A week after a gunman killed 49 people inside an Orlando gay nightclub, advocacy groups want new protections enacted to protect LGBT Floridians.
Equality Florida, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has long pushed for state anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a move that could presage more forceful action when the state Legislature returns to Tallahassee next year, the group’s lobbyist, Carlos Guillermo Smith, called on Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to act now — without lawmakers’ involvement.
“Gov. Rick Scott and Pam Bondi could issue an executive order today with the stroke of a simple pen that would forbid and make illegal anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our state,” said Smith, a Democrat also running for the Florida House, in an interview Sunday on MSNBC.
State law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
For 10 years, lawmakers have proposed expanding Florida’s civil rights protections, but their attempts have never reached a floor vote either chamber of the state Legislature. This spring, the proposal achieved a small victory: its first-ever committee hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered the bill but did not approve it.
Asked whether he would support anti-discrimination protections, the governor’s office reiterated comments Scott made Monday when reporters pressed him on his gay-rights record.
“Right now what I want to focus on is how do we make sure that we love everybody impacted: the gay community, the Hispanic community,” he said. “But let’s all remember this was an attack on our entire nation.”
He did not say whether he intends to push for additional protections of LGBT groups.
However, Scott could not extend full anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in hiring, housing and public accommodations by executive order.
In an interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday, Smith said he wants Scott and Bondi to enact narrower, more immediate change: executive action to protect state workers and government contractors.
This would be within the governor’s powers. Early in his first term, Scott issued an executive order requiring state workers to be randomly drug tested, although that was later struck down by a judge.
Cabinet officials could set similar rules within their offices. Bondi already has done this, spokeswoman Kylie Mason said.
“The Attorney General does not have the authority to issue an executive order,” she said in a statement. “However, our office already has a policy in place against discrimination based on sexual preference.”
Some groups criticized Smith for pushing Equality Florida’s agenda so soon after the shooting at Pulse nightclub. The Florida Family Policy Council, which advocates for social conservatives and largely opposes LGBT-rights groups’ agenda, tweeted Tuesday morning that Equality Florida is “politicizing tragedy.”
Since the attack, Scott and Bondi have both issued statements supportive of the state’s LGBT community.
“We pray for our LGBT community,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Our Hispanic community. Our state. Our nation. This was an attack on every American.”
But during more than five years in office, neither Republican official has taken up the mantle of gay rights.
Bondi fought and lost a court battle to uphold a same-sex marriage ban, spending $493,000 in taxpayer funds in the process. Scott’s administration is in the process of removing proposed protections for LGBT foster children in group homes from state rules.
LGBT-rights advocates hope recent well wishes could turn into political action when the Legislature is in session next year.
Equality Florida’s wish list includes not only anti-discrimination laws but also expanding the definition of hate crimes to include transgender people and banning so-called conversion therapy.
Smith said the group has requested a meeting with Scott and Bondi to discuss its agenda.
Photo by Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times.