Monday, March 30, 2009

Record Number Sponsor Florida Gay Rights Bills

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council:

Forty Florida legislators are working to enact a statewide law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

At the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, state senator Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) and state representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) have introduced legislation (SB 2012/HB 397) to expand the protected classes in both the Florida Civil Rights Act and Florida's Fair Housing Act.

The Council is a non-profit organization that has been in the forefront of Florida's gay rights movement since 1988.

"For the first time in history, 25 percent of our state lawmakers are on record supporting legislation to ensure that gay, lesbian and transgender individuals have the same rights as all other Floridians," said Council president Rand Hoch.

Earlier this year, Deutch enlisted seven of his colleagues in the Florida Senate to co-sponsor his bill. He is also working closely with Senate President Jeff Atwater ( R-North Palm Beach), who has pleaded to help move the Senate bill forward this session. The bill is assigned to the Commerce Committee, which last year overwhelmingly supported the Deutch bill by a vote of 7-1.

"Hardworking Floridians should not be fired from their jobs just because they are gay," said Deutch.

In the Florida House of Representatives, Skidmore has secured the co-sponsorships of 31 lawmakers for her bill (HB 397).

"All Floridians should have the opportunity to earn a living and provide for their families without fear of being unfairly fired or denied housing for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance or their ability to maintain their homes," said Skidmore."The time has come for Florida to join the twenty other states which protect gay and lesbian employees from being unfairly fired."

The Skidmore bill has yet to be assigned to committee by the House leadership.

"Unlike Senator Atwater, Speaker of the House Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) does not yet understand the urgency of this legislation," said Hoch.

Republican Governor Charlie Crist, a strong advocate for civil rights, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill when it gets to his desk.

Since 1990, seven counties and ten cities in Florida have amended their fair employment and housing laws to cover sexual orientation, and/or gender identity or expression. Such laws are in effect in Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, as well as in the cities of Gulfport, Gainesville, Key West, Lake Worth, Miami Beach, Orlando, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

"We need a statewide law," said Hoch. "Well over half of all Floridians who face this type of discrimination have no legal recourse. Where you live and work in Florida should not determine your civil rights."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted fair employment and housing laws covering sexual orientation. The most recent thirteen of these states to enact such laws and the District of Columbia also have included gender identity or expression.

As a result of these laws, 52% of the U.S. population now lives in
jurisdictions protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination. Thirty-nine percent of the U.S. population now lives in jurisdictions that also protect individuals based on their gender identity and/or expression.

All seven states whose civil rights laws include only sexual orientation are considering legislation this year to add gender identity or expression.

In addition to Florida, fifteen other state legislatures are considering bills to add both sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression to their civil rights laws.

Polling data for the past thirty years has consistently shown that
Americans believe gays and lesbians should have equal rights in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

In May 2008, a poll was conducted of more than 1,000 voters across the state. When asked whether homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else to housing, job opportunities and public accommodations, 89% responded "yes."

Political party identification had little statistical impact on the results. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans, 90% of Democrats and 93% of Independents all support equal rights for gay and lesbian Floridians.

Age and gender also have no impact on support of equal rights. 88% of Florida voters 55 and over support equal rights for gay men and lesbians, as do 90% under age 55. Similarly, 90% of women and 88% of men are supportive.

Floridians' sense of fairness is mirrored across America. According to nationwide polls conducted annually for the past quarter-century by the Gallup Organization, 89% of all Americans 18 years or older believe that gay men and lesbians should have equal employment rights. This percentage has been constant since 2004.

More than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies have written policies prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and a quarter of them also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Joining Deutch as co-sponsors of the civil rights bill are state senators Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach), Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersbeurg), Nan Rich (D-Weston), Jeremy Ring (D-Margate), Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Eleanor Sobel (D-Hallandale Beach).

The thirty co-sponsors of Skidmore's bill include Representatives Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington), Mary Brandenburg (D-West Palm Beach), Ronald Brisé (D-North Miami), Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), Chuck Chestnut (D-Gainesville), Gwyn Clarke-Reed (D-Deerfield Beach), Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota), Luis Garcia (D-Miami Beach), Joe Gibbons (D-Hallandale Beach), Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville), Bill Heller (D-St. Petersburg) Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach), Marty Kiar (D-Davie), Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg), Janet Long (D-Seminole), Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach), Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs), Kevin Rader (D-Delray Beach), Scott Randolph (D-Orlando), Betty Reed (D-Tampa), Michelle Rehnwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee), Yolly Roberson (D-Miami), Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach), Franklin Sands (D-Weston), Ron Saunders (D-Key West), Elaine Schwartz (D-Hollywood), Darren Soto (D-Orlando), Richard Steinberg (D-Miami Beach), Priscilla Taylor (D-West Palm Beach) and Jim Waldman (D-Coconut Creek).

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