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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 14, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 33
Conservative Republican introduces Florida LGBT rights bill
Section One
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Conservative Republican introduces Florida LGBT rights bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Florida state Representative Holly Raschein is a Republican and a Southern Baptist, but she is also the prime sponsor of a bill to extend civil rights protections to LGBT Floridians.

Her Florida Competitive Workforce Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the list of 'impermissible grounds for discrimination' along with race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.

'At my core, I feel this is the right thing to do,' Raschein told the Miami Herald. 'I can be just as conservative as I want to be and still believe in eliminating discrimination of LGBT people.'

The measure will be sponsored in the Florida Senate by Democrat Joseph Abruzzo.

'You can get married in the state of Florida if you are an LGBT person, but you can still get fired. Why would I be sponsoring a bill and putting myself out there if there wasn't a need?' Raschein said. 'I've got friends, gay colleagues, gay acquaintances. I wouldn't want to see them discriminated against.'

Raschein represents a South Florida district, which includes Key West, a popular destination for Gay tourists.

'Holly took the lead on this, which is just great,' said Mark Ebenhoch of Key West, a spokesperson for Love Is Love, a group formed when Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones successfully sued in 2014 to get married in Florida.

Similar LGBT rights bills have been proposed in previous legislative sessions, but were killed in committee by Republican opposition.

Raschein said she will work with other conservative Republican lawmakers to make the proposal more palatable to them, including possible exemptions for 'any religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society' in the area of employment or public accommodations.

'I'm really thankful to my [Republican] leadership,' she said. 'It's been a very open process and they've allowed me to work on this issue. The Speaker, the majority office, they've been very open to me. I'm really hopeful for this year.'

Equality Florida, the state's largest LGBT rights group, has been advocating similar legal protections for many years, and has lined up support from major businesses including Darden Restaurants, Florida Blue, Miami Heat, Walt Disney World Resort, and Winn Dixie.

'Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce is a coalition of 34 large employers, including Fortune 500 companies, and more than 400 local businesses that support the measure,' Equality Florida said in a press release. 'Florida has made gains at the local level protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Currently, 10 Florida counties and 22 municipalities have local ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination. More than half of all Floridians live in those communities. But with 57 counties still offering no protections, Florida must pass the Competitive Workforce Act.'

Keith Blackburn, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said protections for LGBT workers is 'way overdue.'

'Recent surveys show that 80 percent of the general population believe it is illegal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,' Blackburn said. 'Our chamber has recently joined forces with Equality Florida to encourage our member businesses to sign a pledge of nondiscrimination.'

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