Protect LGBT Floridians from bias on the job

Florida lawmakers can take the high road, unlike a majority of voters in Houston, Texas did this week. On Wednesday, voters there rejected an ordinance that would have outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

What seemed like a moral, practical and fair proposition, however, all came down to bathrooms. As in, men who claimed that they were women — transgender pretenders — would be able to enter ladies’ rooms and attack women and girls in them.

Women’s safety is a legitimate concern. But in the case of human-rights ordinances such as Houston’s proposal, it’s also a misplaced concern, one that opponents used to persuade voters to choose fear over fairness — and financial reality.

Florida Busineses for a Competitve Workforce is pushing legislators to broaden the state’s nondiscrimination law. Right now, workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or marital status is illegal. The law does not, however, include sexual orientation or gender identity. But it most definitely should.

In August, Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, filed companion bills to expand the law to include Florida’s LGBT residents.

And Florida Businesses for a Competitve Workforce is taking a savvy approach to enhance the chances that these bills will pass. (During this year’s fractious and truncated session, similar bills didn’t even get a hearing.) Its argument? Expanding the law not only is the right thing to do, it’s good business, too.

As the organization’s campaign manager Patrick Slevin told the Editorial Board during a visit on Wednesday, it’s not about rainbow flags, it’s about just one color — green. That’s why major employers in Florida have formed a coalition that seeks to grow the economy by attracting the best talent to the state, no matter whose it is. The list of businesses is impressive. It includes AT&T, Darden Restaurants, Marriott, Office Depot, Walt Disney, NextEra Energy and Wells Fargo.

But, Mr. Slevin said, Florida loses when there are still parts of the state in which gay and transgender people can be fired, evicted or denied a business’ services for being who they are. And if there’s the risk of discrimination from real-estate agents, mortgage lenders and landlords, then Florida faces the risk that gays and transgender people will locate elsewhere.

According to a report by Equality Means Business released in March, the state loses $362 million a year in productivity and employee turnover because of discriminatory practices. Plus, we, as a nation, have been here before. African Americans legally denied jobs, services, education and so much more because of who they were. Women denied jobs, career advancement, equal pay, not necessarily by law, but by bad habit.

Fortunately, there are fewer such places that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT Floridians. Localities, such as Miami-Dade County, are taking the lead: There are 36 counties and municipalitites that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The human costs of discrimination are more obvious than the hidden costs. Next session, the Legislature can ensure that the state isn’t losing on either count.