"Boca Bigots Run City Hall" Campaign Back in Action; Activists Say City Won't Extend Protection to Gays
Although it's been quiet recently, the fight pitting Boca Raton against gay-rights activists is about to crank back up. Rand Hoch -- president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council -- says his group is tired of waiting.
Since last fall, activists have been trying to nudge the city into the 21st Century by extending the language of equal employment opportunity policy to include sexual orientation. As it stands, Boca is in compliance with state and federal guidelines, but in January 2011, the City Council voluntarily peeled back an additional level of county policy protecting gays.
Hoch has been pushing to understand why. After months of ice out from city hall, he says his group is going to relaunch its "Boca Bigots Run City Hall" campaign.
This is a pretty big reversal. After initially reporting the dust-up in January, we checked back with Hoch periodically. The city eventually handed the matter over to the Community Relations Board, and Hoch had positive conversations with council members about resolving the issue.
But those tentative steps didn't add up to momentum. The board's suggestions never landed with the council. Nothing got done. City staffers seem pretty intransigent about not altering the language of Boca's policies, at least if a March 7 letter from Assistant City Manager Michael Woika to the community relations board is any indicator.
The document basically says that Hoch is pedaling "inaccuracies, misstatements, and characterizations" and that the city's policy is perfectly good at blocking potential discrimination of all stripes. (The city manager didn't return our call for comment.)
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"The City has long had a zero tolerance police towards employee discrimination, and there has not been a single EEO discrimination complaint against the City due to sexual orientation or sexual identity or expression," the letter reads, the bold lacquered on there in the original.
Hoch fired back with his own letter on March 14, pointing out that there in fact had been a complaint filed by an employee -- about comments made in the media by city staffers comparing sexual orientation to pet ownership.
So now that the pissing match seems to be back on, Hoch says his board has voted to reinstate the campaign. They're still hashing out the form their political action will take. Last time, they kicked around the idea of hiring a plane to fly over the city on Martin Luther King Day trailing a banner about Boca's bigotry.
Hoch is also turning up the heat on the public records requests he's dumped on City Hall since the issue first came to light. He's says he's been stymied so far and recently put in a call to the state attorney's public integrity unit to complain.
"All they seem to want to turn over are emails, and we're asking for legal research, how they got to the conclusion," he tells New Times. "It's very difficult for me to believe that some day someone walked into an office and said here's an ordinance."
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