(Mirror)The oldest Florida gay rights law – the Palm Beach County Fair Housing Act protecting gays from housing discrimination – recently hit a milestone.
The ordinance was voted into law in 1990 and recently marked its 30th year on the books Jan. 17.
Rand Hoch was involved from the start in getting it passed.
He also carries the distinction of having been Florida’s first openly gay judge. Hoch is also the founder and president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
“Florida has always been slower than a lot of states when it comes to gay rights,” Hoch said.
He recalls that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, equal rights initiatives had begun to take hold in cities like New York, where gays and other marginalized groups demanded to be treated like everyone else.
In 1977, the (then) Dade County Commission passed a gay rights ordinance, making Miami the 40th U.S. city to do so.
Its passage prompted a crusade by anti-gay rights activist Anita Bryant, who called for a referendum to repeal the ordinance.
“It was an ugly campaign,” Hoch said. “Portraying gay people as pedophiles, it was frightening.”
Bryant got her wish later in the year when the referendum passed by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
Hoch said it had a demoralizing effect on the gay rights movement.
“It took until the late 1980s for anyone to even try to get something done,” he said. “She did such a number on the minds of Floridians, even in relatively progressive Miami.”
In the late 1980s, Congress made changes to the federal Fair Housing Act for people 55-and-older to accommodate “adult-only” communities.
“That opened a door, because every place that had fair housing laws that didn’t protect those 55-and-over now had to do it,” Hoch said.
Hoch, who was an attorney, saw a unique opportunity to be leveraged.
“We figured we could get the words ‘sexual orientation’ added [to the Palm Beach County Fair Housing Act] to cover LGBTQ,” he said. “In reality, we got sexual orientation defined as ‘homosexuality and bisexuality.’”
Life of action
Hoch had founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council in 1988 with Jim Swope in the midst of the campaign for the new law. The group helped do much of the organizing in the run-up to the 1990 hearing.
It remains very active today, recently launching a gender-neutral restroom initiative in West Palm Beach.
Hoch, who has vast political and civic experience, grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Florida in 1978.
He was a real estate broker before he went to Stetson University College of Law to be “near a gay beach” in St. Petersburg.
Hoch himself said he’d been discriminated against in 1984 for being gay. He was employed by an undisclosed law firm at the time. The experience was part of what motivated him to get the law changed in Palm Beach County.
Hoch had come out to his employer to let them know if there were functions where spouses were invited, he’d like to bring a date if he had one. He said he’d assumed it was OK to be gay at the firm.
But a series of events made it clear that the firm thought his sexuality would be more trouble than it was worth.
Hoch went on to practice real estate law, labor law and unemployment law, representing unions and workers.
In 1992, he became Florida’s first openly gay judge. He did one judicial term in Daytona, representing Volusia, Seminole and Flagler counties.
For more on the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, go to PBCHRC.org.