Cover Story News Sunshine State

Defeat: LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill Goes Down In Flames

Written by Richard Hack

TALLAHASSEE—Five Florida senators assured the defeat of an LGBT nondiscrimination bill that has been debated since the start of the state legislative calendar. It is shocking to think that state representatives who are well aware of the amount of money that gay and lesbian tourists bring into this state, and the contributions in creativity and innovation that LGBT workers provide, could ignore the importance of making certain that all individuals within the Sunshine State are protected against discrimination.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida that has actively advocating for passage of the Florida Competitive Workplace Act, shared her outrage at the arbitrary dismissal of legislation that is essential for the state to continue to attract top talent into its workplace pool.

“Five Senators killed a bill that would have provided basic protections for Floridians regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity–the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, Smith said. “The tie vote in (an earlier) committee meeting left hope that the February 9th hearing provided one last opportunity to move the legislation forward.

“We are especially disappointed in Senators (Jeff) Brandes (Hillsborough and southern Pinellas Counties) and (Lizbeth) Benaquisto (Charlotte and Lee Counties) who lead the charge to kill the legislation despite the overwhelming public support, the backing of the state’s top business leaders, and the fact that local protections cover 55% of our state’s population.

“Brandes’ opposition is particularly disappointing considering he lives in a county that has had these basic protections for years,” Smith said. “Yet he couched his opposition in phony hypotheticals and irrational fears that served to dehumanize transgender people in particular.”

“If I go into Gold’s Gym and someone of a transgender nature is dressing in the women’s locker room, is that something that would be covered under your bill?” Brandes asked.

The fact that Brandes, who is male, does not belong in the women’s locker room was made irrelevant by state senators in favor of the bill—one that aimed to amend the state’s Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment, retail and other discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Social conservatives Senator Kelli Stargel (Southwestern Orange County, Northwestern Osceola County, and Northern Polk County)  and Senator Wilton Simpson joined Brandes in raising questions over whether the law would give male sexual predators legal license to invade spaces reserved for “biological” women, as opposed to women “with male parts” as several lawmakers put it.

Prefacing his comments with a remark that “not a soul” on the panel favors discrimination, “this part of the bill could turn into a lot of weirdos doing weird things in public bathrooms, with men or women,” Simpson said.

Margate Senator Jeremy Ring, a Democrat, said the committee was losing sight of the main thrust of the bill – eliminating workplace discrimination – by “getting caught up in bathrooms,” though related debate dominated the meeting nonetheless.

There are currently 37 municipalities and nearly two dozen states that have adopted non-discrimination laws in favor of LGBT workers and renters, without excessive litigation being a problem.

According to Dozens of people spoke, including religiously affiliated speakers in opposition. One speaker said the bill perpetuates “misguided thinking” by unmooring sexual identity from “nature and reality.” Another waived her speaking time in opposition, claiming to speak on behalf of Jesus.

Over 40 members of the legislature signed on in favor of the bill as co-sponsors.

“In Broward County, we have success with this,” said activist Michael Rajner, joining them in support of the bill. “This helps businesses become more competitive, realizing that people from all walks of life have talents that will make this state a better state.” Unfortunately his logic, and the support of major corporations that agreed with him, fell on deaf ears.

“While we did not win today, our work to pass a statewide bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is far from over,” Smith reiterated, with the frustrating defeat still fresh in her mind. “We will continue to work at the state and local level until protections exist for every LGBT person in Florida. This moment is not a defeat, but a call to action that the work is not over. Right now we need every single person who supports equality in Florida to lean in and help us get the job done.”