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Legislative Preview 2019, Part 2: "She's Always Scared of Losing her Job," How Two Bills Could Change the Experience of the LGBTQ Workforce

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

This story is part of Legislative Preview 2019, a special series airing this week on 90.7 WMFE.  Learn more >>

In Florida, there’s no statewide law that protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination. Many cities and counties have their own anti-discrimination ordinances, but there are still thousands of LGBTQ Floridians who don’t have legal protection against discrimination. As part of 90.7’s legislative preview series, Danielle Prieur reports on a couple of bills working their way through session that could change that.

It’s a Thursday night in Deland and members of Collective Cares-a support group for LGBTQ people-are talking about the discrimination they’ve faced in the workforce.

Cristina Bay’s partner Corrie is a transgender woman who has a job at an inclusive company. But Bay’s worried about what might happen if Corrie loses that job.

“Legally she’s male so she has to put that on her paperwork. So to go to an interview as a woman would be really difficult for her."

Bay says this has been weighing heavily on her since Corrie’s manager told her she hasn’t been “pulling her weight” at work.

“She might feel that she’s being discriminated against by her manager. But I don’t think so because her manager was the first person she came out to at work. She seems supportive. But there’s always going to be that is this because of this in the back of her head.”

Florida is one of 26 states that doesn’t offer statewide workplace protections for LGBTQ employees. State workers who are LGBTQ aren’t protected either. They were left off Governor Ron DeSantis’s workplace anti-discrimination order. There’s little legal recourse for Corrie and other workers like her unless they can make a case for sex discrimination.

Tony Lima-director of the Miami LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE-says city and county-wide ordinances protect these workers in 60 percent of the state, but there are still thousands without legal protection.

“We still have young people that are being discriminated against. People at all levels of life being discriminated against simply for being who they are.”

There’s legislation in both the Senate and the House that could change this. One of these bills introduced by Republican Senator Joe Gruters of Sarasota is The Florida Inclusive Workforce Act. It would amend the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 to add protections based on a worker’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

But some advocates think that bill doesn’t go far enough. Jon Harris Maurer with Equality Florida wants protections for LGBTQ workers in all aspects of their lives.

“That’s not just saying that you won’t be fired or won’t be denied a promotion because of who you are or who you love. You’ve also got to be able to rent or buy a house if you’re relocating to Florida. You’ve got to be able to be served at a restaurant.”

Democratic Senator Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg introduced the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. It extends protections to cover fair treatment in housing and other public services.

Democratic Representative Jennifer Webb of Tampa sponsored the companion bill in the House. She says even though this legislation hasn’t moved past committee the past ten years, it’s still played an important role: changing the conversation about LGBTQ rights.

“And every time that we have conversations in the Capitol about the Civil Rights Act of 1992 and expanding it to include the LGBTQ community we make it safer for trans kids, and lesbians, and bisexuals, and gay individuals across our state.”

Still conservative groups like John Stemberger’s Florida Family Policy Council continue to oppose both bills.

“They violate constitutional rights of free speech and free association. They create a weapon to punish Christians. They create a lawsuit for disgruntled employees to sue employers and they’re just not needed.”

Neither bill applies to hiring or firing practices at religious institutions like schools and fraternal associations.

Back at Collective Cares, Cristina Bay says these protections are needed for her partner Corrie and people like her.

“I’m a manager so my job is probably going to be there. But she doesn’t have that kind of position. She’s always scared of losing her job.”
If you'd like to listen to the full story, please click on the clip above.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.
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