(Tallahassee, Florida) A record number of Florida lawmakers are asking their colleagues to consider legislation prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in public and private employment, housing, and public accommodations.
"For the first time in Florida's history, thirty-seven legislators are seeking to insure that gay men and lesbians living and working in our state be afforded the same rights as all other Floridians," said retired judge Rand Hoch.
Hoch serves as President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, a non-profit organization which has been in the forefront of Florida's gay rights movement since 1988.
Senator Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) has introduced S. 572 which would amend the Florida Civil Rights Act and Florida's Fair Housing Act to include "sexual orientation."
"Florida should now join the twenty states which have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Deutch.
The bill introduced by Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) in the Florida House of Representatives, H.B. 191, goes further, by seeking to prohibit discrimination based on not only "sexual orientation", but also "gender identity or expression."
"The time has come to update Florida's anti-discrimination laws to ensure that discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is prevented," said Skidmore.
Both Deutch and Skidmore filed their anti-discrimination bills at request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
Currently, the Florida Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment only on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status. Florida's Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and public accommodation based on race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status, or religion.
Neither law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
"Over the years, a number of Florida counties and cities have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Hoch. "More recently, a handful have added in gender identity or expression."
"Since there is no statewide law, well over half of all Floridians who face this type of discrimination have no legal recourse," said Hoch.
While the two anti-discrimination bills have been assigned to committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives, no hearings have been set.
"Since the Republican Party controls both the House and Senate in Tallahassee, their leaders will determine whether these bills get heard this session," said Hoch. "Although several Republican legislators have privately committed to supporting these bills, to date, none have signed on as co-sponsors."
Governor Charlie Crist, a strong advocate for civil rights, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill when it gets to his desk.
Polling data for the past thirty years has consistently shown that Americans overwhelmingly support legislation protecting gay men and lesbians from job discrimination in employment and housing.
Last May, The Gallup Organization asked 1,002 randomly selected adults aged 18 and above whether gay men and lesbians should have "equal rights in terms of job opportunities." 89 percent of Americans favored equal employment rights. Only 9 percent disagreed.
Twenty states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In Florida, ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation are in effect in Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange and Palm Beach Counties, as well as in the cities of Gulfport, Gainesville, Key West, Lake Worth, Miami Beach, Orlando, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and West Palm Beach.
Taken together, 52% of the U.S. population now live in jurisdictions protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination.
"Where you live in America should not determine your civil rights," said Hoch.
A 2007 Peter D. Hart Research Associates survey indicated that 58% of respondents believe workplace protections should also extend to transgender employees.
Thirteen states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. As a result, 37% of the population now live in jurisdictions which also protect transgender individuals.
In Florida, Broward, Monroe, Orange and Palm Beach Counties, as well as the and the cities of Gainesville, Gulfport, Key West, Lake Worth, Miami Beach and West Palm Beach prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
More than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies have written policies prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and a quarter of them also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
Legislators in fourteen other states - Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. - are also considering bills to expand non-discrimination laws.
Joining Deutch as co-introducers of the anti-discrimination bill in the Florida Senate are Senators Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres), Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersburg) Gwen Margolis (D-Miami Beach), Nan Rich (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Jeremy Ring (D-Margate).
The thirty co-sponsors of Skidmore's bill include Representatives Mary Brandenburg (D-West Palm Beach), Ronald Brisé (D-North Miami), Susan Bucher (D-West Palm Beach), Ed Bullard (D-Miami), Chuck Chestnut (D-Gainesville), Terry Fields (D-Jacksonville), Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota), Luis Garcia (D-Miami Beach), Joe Gibbons (D-Hallandale Beach), Audrey Gibson (D- Jacksonville), Bill Heller (D-St. Petersburg), Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach), Marty Kiar (D-Davie), Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg), Janet Long (D-Seminole), Richard Machek (D-Boca Raton), Matt Meadows (D-Fort Lauderdale), Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs), Scott Randolph (D-Orlando), Yolly Roberson (D-Miami), Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach), Franklin Sands (D-Weston), Ron Saunders (D-Key West), Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood), Michael Scionti (D-Tampa), Jack Seiler (D-Wilton Manors), Darren Soto (D-Orlando), Priscilla Taylor (D-West Palm Beach), Shelley Vana (D-Lantana) and Jim Waldman (D-Coconut Creek).