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Friday, January 19, 2018

Florida lawmakers push for LGBTQ workplace protections

Posted By on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 1:45 AM

  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers is pushing for LGBTQ workplace protections for state and private employees.

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act, proposed by Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond and Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in lodging establishments, restaurants and other public accommodations. The bill revises Florida's civil rights laws that ban discrimination in housing and employment to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The House measure and a similar bill in the Senate both have widespread support, even among the most conservative lawmakers like Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters.

"The Competitive Workforce Act is good for our economy and, most importantly, it affirms the basic human rights of our LGBT community," Diamond said in a statement

The bill is also supported by Florida Competes, a coalition of 450 businesses ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small shops. Both the coalition and Florida lawmakers are calling on House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to hear the bills during the 2018 session.

"Inclusive protections will send the message that Florida is open for business for all, building strong businesses that lead to strong communities," the Florida Competes coalition said. "When Florida’s communities are stronger, our state is a healthier, more vibrant and thriving place to live, work, and raise a family."

Advocates also pushed for Gov. Rick Scott to sign an anti-discrimination order protecting LGBTQ state workers.

The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida presented 700 petitions to Scott's office from Floridians who support anti-discrimination protections for queer and transgender people who the state hires.

"All hardworking people should be treated fairly and equally, and should have the opportunity to earn a living to provide for themselves and their families," the petitions read. "Nobody should have to live in fear of being legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance." 

Activists have been asking Scott to sign this executive order for over a year and a half. After the 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Scott's staff promised the Republican governor would sign the order protecting LGBTQ state hires.

But Scott never signed the order. Advocates accused the governor of breaking his promise and betraying the LGBTQ community. When asked, the governor's office usually releases the same statement declaring that Florida follows federal employment guidelines that protect the gay community.

"Florida is a state that doesn't tolerate discrimination of any form," repeated Lauren Schenone, a spokesperson for Scott's office, on Thursday. "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."

But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, says Scott's arguments won't stand as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to rescind protections for LGBTQ people. Last year, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department argued in court that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't protect discriminated LGBTQ people from being fired. Sessions also reversed the department's stance that transgender and genderqueer people are protected from workplace discrimination under the 1964 act.

"The governor is going to have to come up with a better excuse because these protections may cease to exist at some point in the near future," says Smith, who is one of the few openly gay lawmakers in the Florida Legislature.

Last year, Smith said Scott refused to talk to him at an event about the anti-discrimination order and even walked away.

"If I see him again, I'll try to start a conversation, but I hope he won't run away from me like he did last time," Smith says. "Running away from gay people is not the most helpful thing he could be doing at this point." 

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