Saying he promised to do something after Pulse and the gay community is still waiting, a congregation of Orlando faith leaders Monday called on Gov. Rick Scott to sign an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in state government.
The Rev. Terri Steed Pierce, senior pastor at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church, which serves Orlando’s LGBTQ community, was joined by other protestant, Roman Catholic, and Muslim faith leaders to urge and even pray for Scott to sign the executive order they said was promised a few weeks after the June 12, 2016, massacre at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub Pulse that killed 49 and wounded 53.
Their call joins those of Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and others at Equality Florida, the state’s leading gay-rights advocacy group, who have grown sharply critical of Scott in recent weeks for not signing an order they said he had pledged.
Scott’s office said the state follows federal guidelines and that state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way.
“Florida is a state that doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any form,” the statement read. “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”
Steed Pierce and the other faith leaders who joined her Monday said that simply acknowledging and adopting federal guidelines was not enough; they wanted to see Scott formalize it with an executive order, showing firm commitment.
“Gov. Scott came to Orlando two days after the Pulse massacre to offer his support to our community. He came to this very place, sat in this very room, a sanctuary created for and by the LGBT community to share his concern with us, and with all of those affected and effected by the hate crime that happened one and half miles from here,” Steed Pierce said. “Gov. Scott was kind and sympathetic. He was shocked to hear about our realities. And upon leaving that day he promised to stay in touch.
“And so the governor continued to call me often to check on our church and this community. He agreed to do whatever he could to help us heal,” she continued. “It’s been over a year now, and the best way we can heal and overcome the loss our community suffered, is to honor the fallen with our action. The time for talking is over. It’s time to do something. Taking action can change things. And we need change within our state.”
Hannah Willard, public policy director for Equality Florida, said Smith and other staff members of that organization met with Scott’s staff in July of 2016, and were told the governor’s office would vet the idea of an executive order to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation within Florida government. Willard said talks were ongoing and started focusing simply on the matter of timing for such an order.
Muslim Imam Abdurrahman Sykes, one of two chaplains assisting when the medical examiner met with families, said Monday that Scott must back up his sympathetic words with actions.
The other speakers Monday included retired Roman Catholic Rev. Rudolph Cleare, the Rev. Bryan Fulwider of the United Church of Christ , and the Rev. Jennifer Stiles Williams of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, who prayed that Scott respond to their call.
“It is disrespectful that after such an event, Gov. Rick Scott’s promise to extend nondiscrimination protection to LGBTQ-plus state employees has not taken place,” Sykes said. “He has the power to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre, an unprecedented tragedy, with action, by recognizing LGBTQ-plus equality in Florida.
“With an executive order, the very stroke of a pen, Gov. Scott can set a new standard of LGBTQ-plus state employees. This executive order would bring dignity to the victims and good will to their families,” Sykes continued. “In addition, it would send the message that hate and bigotry would not be tolerated in the Sunshine State.”