Six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex legal throughout the nation, a Baptist Republican lawmaker from Key Largo is charging ahead to extend LGBT rights throughout Florida and even in Australia.
State Rep. Holly Raschein this week filed a bill for the 2016 legislative session that would ban workplace discrimination in Florida on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“At my core, I feel this is the right thing to do,” Raschein told the Miami Herald. “I can be just as conservative as I want to be and still believe in eliminating discrimination of LGBT people.”
Raschein said her proposal, known as the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, will be co-sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Wellington Democrat.
“You can get married in the state of Florida if you are an LGBT person, but you can still get fired. Why would I be sponsoring a bill and putting myself out there if there wasn’t a need?” Raschein said. “I’ve got gay friends, gay colleagues, gay acquaintances. I wouldn’t want to see them discriminated against.”
Statewide LGBT-rights group Equality Florida has long sought passage of the workforce act, which is supported by companies including Darden Restaurants, Florida Blue, Miami Heat, Walt Disney World Resort and Winn-Dixie.
“Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce is a coalition of 34 large employers, including Fortune 500 companies, and more than 400 local businesses that support the measure,” according to an Equality Florida news release. “Florida has made gains at the local level protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Currently, 10 Florida counties and 22 municipalities have local ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination. More than half of all Floridians live in those communities. But with 57 counties still offering no protections, Florida must pass the Competitive Workforce Act.”
Keith Blackburn, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said the workplace act is “way overdue.”
“Recent surveys show that 80 percent of the general population believe it is illegal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our chamber has recently joined forces with Equality Florida to encourage our member businesses to sign a pledge of nondiscrimination,” said Blackburn, who this week is hosting about 800 LGBT business people and allies from around the world at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce convention in Fort Lauderdale.
The workplace act has been proposed in previous legislative sessions, but died in committee.
Raschein said she will work with other conservative Republican lawmakers to make the proposal more palatable to them, including possible exemptions for “any religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society” in the area of employment or public accommodations.
“I’m really thankful to my leadership. It’s been a very open process and they’ve allowed me to work on this issue,” she said. “The speaker, the majority office, they’ve been very open to me. I’m really hopeful for this year.”
Also this week, Raschein wrote to conservative Australian members of Parliament that they support same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth, where the issue currently is being debated.
“As a conservative legislator in the Florida House, I have spent a great deal of time speaking with other legislators about marriage equality and discrimination protections,” Raschein wrote on official legislative letterhead. “Our country was founded on principles of freedom, liberty and equality of opportunity and I believe that these rights should be extended to the LGBT community as well. It is good public policy as well as the right thing to do.”
Raschein, who represents Monroe County, has become a strong LGBT-rights advocate.
“Holly took the lead on this, which is just great,” said Mark Ebenhoch of Key West, a spokesman for Love Is Love, a group formed when Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones successfully sued in 2014 to get married in Florida.
Raschein bristles a bit at the misconception that she could be a conservative lawmaker and still support LGBT rights.
“Yeah, I’m a Baptist. Yeah, I’m a mom,” said Raschein, 34. “That has no impact on doing the right thing.”