Activists press for non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers in Florida, U.S.

As national activists pressure two Florida congressmen to support a federal LGBT workplace non-discrimination law, the state's leading gay-rights group said Thursday "no one should have to live in fear" of being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Of an estimated 536,000 LGBT adults in Florida, 62 percent legally can be fired based on their gender identity and half can be fired for their sexual orientations, according to a year-long workplace study released Thursday by Equality Florida and the Equality Federation Institute.

“The research really underscores how important it is for Florida to have fully inclusive non-discrimination laws statewide,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said.

All South Florida counties have human-rights ordinances in place that protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals from workplace discrimination. Miami-Dade County does not provide gender identity and expression protections.

“Local ordinances matter a great deal right now. Local ordinances are the only protection people have from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Smith said. “In the state of Florida, the LGBT community relies on local policies because there are no state policies. And the places where these are needed the most are often the most reluctant to pass the protections.”

Smith said many businesses have taken the lead and enacted their own non-discrimination policies. Fourteen of Florida’s 16 Fortune 500 companies have LGBT non-discrimination policies, according to the report.

Earlier this week, the White House announced President Barack Obama would sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

National gay activist groups including Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Freedom to Work are seeking passage of the LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). So far, ENDA has 205 Congressional co-sponsors, 11 from Florida including one Republican: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

Freedom to Work this week launched the 218 Project, which seeks 218 ENDA Democratic and GOP co-sponsors. They’ve targeted Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and David Jolly of Southwest Florida.

"I know that Rep. Diaz-Balart has been hearing from many constituents calling for LGBT workplace protections, and we hope the 218 Project will add even more voices to strong call for Rep. Diaz-Balart to become an ENDA co-sponsor," said Christian Berle, Freedom to Work’s legislative director.

Voters elected Jolly to the House in March, after the death of incumbent Bill Young.

"As the newest member of Congress, Rep. Jolly is in a prime position to represent the growing majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, who support LGBT workplace protections," Berle said.

A Jolly spokesman on Thursday said the congressman is undecided about ENDA.

Diaz-Balart’s press secretary, Katrina Valdes, said he had “not thoroughly reviewed the bill.”

“Should it come up for a vote, he will make a decision then,” Valdes said in an email.