An openly gay Florida lawmaker is advocating for a new strategy to pass legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the state. Under Florida law, LGBTQ people can legally be denied employment, housing and public accommodations. For years Miami Beach Democratic Representative David Richardson has been trying to pass a comprehensive bill to change that, but he believes lawmakers should take a new approach.
"The comprehensive bill, that would include all of those three, I think is a bill that is dead this year, like it's been for many years," Richardson said.
Which is why Richardson is advocating to split the sweeping measure into three individual bills, to address housing, employment and public accommodation separately. In light of the passage of North Carolina's so-called bathroom bill, HB 2, Richardson worries individual facets of the bill would sink its chances overall.
"There seems to be more appetite to address the housing component of the comprehensive bill. And there seems to be less interest in dealing with the public accomodation bill, quite frankly, because of the bathroom component," he said.
Richardson sees the three-pronged strategy as more pragmatic and more realistic, but indicates not all LGBTQ advocates agree with his piecemeal approach. He and his colleagues are still debating whether to file a sweeping bill or three separate measures, and nothing has been filed yet.
"You have to ask yourself, do you want to try to get something accomplished or do you want to get nothing accomplished?" Richardson asked. "I'm a legislator who is willing to move incrementally as long as it doesn't violate my core values".
There could be more momentum behind the push for LGBTQ rights this legislative session than in previous years. Across the state, memories of the Pulse shooting are still fresh, after an armed gunman stormed into a gay nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people. In November, Orlando voters elected openly gay activist Carlos Guillermo Smith to represent House District 49. Guillermo Smith previously served as the government affairs manager of the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Florida.