Florida House, Senate leaders face bipartisan call to support LGBT act

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, January 18, 2018, 8:50 PM EST

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday called on the Republican leaders of the Florida House and Senate to advance legislation that would extend civil rights protections to the state's LGBT community.

  • Florida Competitive Workforce Act to protect LGBT civil rights
  • Act has failed in past legislative sessions
  • Fla. cities/counties have passed own LGBT protections  

The so-called Florida Competitive Workforce Act would expand the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act, which bars denial of employment and housing on the basis of race, sex, nationality and religion, to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well.

The act has failed to pass in past legislative sessions and has yet to receive a hearing in either the House or Senate as the second week of the 2018 session comes to a close. Critics have charged that Florida's civil rights protections are broad enough to cover the vast majority of discriminatory incidents.

"Unfortunately, the civil rights protections that we need for our LGBT community are not on the books, and that's what we're trying to do with this law," the legislation's House sponsor, Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg), said at a Capitol press conference. "We're trying to update our civil rights laws statewide."

While many of the state's marquee companies, including Disney and Raymond James, have emerged as cheerleaders of the act, others have been hesitant to embrace it, pointing to the potential for a flood of litigation brought by LGBT Floridians who have been denied jobs or housing. Their reluctance has effectively raised a red flag before the eyes of Tallahassee's most influential power brokers.

Still, dozens of Florida cities and counties have already passed their own LGBT non-discrimination laws, which now cover 60 percent of the state's population.

"It hasn't been an issue," said Rep. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota). "It hasn't led to widespread abuse or lawsuits, so a lot of the fears on one side is not necessarily relevant because it's already been put in practice."