Florida corporations team up to support updating state’s anti-discrimination law

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While we may be just one last court decision away before marriage equality comes to Florida, LGBT activists and their supporters are hoping that next year’s legislative session will also see a change in the Sunshine State’s anti-discrimination statute. Though cities and counties have updated their human rights ordinances to include lesbians, gays, bi-sexual and transgendered people, the fact is that the state of Florida has not.

And though you may think it’s against the law to fire someone for being gay, it’s not in Florida — or in 29 other states.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Monroe County, and state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, have introduced the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA), which would amend Chapter 760 of the Florida State Statutes, which currently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The bill would add protections for more than 536,000 LGBT adults living in Florida.

Today a coalition of state companies calling themselves Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce are uniting behind a campaign called Florida Competes, which will deploy organizers and volunteers to reach supporters in legislative districts across the state.

“While the coalition is engaging major Florida employers and building momentum within the business community, Florida Competes offers individuals an avenue to participate,” said the coalition’s campaign manager Ashley Walker in a press release. “There will be a number of ways people can support the Competitive Workforce Act, including signing our online petition and by contributing their time and resources to this anti-discrimination measure. We want Florida to draw high-paying jobs and top talent. Passage of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act sends the message that we are ready for business, and we do not discriminate in our state.”

There are now 28 municipalities in Florida that have passed anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people. Hillsborough County was one of the most recent, unanimously passing an ordinance to include the LGBT community with other protected classes in connection with employment, public accommodations, real estate transactions and county contracting and procurement.

Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce is a coalition made up of 21 major Florida employers, including: AmericanAirlines Arena, Bilzin Sumberg, C1Bank, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, CSX, Darden, Florida Blue, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Haskell, HSN, Marriott, Miami HEAT, NextEra Energy, On Top of the World Communities, Raymond James, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, Tech Data, University of North Florida, Walt Disney World Resorts, Wells Fargo and Winn Dixie.

The coalition is led by Patrick Geraghty, chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Florida Blue in Jacksonville; John Tonnison, executive vice president and worldwide CIO of Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater; and Philip Dinkins, senior vice president of Cassidy Turley in Tampa.

Bloomberg Business Week reports that in 11 of the 29 states without LGBT protections, governors have issued executive orders or policies that prohibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation — protections that can be a step toward passing broader legislation.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.