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Fla. Dems, Equality Florida say Rick Scott ‘broke promise’ to protect LGBTQ employees

Equality Florida is accusing Gov. Rick Scott of breaking a promise made last year to the organization that he would issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees from discrimination in hiring and contracting.

Now the Florida Democratic Party is piling on.

On June 28, 2016, just 16 days after the deadly attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people, Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith joined Government Affairs Director (now state Rep.) Carlos Guillermo Smith to meet with officials from the Scott administration, asking for an executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

To buttress their argument, the pair were prepared with a hard copy of the executive order Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry signed that January that prohibits discrimination in the city based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The message they received at the time — the administration needed a few weeks, and they would get back to them.

“The caveat was that they asked for two months to investigate the issue further, while they were also noting that they would come back to us if they realized they couldn’t issue the executive order, or if the governor himself was not on board,” says Guillermo Smith.

Two months went by, turning into longer weeks and months over the past year. Every time Equality Florida officials checked back with the governor’s office, they were put off by the latest development, be it the Zika virus, hurricanes, or the upcoming Legislative Session.

“What more do you have to investigate?” Guillermo Smith asked.

Now more than a year later, Equality Florida says they’re done waiting.

“It seems if there was ever a moment for him to issue an executive order, it was then, and by failing to do so, we now want to publicly hold him accountable for not taking meaningful action to protect LGBTQ people in Florida,” says Hannah Willard, Equality Florida public policy director.

Some gay rights activists were pleased with the governor earlier this month. That was after he released a statement proclaiming Monday, June 12th as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” where he acknowledged that the attack was directed at the “LGBTQ and Hispanic” communities, specifics that other high-ranking Republicans in Florida failed to note.

Under his powers as governor, Scott does have the power through the stroke of a pen to provide protections for state employees and for employees of businesses that contract with the state. An executive order wouldn’t go as far as The Florida Competitive Workforce Act, however. That’s the bill that has come before the Legislature every year since 2010 that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“Florida is a state that does not tolerate discrimination of any form,” Scott press secretary Lauren Schenone told FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday.

“In accordance with federal guidelines, Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way,” she said, adding: “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”

Willard says Schenone’s statement seems to indicate that there are already protections on the basis of sexual orientation in Florida.

“It seems to be  an implication that they’re already protections on the basis of sexual orientation in state law which we know is not true, there is no policy, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in his admin, because that would have required that a former governor, issued the executive order that we are asking him to issue, so I think his statement that he released last night further confirmed that his office does not intend to issue his executive order and that he sees no problem with the current state of discrimination in Florida.”

Scott never made a public promise, both sides agree.

Equality Florida officials are saying he intentionally kept the conversations private because they wanted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt. But they’re just over it now.

On Wednesday, the Florida Democratic Party piled on, blasting Scott for his reluctance to issue an executive order.

“In the wake of an unprecedented tragedy, Rick Scott made commitments to protect LGBTQ Floridians in the workplace so they can earn a living without fear of discrimination or losing their job,’ said FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone. “Now Scott is breaking those promises. Rick Scott talks a big game about jobs, but doesn’t seem to care about LGBTQ Floridians trying to make a living.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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