would take action. But months and excuses later, nothing came from it. After a year of back and forth, advocates say it's clear Scott had no intention of keeping his promise to sign an order and used the tragedy to his political advantage. In July, Smith said he felt "personally disrespected" after Scott ran away and refused to talk to him about the anti-discrimination order at an Orlando event. In an opinion piece for the Tallahassee Democrat, Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf said Scott's refusal to sign the order "has done nothing but assure Floridians that hatred and bigotry will continue to be tolerated."

When asked about advocates' claims, the governor's office has done nothing but reiterate multiple times that Florida follows federal employment guidelines that protect the gay community.

"Florida is a state that doesn't tolerate discrimination of any form," says Lauren Schenone, a spokesperson for Scott's office. "In accordance with federal guidelines, Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way. Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind."

All that to say, it's more than a tad obnoxious for the FFPC to say LGBTQ advocates are "bullying" Scott when they're trying to hold him accountable after his staff vowed to pass this ordinance. Highlighting the fact that queer and transgender people can still be denied housing, refused service and fired from their jobs in the state of Florida solely because of who they are is not a "political agenda" – it's pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians who are denying civil rights to LGBTQ people while still attending the funerals of victims who died at a gay nightclub.

And it's pretty sanctimonious of an organization like FFPC to call out anyone for bullying given previous hateful statements toward LGBTQ people. GLAAD reports Orlando attorney Stemberger has led campaigns to keep gay people out of the Boy Scouts and reportedly once said, "If gay marriage is legal, what will stop America from removing legal hurdles to incest or polygamy?"

Orlando Weekly contacted FFPC for a clarification on its tweets, but a representative said Stemberger would not be able to respond by press time. Hannah Willard, senior policy director for Equality Florida, says the only comments worth responding to right now are from Scott.

"He can speak for himself, and he should do so now more than ever," Willard says in a statement. "We are eager to hear directly from Governor Scott as to why he neglected to keep his promise to the LGBTQ community in the wake of Pulse. With the stroke of a pen, he could use the power of his office to protect LGBTQ state employees from discrimination."

Smith said his efforts to hold the governor accountable are not bullying – it's democracy.

"Rick Scott and his team made a promise to the LGBTQ community after Pulse to take executive action and send a message that Florida will not tolerate discrimination," he says in a statement. "He lied, and I persisted. That's not bullying. It's called democracy, and I will continue to join Pulse moms, survivors and community leaders who are unapologetically holding the governor accountable. We aren't even close to being finished."

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