Column: Equality Advances As Legislative Session Continues 

Grassroots activists gathered in Tallahassee March 11-12 to educate legislators on LGBTQ priorities for Equality Florida’s Lobby Days. Photo courtesy of Equality Florida

Last week more than 100 excited grassroots activists filled the halls of the Capitol to meet face-to-face with legislators during Equality Florida’s Lobby Days.

The real work of protecting hard won gains and securing full LGBTQ equality is ongoing in Florida’s Capitol. As Florida’s Legislative Session enters its third week, there are early signs of progress, and also evidence that much work remains in the 60-day Legislative Session. 

Grassroots activists gathered in Tallahassee March 11-12 to educate legislators on LGBTQ priorities for Equality Florida’ 

State and national LGBTQ groups have focused their energy on stopping the dangerous impact that House Bill 3 (HB 3) could have on LGBTQ equality. Last Tuesday in the Capitol, Equality Florida held a major press conference with the Human Rights Campaign to explain how the bill threatens to undo existing LGBTQ protections for 13 million Floridians. All three out legislators—Reps. Shevrin Jones (D - Miami), Carlos Guillermo Smith (D - Orlando), and Jennifer Webb (D - Orlando)--spoke about the bill’s potentially devastating consequences. 

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks at a press conference with Rep. Shevrin Jones and others in opposition to House Bill 3. 

The bill could repeal decades of progress establishing local nondiscrimination ordinances, conversion therapy bans, and more in cities and counties throughout Florida. North Carolina’s similar House Bill 2, which preempted local LGBTQ protections when it passed in 2016, led to more than $600 million in lost revenue for the state due to business boycotts, canceled conventions, and sporting events that moved to places like Orlando that do have such protections. 

Last Thursday, HB 3 passed its second of three House committees on a party-line vote. Reps. Margaret Good (D - Sarasota), Adam Hattersley (D - Brandon), Dianne Hart (D - Tampa), Tina Polsky (D - Boca Raton), and Holly Raschein (R - Key West) all emphasized HB 3’s potentially harmful unintended consequences. An amendment significantly narrowed the bill’s scope but failed to eliminate LGBTQ concerns. Legislators have already reported receiving hundreds of letters opposing HB 3. Advocates continue to call for public pressure to further amend HB 3 until it clearly presents no danger to LGBTQ protections. 

Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders testifies before the House State Affairs Committee on the risks of HB 3.

Last Monday Rep. Raschein advanced an appropriate bill to fund a Pulse National Memorial and Museum (House Bill 3583). The bill passed the committee unanimously, and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the final of its two committees. 

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (House Bill 485/Senate Bill 430 or FCWA) continues to garner unprecedented support, with the most sponsors and cosponsors of any proposed legislation this session. To date, a bipartisan group of 63 legislators--including 5 Republican first-time supporters, and all three out legislators--have signed onto the bill that would establish fully inclusive, comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in housing, employment, and public accommodations. 

Despite this support, securing a hearing for the FCWA is more challenging this session due to a competing nondiscrimination bill that would provideprotections only in the area of employment, and not in housing or public accommodations. The employment-only bill could attract support from legislators who claim to support the LGBTQ community, but in fact would not provide the same protections enjoyed by every other group under the Florida Civil Rights Act. As the comprehensive FCWA approaches the tipping point for passage, this new employment-only bill would exclude the LGBTQ community from equal protections in housing and public accommodation, and none of Florida’s out legislators have signed onto it. 

The third week of Session, which began on Monday, March 18, is already off to a fantastic start, with Representative Nick Duran’s HIV Modernization bill (House Bill 79) passing the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. Advocates with the Florida HIV Justice Coalition provided compelling personal testimony, and the Committee overwhelmingly passed the bill by a 26-3 margin. Florida’s current HIV statutes have not been updated since they were drafted at the height of the epidemic and work against public health. House Bill 79 would bring the law into alignment with current science. The bill has great bipartisan momentum, having now passed two House committees.

Advocates celebrate with Rep. Nick Duran and Rep. Evan Jenne after the HIV Modernization bill passes the House Appropriations Committee on March 18, 2019. (L-R): Jon Harris Maurer, Equality Florida; Angelisa Austin, HIV advocate; Rep. Nick Duran, bill sponsor; Rep. Evan Jenne (D - Hollywood); and Michael Rajner, HIV advocate.

With almost six weeks remaining and so many moving bills that are critical to the LGBTQ population of Florida, there is much to be done. If you are looking for ways to get involved in state policy that matters to the LGBTQ community, please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.