Written By: Gina Duncan, Transgender Inclusion Director
The past few weeks have been extraordinarily hectic with state and local policy battles.
In Tallahassee, our LGBT nondiscrimination bill known as the Florida Competitive Workforce Act finally got a hearing. This was a historic breakthrough as Florida became the first Southern state to get a hearing on a bill that affirmed LGBT rights. Unfortunately, the bill deadlocked 5-5 and despite a glimmer of hope, we never got a second vote to break the tie. So the bad news is the bill is dead. The good news is we found bipartisan support and a willingness to work with us to shape the bill to ensure the entire LGBT community is covered.
Equality Florida has let Senators on both sides of the aisle know we will actively oppose any bill that does not properly protect the Transgender community as vigorously as it does sexual orientation and every other category currently in our state’s civil rights statute.
The death of the bill in the Senate means we did not have an opportunity to speak on any amendments including two we find unacceptable: 1) language that would exempt privately owned businesses and all non-profits. and 2) a definition of Gender Identity that would require evidence of “medical history, care or treatment”. No other protected class is required to prove their status and this definition would exclude gender nonconforming, young transgender people, and many transmen. We are grateful to our legal team, particularly the ACLU, for their rapid response in helping us craft amendments to fix the unacceptable language.
The House version of the bill also will not move this year so this closes the possibility of passage this year.
Even in our disappointment it is worth noting that had we cleared this contentious committee, the next committee to hear our bill would have been one where we had a majority. And for the first time in Florida, we were able to speak as transgender people on our own behalf in a Senate hearing on behalf of positive legislation.
We have more work to do between now and next session. Perhaps the ugliest aspect of the hearing was the focus by our opponents on gym changing facilities and the implication that transgender protections assist sexual predators. We must increase the engagement and visibility of the transgender community, we must educate elected leaders, we must leverage recent EEOC decisions that provide important new protections for our community. And, in this crucial election year, we must hold elected leaders accountable.
We will continue to push local Human Rights Ordinances and we will live to fight again for a statewide nondiscrimination law in the next legislative session, with even more bipartisan support and increased awareness and education of our lawmakers. Our business partners are standing with us. Faith voices are growing in support and we are resolved that we move together as a community, leaving no one behind.
As you know, we were also deeply invested in passing a fully inclusive HRO in Palm Bay, but were outgunned by the mobilization of misguided faith based organizations and a biased Mayor and City Council. But in Palm Bay, as in the state legislature, progress was achieved. We started a dialog which is galvanizing the Brevard LGBT community. Progressive candidates are signing up to run against our foes on the City Council and the media has been supportive in reporting the truth about the “transgender bathroom predator myth.” We have just begun our campaign in Brevard, and we will be engaging local leaders from business, clergy and the media to support our efforts. You can’t win if you don’t fight.
Also in Brevard County, we are encouraged that the Brevard County School Board is moving forward with adopting LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies and procedures. This has been two years in the making and Equality Florida is proud to support our local advocates in Brevard working so hard to achieve social equality for all Brevardians.
We are delayed but not defeated. Onward Equality!