Leesburg, Greenacres leaders pass anti-discrimination laws within their cities

By : Jeremy Williams
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Florida cities Leesburg and Greenacres have passed LGBT civil rights ordinances for their communities expanding the number of towns with laws protecting sexual orientation to eleven.

Leesburg City Commissioners passed a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity along with race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, age and sex.

The law, which passed May 26 by a 3-2 vote, is the first in Lake County and will prevent discrimination in the workplace and makes it illegal for a business to refuse service because a customer is gay.

Commissioner Dan Robuck III proposed the ordinance to the council hoping to send the message that Leesburg welcomes everyone to their city.

“We have been elected to the position of power,” said Robuck during the commissioners meeting. “With the authority comes the responsibility to do the right thing for our constituents.”

Robuck was joined by Commissioner Bob Bone and Leesburg Mayor Elise Dennison in voting yes on the law.

“We are doing this because we are proactive. Leesburg is a welcoming place,” Dennison said. “All persons are created equal and this is in our Constitution.”

Commissioners Jay Hurley and John Christian voted against the ordinance. Hurley expressed confusion as to why they were even voting on this as he did not think Leesburg had a discrimination problem.

Leesburg residents turned out to voice their opinions on whether the city commissioners should pass the law.

“[Discrimination] is here, it has happened and I have been a victim of it,” said J. Scott Berry, a Leesburg business owner. “This is about what’s good for the city. You as elected representatives have to make the bold statement to the rest of the county that we will not tolerate discrimination.”

Joseph Poorman of Faith World Church in Leesburg said there is no reason for this law at all.

“People will be mean regardless of what an ordinance or law says,” said Poorman.

Further south, the Greenacres City Council on May 19 voted 6-0 to establish a civil rights ordinance opposing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, genetic information, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, pregnancy, familial status or age.

Greenacres City Councilwoman Paula Bousquet has been working on diversity issues for several years.

“In this ever-changing political climate, it was important for Greenacres to demonstrate our continuing commitment to our residents and employees by codifying and expanding our laws and policies,” said Bousquet.

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Board Member Meredith Ockman spoke to the Rainbow Times rejoicing in the council’s decision.

“The Greenacres City Council made the city a safer and more welcoming place for LGBT people to open businesses, buy homes and simply be ourselves,” Ockman said. “The city’s leaders made it clear that everyone is valued for the diversity they bring to Greenacres.”

County and municipal leaders continue to push for local ordinances since the Florida Competitive Workforce Act has yet to find any traction in the Florida House or Senate.

The Workforce Act, originally introduced by then State Rep. Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) in 2013, would be a statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity providing protection in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“While the nation is rapidly moving forward on recognizing lesbian and gay relationships, Florida still lacks any statewide laws providing equal protection to LGBT Floridians,” Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, said in an interview with the Rainbow Times. “Until the Florida Legislature take action, local LGBT advocacy rights organizations must continue to work with local leaders to protect our community from discrimination.”

Leesburg and Greenacres join Orlando, Tampa, Gulfport, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Gainesville, Key West and Miami Beach as Florida cities with civil rights protections that include sexual orientation.

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