Take action! Osceola County to consider living wage ordinance on Monday

By : Billy Manes
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Perhaps we should blame Hollywood and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for the false pretense of queer pageantry, but that tired stereotype that gays and lesbians sip cosmos and casually ponder how to spend their vast sums of disposable income masks some harsh realities.

The truth, as UCLA’s Williams Institute pointed out last year, is that more than 20 percent of LGBT adults rely on food stamps, and twice as many report being food insecure, compared to the nation as a whole. We’re not all taking long walks down far-thrown beaches waiting for our next disposable purchase. We’re talking just getting by and serving people turkey legs. In Osceola County, an MIT study concluded, the living wage for one adult with one child is $22.92 an hour. The inequities are clear.

These are the same ugly poverty numbers you see in the poorest pockets of America: you know, the ones which are too often mostly Hispanic or black.

Which is why what the Osceola County Commission is about to do Monday, Sept. 21 is so crucial to the LGBT community. Members on that board want to pass a Living Wage Ordinance to require all their employees and the workers at companies they do business with to make a more livable wage. The most liberal of proposals would see the living wage rise to $15 by 2020, which doesn’t seem so severe in context.

Now the lone Republican on that board, Commissioner Fred Hawkins, will get all his high-paid Chamber of Commerce drinking buddies to smirk at this plan for the working poor, because that’s what Chambers do.

But there’s a chance something good comes of this. And even though Osceola County can’t pass a minimum wage rule that applies to all businesses there, this will affect thousands of people, and help increase paychecks where too many people call hotels home.

Justice Scalia would have you believe there’s no reason for gays to care about economic justice. As Nathan McDermott noted in The Atlantic last year, that black-robed bag of grumbles opined in the 1996 Romer v. Evans case that gays have a “high disposable income,” and thus “disproportionate political power… to [achieve] not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance of homosexuality.”

Orlando gay civil rights attorney and proponent of things that matter Mary Meeks backs a strong Living Wage Ordinance. And she hopes Osceola Commissioner and marriage equality pioneer Cheryl Grieb see this fight in those same LGBT-economic justice terms, especially after Osceola just passed the state’s strongest human rights ordinance.

“We’ve won the right to hold a job and live where we want in Osceola County,” Meeks said recently. “Now let’s be sure we make enough at work to afford it. This is the next step.”

There’s more to this story (competing ordinances, subterfuge), but we’ll get into it later. Hopefully, on Monday, commissioners will see the light and notice that we’ve as many trifles as we have truffles; then they might consider that, in this region and this economy, we need some help, too.

(This post was updated on Sept. 18 to include updated information on the living wage in Osceola).

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