LGBTQ South Florida

LGBT discrimination ban dies in Florida Senate

Young students and professionals march up Ocean Drive as exercise of empowerment for LGBT rights. The marchers were part of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, April 12, 2015.
Young students and professionals march up Ocean Drive as exercise of empowerment for LGBT rights. The marchers were part of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, April 12, 2015. THE MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTO

— A ban on discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Floridians will not become law this year.

The bill (SB 120) would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights laws, protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

It failed on a 5-5 vote Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee before senators briefly resurrected it, giving sponsor Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, one day to salvage the proposal. By Tuesday, no additional senators had signed on, and the committee refused to reconsider the vote.

Still, some supporters are claiming victory for being granted a hearing in the first place. For 10 years, similar bills have been filed, but the tie vote Monday was the first one that has been taken on the issue in the Legislature.

“I think you see the movement changing and just as civil rights generally takes some time to move,” Abruzzo said. “Ultimately, this will not be an issue one day because this will be the law of the land in Florida.”

Opponents raised concerns about male predators posing as transgender people to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Those were among the reasons Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he voted against the bill.

“I think the key is that over the next few months we have a significant conversation about how to address some of the concerns with the legislation as it’s currently drafted,” said Brandes, who represents a swing district that in 2012 supported Barack Obama for president. “I understand where my constituency is on this issue, and I understand that we want a resolution.”

Without the Judiciary Committee’s approval, the bill cannot be heard by the full Senate. A similar House proposal has not been heard in a committee.

Abruzzo said he plans to file the bill again next year.

Among the factors that led to the anti-discrimination bill being heard for the first time this year was strong support from the business community, including Clearwater-based Tech Data.

“We do come out disappointed by the progress, or lack of progress in the last week,” said John Tonnison, Tech Data chief information officer.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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