Florida legislators wrap up a contentious session leaving the LGBTQ community relatively unscathed

By : Billy Manes
Comments: 0

Sine Die, they call it, the antiquated drop of the hanky to end the legislative session in Florida. On May 8, the bicameral bluster in Tallahassee came to an end following the approval of an $83 billion state budget that will siphon more taxpayer dollars to charter schools, and, remarkably, pull some power away from the state’s tourism driver, Visit Orlando. Those were the big headlines.

And while LGBTQ issues made their way around committees and lobbies, Equality Florida was there to fight back on some of the social issues.

“This was a very dangerous session. It was unorthodox. This was a moment when our opposition was emboldened by the recent elections,” Equality Florida public policy director Hannah Willard says. “We had to make sure that they didn’t turn back the clock by wiping out freedoms we had already achieved…We as Equality Florida benefited from a lot of attention being diverted to other issues.”

As a result, Florida did not reach a consensus on so-called “bathroom bills,” but nor did it move forward with its centerpiece of legislation – even with bipartisan support – on the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which aims to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Even in its post-mortem literature, though, EQFL counts this as a mild victory. At least it will have another chance.

Willard, who has been lobbying Tallahassee for two years, says the group’s feet are still firmly digging into the ground.

“The legislature was not prioritizing LGBTQ issues for better and for worse,” she says. “But we also saw leadership blocking the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Which is frustrating, because we know there is a phenomenal amount of support.”

LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace was not the only issue troubling the Equality Florida troops. Senate Bill 1158 and its companion HB 17 threatened to roll back all municipal ordinances affording equal rights to the LGBTQ citizens of Florida. The bills would have brought similar pre-emption measures to those which passed a few years ago that took on earned sick-time and wage theft.

Willard also points to an attempt to reform HIV/AIDS criminalization, SB 628/HB 605, which did succeed in Senate committee but remains an open issue for the next legislative session. The current law was written in the 1980s, she says, which means it does not meet with current medical standards and is punitive in its nature. It also distracts residents from checking their individual statuses for fear of retribution. Florida has seen unusually high rates of HIV infection in recent years, the worst in the nation.

Additionally, Equality Florida has been working closely with other progressive infrastructures like Planned Parenthood and gun-sensitive groups like the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. It takes an army, Willard says.

“The best defense is a good offense,” she says. “We have to promote our vision of a state that is safe for all of us, one that affirms the basic human dignity for all of us. And we did that this year. And I’m proud of that. We can’t just be in our defensive crouch.

Share this story: