The First Step: The Florida Inclusive Workforce Act

The capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Ebyabe, via Wiki

When the legislative session begins this week in Tallahassee, there will be a legitimate opportunity for consideration of abill to protect LGBTQ Floridians, particularly our transgender and gender nonconforming neighbors, friends and colleagues, from discrimination in the workplace. 

Senator Joe Gruters recently introduced the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act (FIWA), a bill championed by SAVE, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida’s Civil Rights Act in the Senate and its companion bill was filed and co-sponsored in the House by Representative Javier Fernandez (D-Miami) and Amber Mariano (R-Port Richey) last week. 

With sponsorship in both houses and support across the aisle, there is now growing momentum for FIWA and a significant opportunity for consideration during this spring's session.

In the context and history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination legislation here in Florida, this is hopeful news. Legislation to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations was initially introduced in 2007 but failed to hit the Senate floor. The Florida Competitive Workforce Act followed in 2009, but unfortunately, in the past nine legislative sessions, the bill failed to be heard in the Florida House of Representatives. In 2015, there was one hearing in the Senate, which failed to pass.

As we are all aware, we could not find ourselves in a more precarious political and judicial climate. In 2011, the 11th circuit in Glenn v. Brumbydeclared workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity a violation of the "sex" based discrimination, yet, as recently as last year, the 11th refused to rule in favor of interpreting civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The 11thcircuit is currently hearing another case in which they have yet to rule. As circuit splits are more likely to happen, this increases the likelihood of a case (or cases being) reaching the Supreme Court of the United States, and with recent changes in SCOTUS composition, positive court rulings on LGBTQ issues are becoming even riskier.  

What this means is that LGBTQ organizations like SAVE, of which I serve as the Executive Director, need to spend significant energy protecting our rights at the state level. It's on organizations like SAVE to ensure legislation passes to protect our constituents as courts are no longer a reliable space to seek justice. State-based protections reinforce state responsibility and power to protect its population with stricter confines than federal law. It is important to remember; however, that should, and when protections become laws, state executive are required to defend them. And so, SAVE and other advocates need to maintain pressure, demonstrate support and continue to articulate their benefits even once the laws are passed. State executives must continue to understand the benefits of these laws to the state and all its residents.

And so, when it comes to LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections here in Florida, SAVE whole-heartedly supports the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act. We acknowledge that FIWA focuses specifically on workplace protections as opposed to directly including housing and public accommodations as part of the legislation. However, we believe the most effective strategy for securing LGBTQ protections at every level is a comprehensive one that begins with securing workplace protections.

The reality is that employment is a fundamental vehicle to personal success and fulfillment, financial security and improved mental and physical well-being, particularly for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, our transgender and gender non-conforming community. Stable employment also empowers access and personal sustainability when it comes to housing. Employment also increases access to quality medical care as a measure of equitable compensation. This can include insurance benefits coverage to extend access to transition-related, gender-affirming care, etc. Finally, employment protections would effectively include public accommodations as customers/consumers/students would be treated equitably to employees.

Like all fights for equality and justice, I can assure you that SAVE’s advocacy and support of the Florida Inclusive Workforce Actis just the first step—not the only or the last. And nor is it a compromise on the comprehensive protections we all deserve. Advocates, like SAVE, need and will continue to fight these legal fights on all fronts--from employment to housing to public accommodations.We are committed to a broader strategy which includes a host of protections and will work to secure state funding for the implementation of protections and programming serving LGBTQ populations. We will continue to march together and step by step until every LGBTQ Floridian is safe and protected in all spaces, treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and has access to the same privileges and opportunities as their fellow citizens. 

I encourage you to stay informed. Reach out to your legislatorsto voice your support and stay tuned for more developments. Follow SAVE on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for the latest updates.  

Antonio "Tony" Lima is the Executive Director of SAVE, Florida's longest-serving LGBTQ advocacy organization. You can connect with him on 
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