In a heartening show of unity and economic good sense, 11 major employers in Florida have joined with Equality Florida, the state's leading gay rights group, to push for a state law banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Called the Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, the companies from Walt Disney Resort to Wells Fargo have committed to convincing the Florida Legislature that workplace equality for everyone is not only fair and just, but is also good for Florida's economy. The more diverse the state's workforce, the broader the net is cast for talented and innovative employees.
As Rich Jeffers, communications director for Orlando-based Darden restaurants, told The Herald's Steve Rothaus, We think having a diverse employee base makes us a stronger company. It doesn't make any sense to turn anyone away. The Orlando-based company, owner of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, has long had protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and customers. It recently was awarded a 100 percent score for corporate equality by the Human Rights Campaign, a top U.S. gay-rights group.
Maybe the corporate clout will finally nudge the Legislature into shedding its antiquated view of LGBT issues. For years, gays and lesbians in Florida couldn't adopt children. And they can't marry legally in the Sunshine State, either.
The shibboleths that once made these antiquated policies seem like a good idea have long ago been disproved and discarded throughout much of the country, where polls show that most Americans have positive views about gay marriage and other gay rights. Seventeen states now recognize gay marriage, and four states recognize some form of same-sex union.
But for eight years straight a bill banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity hasn't been heard by a single legislative committee in Tallahassee. That's disgraceful.
Local governments are way ahead of Tallahassee on this equal rights issue. Miami and Miami Beach have laws that ban such discrimination in the workplace, and so do Key West and Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In 1998, the Miami-Dade County Commission included protections for gays and lesbians in its human rights ordinance, which also bans discrimination in housing and public accommodations. But in 2013, a proposal to amend the ordinance to include gender identity and expression died for lack of votes, sad to say. It's authors, Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Audrey Edmonson, and cosponsors Barbara Jordan and Sally Heyman, should keep up the good fight till they win.
Just this month, according to Equality Florida, a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination law passed 4-0 in Alachua County, home to Gainesville. But despite these progressive steps in parts of Florida, the ideal solution is to make these all-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances statewide through legislative action.
The co-sponsors of the anti-discrimination bill, Reps. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and state Sen., Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, see this as not just a fairness issue but also a way to ensure that Florida can attract the most qualified workforce available another way of growing Florida's economy. They're absolutely right, as those 11 major Florida employers in the coalition already know.