Throughout 2010, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council remained vigilant in our efforts to secure equality for Palm Beach County’s unified, committed and strong gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Once again, GLBT voters throughout the county came out in record numbers to participate in local, state and national elections. The remarkable turnout was due to the tremendous work done by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance volunteers who spent countless hours screening and interviewing candidates.
While many voters opted to stay home on election day, GLBT voters - and our allies - responded overwhelmingly to the Voters Alliance voter identification, voter education, early voting, absentee ballot and get-out-the-vote campaigns. As a result, 19 of the endorsed local candidates were elected to office. These elected officials clearly understand that, as individuals and as family members, we are entitled to share in the rights, responsibilities and benefits enjoyed by all other Americans.
Our most significant electoral accomplishments in 2010 were the repeated victories for U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton). After longtime PBCHRC supporter Robert Wexler resigned from Congress, Ted faced opposition on the ballot three times in 2010 – in a special primary election in February, a special election in April and in the general election in November. In each election, Ted won by a landslide.
During his tenure in the Florida Senate, Ted was the legislature’s most effective advocate for gay rights. At the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Ted sponsored legislation to amending the Florida Civil Rights and Fair Housing Acts to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In 2008, Ted worked closely with Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) – then a state senator who co-sponsored the gay rights bill and now Florida’s Chief Financial Officer – in orchestrating bi-partisan support which resulted in the only successful vote on a gay rights bill in Florida’s history.
Ted has continued to be a leader on our issues in Washington, D.C. Following a procedural vote on overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last April, Ted called to let us know how proud he was to be able to be a part of the historic vote. Since he has been in Congress, Ted has also co-sponsored several pieces of legislation of importance to the GLBT community, including, but not limited to, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act.
Not only does Ted support our community with his votes, he does so with his time, his money, and his heart. He is always helping out whether it be by purchasing extra tickets to “The Laramie Project” so that members of the Compass youth program can attend, bringing friends to the Council’s Summer Soirée, participating at PrideFest or enjoying International Gay Polo League Tournament.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance is proud to have played a part in the election of both Congressman Ted Deutch and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach)
Two other longtime PBCHRC supporters – former School Board Member/now County Commissioner Paulette Burdick and former Lake Worth Mayor/now State Representative Jeff Clemens – were elected with strong support from the Voters Alliance.
For a complete list of the candidates endorsed by the Voters Alliance who were elected in 2010, go to: www.pbchrc.org/endorsements.html.
On the subject of federal office holders, the Council has decided that since Congressman Tom Rooney (R-Tequesta) has repeatedly refused to schedule a district meeting with Palm Beach County Human Rights Council representatives and has consistently voted against gay rights legislation in Congress, the Council will most likely not expend any additional time or effort trying to convince him that he was elected to represent all of his constituents – not just the non-gay ones. And with the election of rabidly anti-gay Congressman Allen West (R-Plantation), the Council is looking forward to redistricting prior to the 2012 elections.
With municipal elections just weeks away, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance is gearing up to interview and screen candidates. Of special interest (so far) are the elections in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.
One of the Council’s priorities in 2010 was our work with the Village of Wellington (pop. 55,584). As a result of our efforts, Village amended it's Equal Employment Opportunity policy to prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in its employment practices. (See, www.wellingtonfl.gov/news-a-updates/3/7.html). The Council is currently working with the Village Manager in drafting language to secure domestic partnership benefits for Village employees.
As a result of our efforts in Wellington, the Council has been adopted by the Gay Polo League (www.gaypolo.com), the world's only polo league for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender players. Grateful for the Council’s efforts, the Gay Polo League is donating 50% profit from general admission ticket sales for the second International Gay Polo Tournament to the Council. The event will be held at the Grand Champions Polo Field in Wellington on Saturday, April 2, 2011. In addition, several of the polo players will appear in the annual gay pride parade in Lake Worth on Sunday, March 27, so save both dates!
This year, the Council will renew our efforts to have the County Commission amend its Family Medical Leave Policy to allow employees to use this leave to care for their domestic partners in the same manner as married employees can use it to care for their spouses. The proposal, initially brought before the Commission at the Council’s request in 2007 by former Commissioner Jeff Koons, was shot down by all of his six colleagues. However, since then, four new Commissioners have been elected – including longtime PBCHRC supporters Paulette Burdick, Shelley Vana and Priscilla Taylor . The Council is hopeful that a majority of the County Commission will remove this last vestige of discrimination against the County’s gay and lesbian employees.
If this effort is successful, the Council will then request the City of Delray Beach, the County’s Clerk and Comptroller and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office to follow suit. All three currently provide the full range of domestic partner benefits – with the exception of family medical leave.
After more than two years, we are still awaiting word from State Attorney Michael McAuliffe about our request for his office provide domestic partner benefits. The Council expected to hear from him during 2009 and 2010, but to date, this does not appear to be a priority with his staff.
Our work with the School Board of Palm Beach County in 2011 will focus on enforcing the GLBT inclusive anti-bullying and harassment policy the Council worked on so diligently in 2007, educating both students and School District employees on GLBT issues, encouraging the establishment of gay student alliances (GSAs), and conforming a variety of nondiscrimination policies so that all will include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Four new School Board members were elected last year: Jennifer Prior Brown, Marcia Andrews, Chuck Shaw and Karen Brill. The Voters Alliance interviewed all of the new members and was very encouraged by their knowledge of GLBT issues in the School District and their willingness to assist the Council in our efforts.
Following the municipal elections in Palm Beach Gardens in March, the Council will renew our efforts to secure domestic partnership health insurance for the city’s employees. The City already provides other domestic partnership benefits to its employees.
The Council continues to work with GLBT activists and allies at Florida Atlantic University to have the school's nondiscrimination policies specifically prohibit discrimination based sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and to provide domestic partner benefits for FAU employees. We are very optimistic that the nondiscrimination policies will be updated in 2011. With regard to domestic partnership benefits, FAU currently is exploring models used by University of Florida, Florida International University and other state universities.
The Council’s expansion into the social media has been a great success. Throughout the day, local, state, national and international news of interest to the GLBT community is posted on the Council’s Facebook page (PBCHRC). Other information is posted from time to time on our blog at pbchrc.blogspot.com.
On a final note, the Council is deeply disappointed in Governor Rick Scott’s decision not to include religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy and marital status in Executive Order 11-04 on diversity in state government. The Council made this request shortly after the November elections – and it obviously fell on deaf ears. Although this was not completely unexpected. During Charlie Crist’s four year tenure as governor, the Council wrote to him on more than a dozen occasions, asking for a similar executive order. Not once did he even respond.
Our experience tells us that pro-LGBT changes in statewide matters will not be forthcoming from our Governor and legislators in Tallahassee. They will only come from the courts – such as last year’s victory striking down the ban on adoption by gay and lesbian Floridians.
Though our affiliation with Florida Together (www.outfl.org), the Council will continue to assist other local organizations across the state, so that they may secure the protections and benefits secured by the Council for Palm Beach County’s GLBT community for more than two decades.
As always, we will keep you informed of our progress.
Best wishes for 2011!
President and Founder