Earlier this week, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, a state agency responsible for addressing civil rights violations and discrimination, confirmed its responsibility to protect Floridians experiencing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
And Florida’s LGBTQ community is celebrating. Equality Florida, an advocacy group, held a virtual town hall over Facebook live on Friday to declare victory and help others understand the statewide implications.
“No matter where you live, from my hometown in the Panhandle to the Keys,” said Nadine Smith, the group’s executive director, “if you experience discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, you can file for protection, for justice — just like anybody else through the civil rights statute.”
She said that, although the work isn’t done, Florida’s LGBTQ community “can take a breath and we can celebrate together.”
For years, the state left it to cities and counties to extend protection to the community, and many did not.
Now, the commission’s declaration means that all members of Florida’s LGBTQ community have a state agency where they can file a complaint if they have been discriminated against.
Joe Saunders, a former Florida House member now the senior political director for Equality Florida, spoke with the Phoenix about the situation in more detail.
“If you experience discrimination in Pensacola — in a restaurant because you and your partner walk in holding hands and you’re told your kind isn’t wanted there — well, now you can go to the Commission on Human Relations and file a complaint,” Saunders said. “Before that, you didn’t have a place to go.”
Smith had referred to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Bostock v. Clayton County, that workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation violates that statute’s proscription against sex discrimination.
Additionally, last month President Joe Biden signed an executive order broadly protecting Americans from discrimination, “no matter who they are or whom they love,” in matters such as housing, education, and job opportunities.
The state commission consequently will accept claims of “sex discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation for investigation in employment and public accommodations complaints,” according to its declaration.
It also will take cases involving housing discrimination due to “non-conformity with gender stereotypes.”
Although the commission has promised to comply with the Bostock ruling and Biden’s order, the activists don’t expect the battle against anti-LGBTQ people to end soon.
“Now we have to defend it,” said Saunders told the Phoenix. “We know that there are forces in this state and in the country that want LGBT people to be invisible — that have tried every single maneuver they can to block access to these protections.”