Palm Beach ‘Boca Bigots’ Equal Rights Fight Drags Into Sixth Month

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Six months of lobbying, two threats of legal action from a human rights group, two speeches from a gay teen resident of Boca Raton and now one from a human rights advocate — who was once discriminated against for being gay — have not changed the hearts, or opened the minds of Boca’s elected officials over a 47-year-old anti-discrimination policy.

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch addressed members of Boca’s Community Relations board directly at a March 18 meeting, to push the members of a municipal board — in the only city in its county without equal rights for its LGBT employees — to change that.

“There is no record of any elected officials, anywhere in the United States of America, who have opted out of any civil rights laws in this century, and perhaps longer,” Hoch told the board members.

Boca became the first city in the country to do so when its City Council passed Ordinance 5161 in January 2011— to opt-out of Palm Beach County’s Equal Employment Ordinance — which includes protection against discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

“You guys were the first to actually vote to take away civil rights from people who had already been protected and to leave them without any recourse whatsoever,” Hoch said at the community relations board meeting.

He then used a personal anecdote to give a tangible example of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“My second year of law school, I went to work for a law firm in North Palm Beach doing real estate law. At the end of the summer, they offered me a position. I assumed they knew I was gay, I didn’t bring any women to any of the events,” Hoch said.

“When I negotiated the deal, I said ‘I need to take 2 weeks off to go to San Francisco in the middle of the summer.’ My friends who came to lunch, all guys.There was a partner with an earring who was male, so I assumed it wasn’t a big issue.”

When Hoch asked one of his managers at the firm how his sexuality would affect his prospects of becoming a partner down the line, the manager denied offering Hoch a position at the firm.

“Which is how I became a labor lawyer, because I was a victim of discrimination. So if … you’ve never met someone who’s been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation… Hi, Rand Hoch. Nice to meet you.”

Unfortunately for Hoch, who is now a retired judge and human rights advocate, and Tyler Morrison, the gay Boca teen who went from speaking out against the Boca City Council’s refusal to update their anti-discrimination policy, to being unanimously appointed to the council’s Community Relations Board, Hoch’s speech did not result in the board taking any action or vote at that meeting.

In December, Morrison convinced the Community Relations board to unanimously pass a recommendation for the city council to rescind Ordinance 5161.

Yet three months later, the City Council has not received Morrison’s recommendation, according to him and Hoch, because the original suggestion was sent to City Manager Leif Ahnell, instead of the council.

In Hoch’s speech to the Community Relations Board’s, he and Morrison both asked the board to pass a new recommendation to send directly to the council.

Deborah Carmen, the board’s chair and an attorney who has worked with Hoch in the past, recommended other board members take more time before voting or making any decision.

“If we just arbitrarily decide something one way or the other, it’s not going to be something I think we can take through as a recommendation, because I don’t think we’re going to be properly doing it,” Carmen said during the meeting.

Earlier, when Carmen was introducing Hoch to the other board members, she said: “I’ve gone over all the materials,” which included Hoch’s compilation of anti-discrimination policies from other cities in Palm Beach County “

Once Hoch urged the board to act, however, Carmen seemed less prepared. “See I haven’t looked at any of these,” she admitted later in the meeting.

But Tyler Morrison’s impatience had worn thin.

“I don’t think it has to be brain surgery to understand what the right thing to do in a situation like this,” he interrupted. “With something as simple as an ordinance, as insidious is, should be removed.”

And when Morrison moved to make a new recommendation, another Board member immediately moved to table it, while the rest of the community relations board maintained it was open to further discussion at its meeting next month.

“Everything that has been said tonight has been very illuminating, as far as having you here,” Carmen said.

Hoch was more concerned with the city’s lack of equal rights. “That’s an eyesore, that’s not something you should be proud of, and rest assured it will not go away.” Dylan Bouscher