Column: It’s Time for Us to Support the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act 

Jen Laws Photos: Equality Florida rallies for trans rights in Orlando. Photos via Facebook

Change is hard and adaptability is the key to success and happiness.

This moment in time is an exceptionally interesting one in terms of advocacy efforts. Previous strategies of funneling grassroots support into large organizations served us well in gaining ground on broad issues impacting large segments of our shared communities. 

We grew titans among us in the effort of change action and we largely found success in many of those fights thanks to the combined strength of our efforts focused on single organizations and people.
For those efforts, we should and must continue to be grateful. Gratitude, however, does not come without accountability and the necessity to adapt to a changed environment or risk stagnation; worse yet, backslide.
As we adjust to a greater recognition of our humanity in marriage equality and progress in fights against the disparities we face, we must also recognize those spaces where we have failed and the people we have left behind. 

Today, for us to succeed in ensuring equity, advocacy efforts, be it funding, programming, or strategic direction, we must begin to shift our operational style to grassroots organizations. 
Unfortunately, change is hard, right? 

Dozens, hundreds of well-meaning advocacy leaders have grown accustomed to their positions of power; to being the spokespersons of our very diverse communities. And they have confused their own position, made easier by their past success, with that of the position of our communities. We are not uniform and it is time we acknowledge that.
Our environment has changed. Gone are the days of allies in federal administration working to ensure and enforce our values of progress and protection. Our national tone has slipped, like a recovering addict experiencing relapse, into comfortable biases of our past and, if we are to be invested in the health and wellness of those around us, it is time to acknowledge that addiction is so heavy, so deep, that harm reduction as a strategy is pertinent.
It is time we acknowledge that our national and state politics have slipped and we are no longer at a tipping point.
Listening to advocates speaking on behalf of Equality Florida at Wilton Manors’ City Commission meeting last week was interesting. Here were two, middle-aged, white appearing, cisgender men proclaiming to not want to be treated as “one-third a person” and I had to suppress a laugh. They’re safe. They are not the transgender women of color described in the Human Rights Report issued last November. They do not and will not know what it is to face employment discrimination so ingrained as to be a boot heel of poverty on their necks. But my sisters will. My clients will. My family will. And ever present is the knowledge that my transition, my skin keeps me relatively safe from these facts.
The difference is I chose to listen to those most impacted by a lack of statewide protections. I listened as a young transman in Ocala explained how his employer forces him to use the restroom across the street at the gas station.

I listened to countless stories of employers not seeing a need to include transition related, gender affirming care in their benefits offerings, impeding the quality of life of my community. 

I listened to dozens of stories of people being refused work, refused wage increases, being passed up for promotion, and how that made life hard for my community. “Hard” can be measured in missed light bills, missed meals, less than comfortable apartments, never seeing the ability to pay off debt, and surrendering to an idea that retirement will never come. These cornerstones of the American ideal are simply out of reach for many transgender Americans…transgender Floridians.
Identifying grassroots advocacy organizations, local and sometimes unlikely allies, and working to ensure transgender Floridians are heard in our concerns is critical to centering our voices and our priorities as one of those populations feeling the greatest brunt of focused bigotry. 

We’re fortunate that Translatina Coalition maintains a seat at the table of our statewide advocacy efforts among other organizations and individuals including SAVE, Forward Miami, Palm Beach Human Rights Council, and former state Rep. David Richardson. Operating with a collaborative approach and seeking out community accountability, we would do well to remember those who come to stop harm as much as we celebrate those who have paved paths forward. Both of those efforts are meaningful and valuable toward our shared goals of equity. 
And so here we are with a promise of a first step; an effort at courageousness. Yes, case law exists in interpreting “sex” protections under the Constitution and state law to include LGBTQ Americans and this has not been tested at the Supreme Court or cemented by federal law. 

This is not decided law and it is certainly not decided in the 11thCircuit Court of Appeals, a court that has already refused to consider “sex” protections to cover our community as recently as last July, in any area of life. A judge may use the lack of explicit mention in statute to manifest case law excluding LGBTQ Floridians from housing protections and they may not and we should, justly, expect rebuttal and appeal at every turn because we are not powerless at the mere word of a single judge. We should not bow to messages of fear of what the future may hold.
While we cannot predict future, we should be able to rely on the power those titans of yesterday keep their fingers tightly gripped around to defend progress whereever it may manifest. That was their commitment, right? That’s why we supported them; gave them their status. These fights are not about “us” and “our win” but about The Cause. It is time we hold them accountable to those ideals they so inspired.
It is time to ensure our actions further progress instead of impeding it even if that means more work in the future, because the most vulnerable in our communities can no longer stand to wait for the ideal as they suffer harm.
Be brave. Take the first step with us, not for us. Support both FL SB 430 and FL SB 438.


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