Some two dozen states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Florida isn’t one of them.
Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression would be added to the list of ways in which people couldn't be discriminated against under a bill filed Thursday in the House by two freshman legislators. The Florida Civil Rights Act already bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and marital status, and the bill (HB 653) would add the other items. The law also already bans discrimination based on "handicap," and the measure filed this week would change that phrase to disability. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, and Rep. Joe Saunders, a Democrat from Orlando, who is one of two openly gay legislators elected last year. A Senate version of the bill (SB 710) is sponsored by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington.
This isn’t the first attempt to ground these protections in state law. When Governor Rick Scott took office in 2011, The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), a non-profit organization founded in 1988, urged him to make such changes. Scott quickly passed Executive Order 11-04, which “reaffirms policy of non-discrimination in state contracting without regard for race, gender, creed, color, or national origin.” Sexual orientation did not make the cut.
In a press release, the Council discredited his efforts:
While the Council's request was for an inclusive order, Scott instead issued Executive Order 11-04, which narrowly limited Florida's non-discrimination policies to address only race, gender, creed, color and national origin.
"Governor Scott's limited view of diversity is very discouraging," said [PBCHRC president] Hoch. "Governor Scott did not even include all of the classifications listed in the Florida Civil Rights Act -- let alone sexual orientation and gender identity."
Support for such inclusion is by no means close to unanimous, even city to city. When the Jacksonville City Council rejected a proposed “non-discrimination” ordinance in August 2012, the Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC) applauded the lawmakers.
John Stemberger, President and General Counsel of the FFPC, released the following statement:
“This is an extraordinary victory for the people of Jacksonville who rose up and made it clear they were not going to allow some secret council of elite powerbrokers or activists from outside Jacksonville to force extreme policies upon them. I could not be more proud of the local residents who worked so hard to create a citywide movement to defeat this disaster of an ordinance. I believe we are seeing the tables start to turn on “gay rights” issues when Americans see how really extreme these left-wing activists are. These are not just people who have a same sex attraction and want to be left alone to freely define themselves. This is a radical group of political operatives who want to force their aberrant views on human sexuality upon the rest of society by the mandate and penalty of law. Between the Chick-fil-A backlash, the recent outing of the new “pan-gendered” legislator in Texas, the plummeting of JC Penny stocks after they started displaying ads with openly gay men on Father’s day, Home Depot parading explicit sexual conduct in front of children, and now the major defeat of 296 in Florida’s largest and most progressive city, I believe people waking up to the truth that this is not about discrimination or fairness but about an intolerance and utter disrespect for the rights of others, namely Christians and those who believe in traditional family values.
Other Florida cities and counties have implemented local non-discrimination laws. Broward, for instance, offers protection against discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, whereas Miami-Dade's protection is only based on sexual orientation.
If passed, HB 653 would go into effect this July.