Equality Florida Declares War on Non-Discrimination Workplace Bill

Via Facebook

Equality Florida launched a full scale social media attack on a bill that will protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace because it does not include public accommodations.

Instead the bill only focuses on employment discrimination.

“Deplorable,” said Michael Womack, a communications associate at Equality Florida summing it up in one word on Facebook.

The bill, the Florida Inclusion Workforce Act (FIWA), would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida's Civil Rights Act. It was filed in the Florida Senate on Tuesday by State Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), who is also the chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

FIWA is a collaboration between Gruters and SAVE Florida, a coalition that includes SAVE, Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Translatina and the Conservatives on the Right of Equality. Former State Representative David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) also provided assistance with the bill.

"Policy change is often incremental," Richardson said in a press release. "I applaud Senator Gruters' for his fresh approach which is fully inclusive of the LGBT community."

By Tuesday evening Equality Florida staffers started attacking the bill on social media and released a statement on their website protesting the new bill.  

Accusations of who was the most anti-trans flew back forth on Facebook between Equality Florida staffers and Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, even went so far as to threaten to expose Hoch’s alleged anti-trans bias by releasing an email exchange from 2007.

Hoch shot back referring to his organization’s long history of including the trans community in many of its initiatives at the city and county level.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in the past, but this one just doesn’t stick. We have enacted 49 trans inclusive laws in Palm Beach County going back to 2004,” Hoch said. “I’d love to see how many trans inclusive laws on the books Nadine [Smith] is responsible for. They have a lot of rhetoric, but PBCHRC has a lot of action.“

Advocates of FIWA insisted some protections are better than nothing for the LGB and trans communities.

Currently Florida has no statewide non-discrimination laws protecting any of the LGBT community.

On Tuesday Equality Florida released a statement on their website blasting the new bill.

"The pressure to remove public accommodations protections from the [Florida Competitive Workforce Act] comes from one place and one place alone - anti-transgender bigotry. From transgender students being harassed at school to efforts to eject transgender servicemembers from the military, the transgender community is bearing the brunt of the renewed attack on LGBTQ equality,” the statement reads. “It has never been more important for LGBTQ people and our true allies to push back against slanders and refuse to give a pass to those who demonize transgender people as unworthy of basic dignity and equal protection.”

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act is a separate bill that was also filed on Tuesday in the Florida Senate and House and is backed by Equality Florida. It’s been filed every year since 2010.

"For the past decade, passing protections for the LGBTQ community have not been a legislative priority," said Richardson in a press release. "Continuing to rely on a failed strategy and a bill that has floundered no longer makes sense."

While it’s true the new bill, FIWA, does not cover public accommodations, it does include gender identity and so trans people would be protected in the workplace. Also FIWA’s definition of gender identity is identical to FWCA’s.

“We need to protect the most people as fast as possible in our most important aspect of our lives – earning a living,” said Tony Lima, the executive director of SAVE. “You can’t pay for your housing, unless you have a job, and you can’t go eat at a restaurant if you don’t have the means to pay. Workplace protections are key.”

Arianna Lint, a trans woman and President of the TransLatina coalition on the East Coast, is one of the partners of the new bill and stands firmly behind SAVE and Tony Lima.

“This bill is very important for the transgender community. This is a good start,” said Lint, who is also the founder of Ariana’s Center, an organization that empowers and lifts up the trans community of South Florida. “We really trust SAVE.”

When asked specifically if this bill leaves the trans community behind she said “Never. [SAVE] is not going to leave the trans community behind.“

Justin Flippen, the gay mayor of the gayest city in Florida, Wilton Manors, is also standing firmly behind the new bill.

“Working with Republicans who control our state government in Tallahassee on advancing equal rights wherever possible is the responsibility of us all. Equal rights and nondiscrimination is a matter of right and wrong, not political left and right. It transcends political party, and while Republicans may have a history of being reluctant to support LGBT issues, when they do, it is important to find successful ways to embrace that support and add it to the longstanding support of progressives and democrats to increase the chances of actually getting legislation passed,” Flippen said.

“When the large step approach towards equality we often find more successful in South Florida doesn’t work on a statewide level, smaller steps in that same direction are more practical.  And sometimes smaller steps in the right direction are more permanent in the long run in changing hearts and minds, especially of conservative lawmakers.”

Flippen plans to bring a resolution up at the next city commission meeting in support of the new non-discrimination bill.

Hoch also went on to praise Equality Florida’s favored bill, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying “I love their bill. I wish their bill was law. It would be the best thing for everybody. But my wishes don’t always come true. Their bill will go nowhere again. It’s had one hearing in the past and it didn’t even pass at the committee level. It’s dead on arrival.”

This is a developing story. Check back next week for additional updates.