Florida LGBT rights push reflects changing times
A Republican, a Democrat and a lobbyist for leading businesses in Florida huddled this spring at the state Capitol, mapping out the next move in a campaign to enact the first statewide LGBT anti-discrimination law in the U.S. South. A record number of Republican lawmakers had thrown their support behind proposed protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and hundreds of companies backed the cause. While the bill has so far fallen short with time running out on the legislative session, its lead backers were heartened by their progress and determined to retool for next year. “We definitely need to ramp up the grassroots,” said Joseph Salzverg, a lobbyist for Florida Competes, a group of more than 450 state businesses supporting LGBT protections. “There’s a lot of Republicans that agree with the policy but are worried about the effect it has back home.” A year after transgender bathroom access erupted as a U.S. culture wars flashpoint, Florida is among the conservative statehouses where LGBT activists see momentum building for affirmative legislation. The nation’s third most-populous state, Florida could offer the next breakthrough in a national movement to advance LGBT civil-rights protections, viewed by advocates as stepping stones to their ultimate goal of federal anti-discrimination law. Only 18 states, mostly concentrated in the U.S. West and Northeast, and the District of Columbia have laws that fully
guard against LGBT people being fired from jobs, kicked out of housing or denied services in restaurants, hotels and other businesses. This fight continues even after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage nationally. Florida’s strategy, years in the making, aims to build bipartisan support with economic arguments and the passage of similar measures locally that show the LGBT protections can succeed. The bill’s backers must convince a Republican-controlled state legislature that all of Florida benefits from LGBT protections.