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Patrick Geraghty: More support needed to pass state laws against workplace discrimination

With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage for gay couples, Florida leaders have an important decision to make when it comes to our national and international reputation. Will we be a state that embraces equality and fairness or will we be seen as a state that resists progress and shuns diversity?

The Supreme Court has solidified what Florida judges already concluded: gay couples have a right to marry. But the contradiction in Florida is that those same couples may risk being fired for being part of the LGBT community. In 57 of Florida’s 67 counties no local ordinances banning discrimination exist and state law provides no protections at all.

Will Florida’s elected leaders update our state statutes and add sexual orientation and gender identity? The answer to that question will come when the state Legislature prepares for an early session that begins in January. That’s when they will have the chance to move forward on a bill that would finally update our state nondiscrimination statutes and signal that Florida is a welcoming and inclusive state where success is determined by hard work, not held back by legally sanctioned discrimination.

In order for Gov. Rick Scott to continue to sell Florida as a place with the right climate for business, we need to step up our game to make sure our laws reflect the diversity of our state, and recognize that our quality of life and our economic health are linked to being a welcoming environment for everyone. That’s why our coalition, Florida Business for a Competitive Workforce (FBCW), has grown to more than 35 large employers, and more than 400 local businesses to support passage of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

This coalition of businesses is calling on Florida lawmakers to make the Sunshine State a leader by making it a place where gay and transgender people can live, work and visit without fear of discrimination. The coalition is composed of Florida’s major employers, including Fortune 500 companies Darden Restaurants, Disney, CSX, Wells Fargo, Marriott, NextEra Energy, Office Depot and Tech Data. Those corporations, as well as Florida Realtors, and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, support passage of the Competitive Workforce Act. Passing the law simply adds gay and transgender people to those protected under existing statewide anti-discrimination laws related to employment, housing and public accommodations.

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More than half of Florida’s population lives in communities that have sexual orientation and gender identity protections in their local nondiscrimination laws.

With the passage of nondiscrimination laws in Leesburg and Delray Beach a total of 32 municipalities in Florida now offer LGBT protections. Local community leaders should be commended, but in the absence of a statewide law, variations of local non-discrimination laws may leave some business owners confused, especially if they operate in more than one municipality.

During the 2015 Florida Legislative Session, state lawmakers refused to hear the Competitive Workforce Act in committee. But why? Do they fear the political repercussions of supporting or opposing it? They shouldn’t.

State and national polls repeatedly tell us such hypothetical concerns influencing lawmakers are based on fallacies. For example, the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a nationwide survey in June 2015 that found nearly seven in 10 Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. The support is not just coming from liberals and non-religious people. Rather, 65 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of white mainline Protestants favor such laws.

According to an Internet survey of 500 small business owners conducted for Small Business Majority by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the poll found that as many as 8 in 10 small business owners were in support of a federal law to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels and other businesses that are open to the public.

A series of polls obtained by TIME, which surveyed Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, showed that “Nationally, 59% of Republican voters say there should be laws banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations, such as hotel stays or restaurant service. Among Republican millennials—young voters—that number reaches 79% support. Twenty-three percent of Republicans surveyed said they would be more likely to support a candidate who endorses a non-discrimination bill.”

If you believe Florida lawmakers should pass the Competitive Workforce Act, please tell your state lawmaker Florida should no longer lag behind other states by condoning discrimination against LGBT people.

The time is now for the Sunshine State to show it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in the workplace and in housing and public accommodations.

The Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce Coalition is a 501c(4) formed to support the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. For information, go to www.FlCompetitiveWorkforce.com. FBCW leadership includes President Patrick Geraghty, chairman of the board and CEO, Florida Blue. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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