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Bipartisan Support for Fla. Anti-Discrimination Measure

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Apr 9, 2008
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An inclusive non-discrimination bill in the Fla. legislature has received such strong bipartisan support that it has passed the state’s Senate.

The bill, which would extend the state’s fair housing laws and non-discrimination statutes to cover GLB people. As state law currently stands, discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability is prohibited; however, while some counties do afford anti-discrimination laws that protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, there is as yet no state-wide law to that effect.

A Mar. 27 press release from the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which was run on Steve Rothaus’ blog at the Miami Herald, quoted the Council’s president, retired judge Rand Hoch, who said, "For the first time in Florida’s history, thirty-seven legislators are seeking to insure that gay men and lesbians living and working in our state be afforded the same rights as all other Floridians."

The release said that the Council is "a non-profit organization which has been in the forefront of Florida’s gay rights movement since 1988."

Subsequent to the press release, Republican state lawmaker Jeff Atwater, who is the President-designate of the Senate, joined the ranks of lawmakers pressing for the expanded law and has been credited with helping the measure clear a Senate committee on Apr. 8, with a vote of 7-1. Four Republicans and three Democrats gave their vote to the measure, according to an Apr. 8 article in the Palm Beach Sentinel.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Sen. Ted Deutch, whom the press release quoted as saying, "Florida should now join the twenty states which have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Atwater became a co-sponsor and helped convince other Republicans on the committee to give it their support.

Despite the support of 37 lawmakers in the Senate at large who had lent their support, the measure seemed on the verge of stalling, according to the Sentinel article.

But Atwater made the difference, the Sentinel said. The article quoted the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council’s vice president, Deidre Newton as saying in a statement that efforts to advance the bill "reached a tipping point last week when Sen. Atwater became a co-sponsor."

The Sentinel article reported that the Council’s take on the matter is that even with the current victory in hand, it will take until at least 2009 to see the measure sent to the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist, because the measure has yet to be introduced to the House.

Crist supports civil rights but as yet has not indicated whether he would sign any such legislation.

Meantime, a similar measure has been brought to the House floor by Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore, in which not only GLB people would be protected from discrimination, but transgendered people, too, would be included.

The press release included a quote from Skidmore: "The time has come to update Florida’s anti-discrimination laws to ensure that discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is prevented."

The press release cited a Gallup poll from May, 2007 that indicated that, taking into account the 20 states that offer inclusive anti-discrimination legislation, together with county and municipal regulations offering the same protections, 52% of the American population live in areas where GLB and GLBT people are protected from discrimination.

To the proponents of more inclusive protections in Fla., that’s a good starting point but not enough in itself. Said Hoch, "Where you live in America should not determine your civil rights."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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