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LGBTQ activists say Rick Scott promised to ban discrimination and never delivered



In the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, Gov. Rick Scott’s staff told LGBTQ rights activists in backroom meetings that he would sign an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state hiring and contracting.

One year later, it’s a promise Scott hasn’t kept, says state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat and former lobbyist for Equality Florida, which advocates on behalf of Florida’s LGBTQ community.

“He promised, and his office gave us every indication that this was going to happen,” Smith told the Times/Herald this week. “At this point, it’s a broken promise.”

After a gunman opened fire in the nightclub and killed 49 people — most of them LGBTQ and Latino — Equality Florida ratcheted up calls for the governor to sign an order. They even provided draft language modeled after a similar rule in effect in Jacksonville, Smith said.

There was no public acknowledgement of any agreement on the issue. But Smith said that assurances were made in private conversations with Scott’s then-Chief of Staff Kim McDougall and legislative affairs director Kevin Reilly. Smith provided emails to the Times/Herald that reference those meetings and a series of follow-up conversations that lasted for months.

Scott’s office did not dispute the account that a promise had been made to LGBTQ rights activists. A spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone, said the state “doesn’t tolerate discrimination in any form.”

“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,” she said in a statement. “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”

Still, no executive order has been signed.

Without a written order, formal complaints and lawsuits can’t be filed, Smith said. What’s more, he said any policy should include gender identity and extend to state contractors as well as employees.

Equality Florida has been pushing for broader protections for the LGBTQ community in Florida, including a law that would outlaw discrimination in housing, hiring and public accommodations. Right now in Florida, it is legal to fire, refuse to rent to or decline to serve people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That would require action from the Legislature, which has in more than 10 years given just one hearing to the issue, even as more and more Republicans declare public support for the bill.

But Scott can sign an executive order unilaterally.

“The governor at this point has failed to lead and doesn’t have the courage to actually take action on behalf of the 49 people who were murdered in this state,” Smith said. “The governor is the governor. It’s on his shoulders.”

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott finishes a TV interview in the days following the Pulse shooting in 2016. (LOREN ELLIOT | Times)