Rick Scott Can Redeem Himself by Helping LGBTs Fight Employment Discrimination

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi staked a sizable chunk of her political career on trying to ensure that same-sex couples were never allowed to marry.

The "promotion of family continuity and stability is a legitimate state interest," Bondi once wrote in a legal brief. Translated from Bondi-speak, she was just implying that same-sex parents aren't fit to have children. She's also argued that the state does not need to pay lawyers who defend plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases. But Bondi's longstanding stance on gay rights didn't stop her from declaring herself a "fierce defender of the LGBT community" in the wake of this month's shooting at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed. It also took Gov. Rick Scott 48 hours to use the words "gay" or "LGBT" at all.

Those facts are inexcusable. But Rand Hoch, founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which fights to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity in Florida, says Scott's administration can do more than pray to help the state's LGBT community heal: He can instead right a long-standing wrong by passing laws to protect LGBT people from job discrimination.

Hoch said that in the past, his group sent Scott's administration two letters asking the governor to sign an executive order banning LGBT employment discrimination in state jobs and contracting. Hoch says he didn't hear back either time. But in the wake of Orlando, Hoch is now pounding on the governor's door a third time, begging him to award LGBT people the most basic of civil rights. And to even give him the courtesy of responding to his letter.

"I didn’t think it was going to be difficult," Hoch said. "When Scott got in, we sent a letter to his transition team. But we never heard back." Then, on Scott's first day in office, the governor signed an anti-job-discrimination ordinance into law — it just didn't include anything about LGBT people, or, oddly, disabled people, either.

Orlando, Hoch said, "opened the door for our request.  As soon as we saw him understanding the bigger issue, we thought, 'Let’s see what we can do.'" Hoch has even written the order out for Scott, using the existing law he signed on Day One of his term. All he'd need to do now is sign the new one.

But Scott isn't alone in his silence. Hoch said his group sent former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist exactly 12 letters during his tenure. Crist, he says, did not bother to respond once.

"There were rumors that he might be gay, and so a lot of times when you have those type of rumors out there, you want to ignore doing anything," Hoch said. "But that was before he got booted out of the Republican Party. I think if Charlie Crist were governor, he'd clearly issue an executive order now."

Nationally, 32 states do not have ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, though Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have enacted discrimination bans at the county level.

"I'd be thrilled to have someone like Pam Bondi or Rick Scott or some other Republicans say it's important to include LGBT people," Hoch said. "Now is your chance to back up your words with some action — to prove that LGBT people are part of this community."

But, he says, he'd be stunned if Bondi professed she'd had a true "change of heart" when it comes to gay  people.

"Evolution does happen," he said. "But it’s really hard. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was fighting not to pay the attorneys who won in federal court. It'd be a quick turnaround."

We've asked Rick Scott's office straight-up why he hasn't taken action on this. We still await the governor's reply.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli