Relations between the LGBTQ community and the Rick Scott administration were rocky, to say the least, over the past eight years. Will it be any different in the Ron DeSantis era?
The question really didn’t come up during debates or on the campaign trail this fall.
But the issue is now coming to the forefront on just the second day of DeSantis’s term.
Just hours after he was sworn in as governor on Tuesday, the GOP governor issued an executive order stating that it is the policy of his administration to prohibit discrimination in employment based on age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status or disability.
Missing from the list: Any mention of protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
That sparked almost immediate concern with Democrats.
“The fact that on Day One the governor conspicuously omits protections that are in our law already…for state workers and contractors. How soon are you going to fix this?” asked Miami Senate Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez at a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. “You can fix this, this afternoon.”
“Not only does it not include LGBTQ people based on sexuality, but it also lists ‘man and women,’ so it’s not even inclusive to the transgender community,” said Orlando House Democrat Anna Eskamani. “It’s problematic.”
“We are deeply disappointed,” added Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director with the non-profit advocacy group Equality Florida. “We intend to reach out to the governor’s office to understand why our community was omitted from these protections and understand what Gov. DeSantis will commit to ensure non-discrimination protections for all Floridians, including LGBTQ Floridians.”
Equality Florida has been calling for protections for LGBTQ state employees ever since the Pulse shooting in the summer of 2016, where 49 people were gunned down in the gay Orlando nightclub.
The nonprofit maintained that then-Governor Rick Scott committed to establishing those protections in the weeks after the tragedy, but then broke that promise.
That led the group to file a petition with the Florida Department of Management Services in October, requesting that the agency craft a rule that prohibits such discrimination against state workers.
That never happened.
Meanwhile, newly elected Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Michigan have signed executive orders this week banning discrimination against the LGBTQ and transgendered communities, and outgoing Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio did so as well last month.
Governor DeSantis’ office did not respond for comment.
But LGBTQ issues of all kinds are not going away, and they impact all generations, from adults to kids in Florida.
For example, a new report reveals a troubling pattern for LGBTQ middle and high school students, saying that the vast majority of those kids regularly hear anti-LGBTQ remarks, even from school staffers.
DeSantis may have to weigh in on LGBTQ issues as early as the spring Legislative session.
For example, Democrats on Wednesday proposed legislation that would repeal the state’s outdated statute banning same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land in Florida for over four years now, ever since a federal judge issued an order affirming a 2014 legal decision that Florida’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Several months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage throughout the country. Yet, Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1997 remains on the books.
Legislation is now being introduced by Eskamani and Hillsborough County Democrat Adam Hattersley in the House, and Fort Lauderdale Democrat Gary Farmer and Javier Rodriguez in the state Senate that would repeal that law.
“As Governor DeSantis stated yesterday during his inaugural address, the people loan power to the government, in order to protect our rights. Government’s role is not to run our lives,” said Hattersley. “And I can’t think of a more fundamental path on the right to the pursuit of happiness than the freedom to choose who you love.”
“The time has come to do away with a law that was passed in 1997 and has been ruled unconstitutional by both state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Farmer.
“The Defense of Marriage Act remains on our books as a reminder of the discrimination and daily indignities that LGBTQ Floridians have faced for years.”
The federal Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law by then president Bill Clinton in 1996, while the Florida law was signed by then Gov. Lawton Chiles the following year – both men were Democrats.
Lawmakers said progress has evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage, and they compared it to past history on civil rights legislation.
“Why did former presidents and governors sign on to segregation of schools?” responded Tampa Democratic state Senator Janet Cruz, who proudly calls herself the mother of a gay daughter. “It was a time, and they recognized their wrongs, and they took action to make our country a better country.”
On another LGBTQ issue, Jon Harris Mauer with Equality Florida believes the time is right for the Legislature this year to pass another priority for his group – the Competitive Workforce Act.
That’s the bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of groups that cannot be discriminated against.
It’s been proposed every year in the Legislature this decade, and continues to pick up more co-sponsors and support from the business community, but has failed to get through various committees and on to the floor for a final vote.
“It’s got tremendous bipartisan support in both chambers,” Harris Mauer said.
But time will tell if it has support for the executive branch, meaning Gov. DeSantis.