Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried recently added sexual orientation and gender identity to her department's list of workplace protections against discrimination.
Fried is Florida’s only Democratic cabinet member, winning her election by less than 7,000 votes in the 2018 midterms.
As a candidate Fried ran on a progressive platform focused on medical marijuana. At one point she wrote an op-ed for SFGN saying, “I will be a fierce advocate for […] the issue of patient access to medical marijuana. It will be one of the top priorities of my administration to end the obstruction and ensure the people of Florida have access to the medicine prescribed by their doctors.”
While LGBT issues were not one of her top “priorities” on her campaign website she aggressively courted the LGBT vote. During the primary she ran against a gay man. Even so she secured the endorsement of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, while the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus declined to endorse in the race.
“They are both supportive of our issues, but she rocks and will be very effective in office from day one,” said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the PBCHRC, at the time.
The workplace protections announcement came on Fried’s tenth day in office.
“We are pledging today that our Department is committed to an inclusive culture of equality, in which every employee is hired, promoted, and respected on the basis of their merit. This is a common-sense, long-overdue measure that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have implemented, and the majority of Floridians agree with,” she said. “I encourage my fellow Cabinet officials to enact similar policies within their agencies and throughout our government.”
Local LGBT rights activist Michael Rajner met Fried while she was campaigning for the Democratic Party's nomination. Rajner said they discussed over lunch how she could use her position to advance LGBT equality in the state.
“Among the topics discussed was the use of her executive authority to protect LGBT state workers and contractors from discrimination,” he said. “Back then Commissioner Fried showed herself to be an incredibly authentic and genuine candidate, today I'm proud to call her a friend and a passionate champion for LGBT Floridians.”
Fried’s announcement came on the heels of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signing an executive order banning discrimination in the workplace, which did not mention the LGBT community.
"I can tell you my workplace policy is one sentence: You will be hired based on merit," DeSantis told NEWS 13. "That's all I care about, and I think if you look at the appointments I've made, nobody has done more diverse appointments than I have. It's not even close. I believe in merit, and I don't care about those other things."
PBCHRC urged DeSantis to include LGBT people in his order.
"PBCHRC tred -- and failed -- to get Governor DeSantis to include LGBTQ state employees in his recent executive order on diversity,” Hoch said. “So [Fried’s] inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in her department's nondiscrimination policies is groundbreaking.”
Apparently Fried though took her inclusive order one step further.
"Shelby Scarpa, the Commissioner's Deputy Chief of Staff, confirmed that the Department's definition of gender identity also extends to gender expression,” Hoch added. “This should be great news to Commissioner Fried's nonbinary employees."
Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT rights group, also applauded Fried’s order.
“These critical protections both affirm the equality of LGBTQ employees and provide the agency with clear guidance on equitable practices in hiring, firing, and management,” a statement from the organization reads. “This marks the first time an agency has guaranteed protection based on both sexual orientation and gender identity - thereby extending protections to transgender employees.”