Winning Equality in Florida: A Glass Half Empty or Half Full

Equality Florida (eqfl.org) is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBT community. EQFL recently published a report, “Winning Equality,” which details the progress of LGBT rights in the Sunshine State since EQFL formed in 1997.

 

According to Nadine Smith, EQFL’s Executive Director (and my Bilerico.com colleague), “despite a hostile legislative climate, Florida has made dramatic progress in securing legal protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. . . [“Winning Equality”] documents pro-equality successes in areas of workplace non-discrimination, family recognition, and school safety, while also highlighting that the organization has defeated anti-LGBT legislative efforts in every session over the past 13 years.”

“Winning Equality” is optimistic about the condition of LGBT people in Florida after 8 years of Governor Jeb Bush, 4 years of Governor Charlie Crist, and over a decade of conservative Republican control of the State Legislature.

Highlights of the report include the repeal (2010) of Florida’s anti-gay adoption ban by the Third District Court of Appeals; city and county laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity; laws passed by 11 cities and counties that provide domestic partner benefits; the passage (2008) of Florida’s anti-school bullying law; and a more supportive business climate.

According to the EQFL report, “Florida ranks 4th in the nation in the number of people protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Florida ranks 5th in the nation in the number of people protected from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. And Florida ranks 8th in the nation in the number of LGBT people living in communities that recognize domestic partnerships.”

In other words, as Nadine Smith writes, “Florida now leads the Southeastern United States in passing over 55 local policies outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, banning harassment of LGBT students, and providing domestic partnership benefits to our families.”

The condition of LGBT people in Florida has certainly improved since the turn of the millennium, when the Sunshine State usually appeared on the bottom of lists issued by human rights organization, and Equality Florida deserves much of the credit. But is our human rights glass half empty or half full? Sadly, things are not as rosy as “Winning Equality” would have us believe.

All the human rights and domestic partnership laws that EQFL rightly praise were enacted on the city or county level, in urban areas that are politically liberal or moderate.

The fact is that, while many Florida cities and counties have become LGBT-friendly, the State government in Tallahassee remains socially conservative and homophobic. In fact, the recent election of Rick Scott as Governor, Pam Bondi as Attorney General and other social conservatives to the State Cabinet and the State Legislature guarantees that, on the state level, Florida will be even less supportive of our interests in the years to come.

It is quite likely that Scott and/or Bondi will appeal the District Court’s decision that overturned the anti-adoption law, or that the Legislature will place an initiative on the ballot that, if passed, will amend the Florida Constitution to ban gay adoptions permanently. Other anti-LGBT measures might be introduced by one or more of the Sunshine State’s more extremist legislators.

If a sign of political progress is the election of openly gay legislators, then Florida is sadly behind other states. In fact, Florida is one of only 14 states that have never elected openly LGBT people to the State Legislature or to Congress. Though a few brave candidates tried this year, they were invariably struck down by the anti-progressive “shellacking” that marked the Tea Party election. The fact that all the LGBT candidates were Democrats didn’t help their cause.

In fact, our community’s only electoral victories in 2010 were on the municipal level: Craig Lowe, J.P. Sasser and Gary Resnick were elected or re-elected mayors of Gainesville, Pahokee and Wilton Manors, respectively. Part of the blame goes to the Sunshine State’s incumbent-friendly system of determining legislative or congressional districts (also known as gerrymandering); one that will hopefully be done away with by the passage of the Fair District Amendments.

All this should not be taken to be an attack against Equality Florida, or against the brave, dedicated women and men who make this great organization possible. My thanks and appreciation goes out to EQFL’s staff - Nadine Smith, Stratton Pollitzer, Brian Winfield, Joe Saunders, Mallory Wells, Tobias Packer, Michael Farmer and Ed Lally - as well as to its Board members, interns and contributors.

With leaders like these, our community might be able to withstand the backlash that is sure to come next year. Florida is a wonderful state (with horrible rulers), and a negative political climate will not keep me from enjoying life in the Sunshine State.

Jesse Monteagudo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is a not-quite native Floridian and freelance writer who lives in South Florida with his partner and community members.


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