Sad news came last week when it was relayed that a bill making its way through the state House of Representatives aimed at protecting the rights of Florida's LGBT community would not likely receive a hearing this year. The bill seeks to provide such individuals with basic protections against discriminatory practices and unfair treatment in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, age, disability and race.
A key player in the formation of the "Competitive Workforce Act" (House Bill 361) has been an organization by the name of Equality Florida. Their director of public policy, Mallory Wells, informed the news media last week that due to the high number of new lawmakers in their first year of service, the focus of her organization was forced to shift during this legislative session to networking with and educating these individuals on fundamental issues affecting the LGBT community. Wells believes such action was necessary before pushing for specific legislation like the Competitive Workforce Act.
The Competitive Workforce Act builds directly on Florida's Civil Rights Act of 1992, adding LGBT-specific terms to existing statutory language, effectively broadening the scope of influence the act would be able to exhibit. Currently, Florida's Civil Rights Act does not offer specific protections to employees at the state level on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, though Equality Florida aims to change that.
Wells claims that absent the adoption of a bill like the Competitive Workforce Act, those employed in Florida could effectively be fired for being gay. She acknowledges how shocking such a statement may seem to the average Floridian, though says the LGBT community knows this happens all too often.
Wells goes on to mention how 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies protect against sexual orientation discrimination via company policy because they realize it's good for business, both from a talent-attraction/retention standpoint as well as from a customer's standpoint. She says Florida might have an easier time bringing large corporations to the state if we employed a more progressive approach to anti-discrimination legislation at the state level. In these trying economic times, Florida could use all the jobs we can get. 13 other states in the country already employ this state-wide approach to anti-sexual orientation discrimination.
There has been some opposition to put a hearing for the bill on a committee meeting agenda thus far, but supporters of the bill are confident they will gain some traction as new lawmakers are educated on the full impact of such discriminatory practices the Competitive Workforce Act aims to suppress.
Source: The Florida Independent "Randolph bill that would ban discrimination against LGBT Floridians 'never even put on the agenda'" by Brett Ader, 4/14/11