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Equality Florida: 'Report reveals Florida's dramatic shift in favor of gay equal rights'

News release from Equality Florida:

(ST. PETERSBURG) Florida now ranks among the top five states in the nation in protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination, according to a report released today by the statewide civil rights group Equality Florida.

Equality Florida's report, Winning Equality ( http://eqfl.org/equalityreport/ ), looks at the progress made in Florida since the organization formed in 1997. It documents pro-equality successes in areas of workplace non-discrimination, family recognition, and school safety, while also highlighting that the organization has defeated anti-LGBT legislative efforts in every session over the past 13 years.

“A great deal of work remains, but Floridians can be proud of the progress in our state over the past decade,” said Nadine Smith, executive director for Equality Florida. “This report demonstrates that while political winds may shift during an election cycle, the long-term trend in Florida is strongly in favor of fairness and equality for everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

Highlights from the report include:

* Repeal of the Anti-gay Adoption Ban - After 33 years, child welfare advocates are cheering the end to Florida's notorious anti-gay adoption ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in 2010. Florida had been the only state in the nation to enforce such a ban. Florida's Governor, Attorney General and Dept of Children and Families decided not to appeal the Appeals Court decision to the State Supreme Court.

* Banning Workplace Discrimination - The majority of Floridians are now protected via local human rights ordinances from discrimination in the workplace, housing and in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. More than half of those policies also include protections on the basis of gender identity and expression.

* Providing Domestic Partner Benefits - There are 11 Florida cities and counties that provide domestic partnership benefits either through domestic partner registries or public employee benefit programs. These programs reach 1 out of every 3 Floridians.

* Ensuring School Safety - The passage of Florida's anti-bullying law in 2008 has led schools across the state to adopt more effective anti-bullying policies which specifically address anti-gay harassment. Today, the majority of Florida students are protected from bullying based on sexual orientation. Increasingly, those policies now include protections based on gender identity and expression.

* Engaging Business Leaders - Businesses have emerged as leading advocates for the passage of non-discrimination protections. Many of Florida's largest employers have adopted fully inclusive anti-discrimination policies and are active in touting the benefits to the economy of such protections via a program called Equality Means Business (equalitymeansbusiness.org)

The report includes maps of Florida comparing the existence of LGBT legal protections in 1997 and today. In 1997, only South Florida and Hillsborough County provided legal protections of any kind to LGBT people. Today pro-LGBT protections and benefits exist throughout South, Central and Northern Florida.

Florida now leads the Southeastern United States in passing over 55 local policies outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, banning harassment of LGBT students, and providing domestic partnership benefits to our families.

The report credits coalition-building, supporting local partners, backing pro-equality candidates, key legal challenges and investing in public education for the past thirteen years as the ingredients for success.

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FACT CHECKER:

First things first - this report makes it seem as if all of these victories rest solely on the shoulders of Equality Florida – FALSE

WHY? Most of these victories have come about due to local and other statewide organizations in the state. Not to say Equality Florida had no role, just didn't want people to think it was only them.

Second - Adoption Ban was not repealed it was overturned by the courts, which should tell you that Equality Florida had absolutely nothing to do with it. Technically the law still exists on the books and I hope Equality Florida will try to change that; and I challenge them to prove otherwise. This is an ACLU victory as they are our statewide legal advocacy group, and as gracious as the ACLU is, they will tell you a number of organizations assisted, Equality Florida being one of them, but we know the truth.

Third - Banning workplace discrimination... last time I checked Florida is still one of the 39 states you could be fired from your job for being gay or transgender. And in a backhanded way Equality Florida is acknowledging that as they point out, "The majority of Floridians are now protected via local human rights ordinances," key word being "local." I thought Equality Florida was a statewide organization focused on Tallahassee? Many of these local ordinances were passed by exactly that, local coalitions/organizations. I'm sure Equality Florida had their fingerprints on some, but I'm positive not all of them.

Fourth - again same as above, local ordinances have been passed and Florida is still one of the 40 plus states that failed at defeating its constitutional amendment fight in 2008.... Who's fault was that again?

Fifth - ensuring school safety... Hmmmm... I'm not sure what to say about this one except that there must be a distinction between a state law saying bullying is wrong and here are the penalties if you partake in that wrong; versus state law mandating that school districts have an "empty" policy that addresses bullying. We have the latter. (FYI – Miami-Dade has the best policy and program in place and not because of any political advocacy organization but instead due to the forward thinking of the Sexual Minorities Project [http://mhcms.dadeschools.net/bullying.asp] and Safe Schools South Florida.)

Sixth - Businesses don't have our back yet on nondiscrimination in the workplace. Oh sure they have nondiscrimination policies on the books, but most major businesses still fund the Florida Chamber of Commerce who is adamantly opposed to any legislation that puts more liability in the lap of companies... i.e. adding classes to the Civil Rights Act in employment protections... translation - companies don't want a bunch of gay and transgender people being added to the Civil Rights Act because their homophobic employees will create legitimate lawsuits of discrimination for them.

In closing, it really seems that this report should have come from the collective body of local organizations. The way I read this is that local organizations have their s**t together and have been slowly pushing the needle and changing policy and the hearts and minds of their citizens. Meanwhile, Equality Giving (http://www.equalitygiving.org/States-of-Equality-and-Gay-Rights-Scorecard?page-version=0&date=20100902082052) still has Florida scraping the bottom of the barrel in comparison to the other states in the union. Well actually we are 23rd, but that is only because we scored major points with ACLU's victory in adoption.

Just setting the record straight!

Since there are more than 5 states with full marriage equality, I don't think that FL is going to be at the top of any list.

This is great news! I agree that there is more work to be done. My husband and I moved to Florida last year. After a long battle with bipolar disorder he committed suicide. I was immediately ordered outside to the ground and put in handcuffs. As I laid there sobbing, with he paramedics coming out laughing, I was told that my "friend" had expired. I was not allowed to say goodbye to him before they wheeled his body out. In the confusion surrounding our out of state wills and non-recognized marriage. He had already been disowned by his family because he was gay (thanks Pope Benedict!). I was finally told of his cremation 6 weeks after it happened and mailed his ashes after pitching a fit to make sure he wasn't buried in an indigents grave. Florida still has a long way to go!

As a native Floridian, I can tell we have come a long way. I'm surprised to see so much progress in the northern part of the state. Chip what you went through is awful and we have to continue to fight until those stories are over for good. Thanks for sharing the report.

Thanks Andy! I have relocated to another state, but since I grew up in Florida and my family lives there I am always interested in progress there. I am making it right by adopting a kid that is being bullied in Foster Care!

Didn't get the slightest notion that Equality Florida claimed credit for all the progress. Good work to everyone who is responsible for the positive change, though!

OMG Chip! What part of Florida were you in?

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