Legislation that could fight discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida has stagnated, according to state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. Randolph introduced House Bill 361 in an effort provide Florida’s LGBT community with the same protections currently afforded to individuals against unfair treatment based on sex, race, age or disability.

Mallory Wells, public policy director for Equality Florida, acknowledges that the bill her organization helped craft will likely not receive a hearing this year as committee meetings start coming to a close. Instead, the thrust of her work this legislative session has focused on networking with freshman lawmakers, many of whom do not having a working relationship with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

“There are so many new legislators, and many of them have never met with LGBT people to talk about LGBT issues, so this was a year really about educating legislators on why this issue is important, and just really introducing ourselves to many of the new people,” Wells says.

Randolph’s bill, dubbed the “Competitive Workforce Act,” builds on the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the existing statutory language in an effort to broaden the scope of the protections against discrimination in various settings, such as the workplace.

“Florida law currently fails to protect all Floridians against workplace discrimination,” Randolph writes in an email. “We do not include protection for discrimination against individuals based upon sexual orientation, gender identification, etc. Additionally, the Competitive Workforce Act will make Florida a more attractive location for business investments. In a modern marketplace, a fully inclusive anti-discrimination policy allows businesses to be more competitive.”

“In the state of Florida you can be fired for being gay, or you can be denied renting a home because you’re gay, and it happens very often,” Wells says. “People in our community know that it happens but if you ask the average person, ‘Can you be fired for being gay in Florida?’ they would say, ‘Of course not.’”

LGBT groups have been pushing for such legislation for years.

Equality Florida held a workshop on the issue in the Senate Commerce Committee during the 2010 legislative session, outlining the merits of a bill like Randolph’s, not only because it provides equal protection for all Floridians, but because it would spur business development and job creation in the state.

“We call it the ‘Competitive Workforce Act’ because 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation into their non-discrimination policies, and they do it because it’s good for their business,” Wells says. “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it helps their business. It helps them recruit and retain top talent to their company, and when all employees feel valued at work, the output of the company is greater because the employees feel they are all welcome there.”

“We feel that it would help the state of Florida be more competitive in bringing employers to the state,” she adds. “And right now, 55 percent of Floridians already live in a municipality that has protections on the local level. I live in Gainesville, and in the city of Gainesville I’m protected, but as soon as I drive outside the city limits into Alachua County, I’m not. So what this bill does it creates a uniform statewide law, providing protections wherever you live.”

While a slight majority of Floridians currently reside in areas with local protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it is mostly in major population centers. Several counties, such as Leon and Orange, have also recently enacted their own provisions. But universal protection requires a statewide mandate. Wells says that at least 13 other states already have this type of legislation on the books.

Aside from Republican leaders’ refusal to hear his bill, Rep. Randolph says that he and other proponents of the legislation have not heard anything from the GOP on the issue.

“Unfortunately, the Competitive Workforce [Act] was never even put on the agenda for a committee meeting,” Randolph says. “The Republican majority has refused to allow the bill a fair hearing. This far into session, I doubt anything will change. It’s a disappointment to me and the bill’s supporters.”

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