Expanding Anti-Discrimination Laws To LGBT Community

Expanding Anti-Discrimination Laws To LGBT Community

People who identify as homosexual can legally get married, but they legally can still be fired, kicked out of their homes and refused service for their sexual orientation in Florida.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, filed legislation for the 2016 session to prohibit discrimination against people for sexual orientation or gender identity in areas of education, employment, housing or public accommodations. It includes a provision: “This section shall not limit the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution.”

“This is a great direction for Florida to go, and it’s about making people want to come to Florida,” Raschien said. “This will be good for the economy and good for business.”

The bill, dubbed the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, hasn’t gotten its day in the Legislature yet, even though its been proposed in some form every year since 2007. Each bill has died without a single hearing.

Subcommittees in the House just started meeting last week to prepare for the 2016 session, and the bill has six co-sponsors, including Raschein and state Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota. Last year, the bill had 32 co-sponsors — more than a quarter of the House membership of 120.

Raschien, primary sponsor for the bill last year, said she thinks this year will be different. In past years, the bill was required to pass three committees or subcommittees, and this year the speaker’s office only required it pass two before getting to the House floor.

“I’m feeling really, really good about it this year,” Raschien said. “The momentum behind this keeps growing, and I think the time is right.”

Michelle Richardson, director of public policy with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties

Union, said the religious exemption would only apply to religious institutions, which would be protected by the Constitution regardless of the provision. For example, it protects the right of a Christian church not to hire people who don’t share their beliefs. She said the provision would not apply to private businesses.

“If you’re an employer, you’re not acting as an individual but as a business person,” Richardson said. “So this wouldn’t apply to your individual beliefs.”

Raschien disagreed with Richardson’s assessment, calling the beliefs of private business owners a “gray area” under the bill’s protection.

“I’m not here to tell a small business owner to go against their beliefs,” she said.

The bill has gained widespread support from hundreds of businesses in Florida, including Walt Disney World, Winn-Dixie, Carnival Corp. and the Miami Heat.

No federal law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation so anti-discrimination laws are employed on a patchwork basis depending on state, county or municipality. There are 19 states plus the District of Columbia with laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and another three with laws banning discrimination only based on sexual orientation and not gender identity, according to the ACLU.

“Florida is behind the country on LGBT issues in general,” Richardson said.

Manatee County ordinances ban discrimination when selling or renting property on the basis of race, color, sex, handicap, familial status and religion, but not based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Bradenton also offers no discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

Sarasota banned discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation in 2003, and Sarasota County doesn’t allow discrimination for sexual orientation among its employees but has no ordinance regarding sexual orientation discrimination employment in the county.

Raschien said her experience has been most people support the equality brought by bills such as the Competitive Workforce Act regardless of their party or religious beliefs.

“I don’t see it as a Democrat or Republican issue. If someone is good at their job they shouldn’t be fired based on their sexual orientation,” Raschien said. “And as Republicans, our pillars are liberty and opportunity for all, and this is part of that.”

If you have any questions about discrimination, please contact our Firm: www.LineschFirm.com

Article By: Kate Irby, visit: www.Bradenton.com