Metro Weekly – By John Riley
Osceola County, Fla. – Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this week to approve a comprehensive Human Rights ordinance that provides protections for people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The bipartisan vote makes Osceola County the eleventh county in the state to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Thirty-two other jurisdictions, including a number of municipalities, have enacted similar legislation, including Leon, Alachua, Volusia, Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. A twelfth county, Sarasota, has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination only on the basis of sexual orientation.
“It’s a way of Osceola County becoming more inclusive and allowing greater opportunities for people who already live here or who want to live in a diverse community,” Osceola County Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington (D) said in a statement. “Aside from being the fair and just thing to do, this sends a message about our level of commitment to grow and attract the top level of workforce talent that is imperative for Osceola’s economic success.”
“We had a duty to our residents to step up in the absence of a statewide law,” said Commissioner Viviana Janer. “The Declaration of Independence states that ‘All Men Are Created Equal,’ and the 14th Amendment states that any person under its jurisdiction has ‘Equal Protection of the Laws.’ It is my humble opinion that all men refers to all human beings. I am proud to bring forward this human rights ordinance which outlines that here in Osceola County we are inclusive, that all are welcome and that all our citizens deserve the same treatment under the law.”
It is that absence of a statewide law referenced by Janer that has led the various counties and municipalities within Florida to chart their own course. Equality Florida, the state’s top LGBT organization, has long been fighting to pass similar legislation at the state level, but lawmakers in Tallahassee have consistently rejected any pro-LGBT measures.
In an email sent to supporters prior to the vote, Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, urged LGBT activists and allies to lobby their commissioners to support passage of the ordinance, saying, “Right now, 32 places in Florida have already passed similar ordinances — it’s time for Osceola to do the same!” The ordinance’s approval means that 56 percent of all Floridians now live in a jurisdiction with comprehensive LGBT protections.
The Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce coalition, which consists of various groups advocating for Florida to pass statewide nondiscrimination protections, praised the vote in Osceola County and again voiced support a bill, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would update Florida’s existing nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The coalition believes that passing such a law will entice major corporations to relocate to Florida and make it easier for them to attract and retain talent.
“Thirty-three Florida counties and municipalities now offer anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, allowing for residents to live and work without fear of being fired,” Patrick Slevin, campaign manager for the Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce coalition, said in a statement. “The time is now for the Sunshine State to pass statewide legislation so all LGBT Floridians are protected, which is why 34 large employers and more than 400 local businesses have signed onto a petition supporting the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.”