Tuesday, April 12, 2011

PBCHRC Update - April 2011

With municipal elections finally behind us, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is again focusing our efforts on encouraging local public officials to enact laws and policies beneficial to our county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

The Council is proud of the relationships we have developed with both elected and appointed officials over the past 23 years. As a result of our work, public employers in Palm Beach County have enacted far more pro-LGBT ordinances and policies than currently exist anywhere else in the Sunshine State.

Our top priority for 2011 is to ensure that local public policy is changed so that all of the family benefits which are provided to non-gay employees are also provided to gay and lesbian employees. To move forward with this agenda, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council leaders have recently been spending a lot of time with public officials.

For years, PrideFest has given everyone in our community the opportunity to meet with LGBT supportive public officials – and this year was no exception.
  • Cloud Lake Mayor Betty James, an open lesbian, proudly marched in the Gay Pride Parade.
  • Outgoing West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel – Florida’s most prolific elected advocate for the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities – spent one afternoon chatting with PrideFest attendees. Everyone was eager to thank Lois for her tireless support of Palm Beach County’s LGBT community for more than 25 years.
  • Every member of the Lake Worth City Commission spent time at PrideFest – and Mayor Rene' Varela even brought his mother!
  • Tax Collector – and former Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Board Member – Anne Gannon caught up with old friends – and made new ones – as she made her way around Bryant Park.
The Council greatly appreciates the effort put in at PrideFest by Council Board Members Hutch Floyd, Rae Franks, Trent Steele and Jessica Blackman – and a host of PBCHRC volunteers – for staffing our booth and helping us promote both our organization and our newest partner – the Gay Polo League.

Congratulation to COMPASS for producing the best PrideFest and Gay Pride Parade in Palm Beach County history.

A few days after PrideFest, Council board members were honored to attend the inauguration of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. Her strong advocacy for LGBT residents and our families ensures that West Palm Beach will remain Florida’s most LGBT-supportive city.

At the inaugural reception, Council leaders spent time with Delray Beach Mayor “Woodie” McDuffie and with newly-elected West Palm Beach City Commissioners Keith James. Keeping on point in both conversations, we addressed allowing municipal employees to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners – a key Council initiative. Both elected officials expressed their strong support for our endeavors.

At the Gay Polo League’s 2nd annual International Gay Polo Tournament the following weekend, I spent time with Wellington Mayor Darrell Bowen, talking about the next steps that need to be taken to implement domestic partner benefits for the employees of the Village of Wellington.

Gay polo was fantastic – and more than a dozen tailgate parties added to the event’s success. Council Board Member Jamie Foreman did an excellent job with the PBCHRC tailgate party – and we thank everyone who stopped by.

The Council is very grateful that the Gay Polo League designated our organization as the charitable beneficiary of the tournament. Thanks go out to Mason Phelps – and everyone at Phelps Media Group – for bringing the event to Wellington and for making it such a success.

Special thanks go out to Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League, for his recognition of the Council’s successful efforts in encouraging the Village of Wellington to adopt an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy.

At the first meeting of the West Palm Beach City Commission presided over by Mayor Muoio, city commissioners unanimously passed a resolution amending the city’’s Family and Medical Leave Policy to allow city employees to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners in the same manner as married employees can use it to care for their spouses. With this action, the City of West Palm Beach became the most LGBT-supportive municipality in the southeastern United States. (And you thought it might have been Key West, Miami Beach – or even Lake Worth!).
  • Way back in 1992, West Palm Beach became the first city in Florida to offer basic domestic partnership benefits (e.g., sick leave, bereavement leave) to city employees.
  • In the years that followed, West Palm Beach offered health insurance and COBRA-like continuation of health insurance coverage to employee’s domestic partners. In addition, the city extended lifetime health insurance benefits to the surviving domestic partner of any city employee killed in the line of duty. West Palm Beach also updated the definition of "immediate family" in the city's Employee Handbook to include an employee's domestic partner's children and parents.
  • During the past decade, West Palm Beach established the county’s first domestic partnership registry, through which any qualified unmarried couple could register their relationship with the city clerk. (Soon thereafter Palm Beach County followed suit). As a result, domestic partners are now treated in the same manner as spouses by health-care facilities throughout Palm Beach County with regard to visitation and care decisions. Domestic partners are to be notified as family members in the event of an accident, and in the event of a partner's death, they will be empowered to make funeral decisions.
  • Additionally, West Palm Beach also has a human rights ordinance which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as gender identity or expression.
The Council truly appreciates how promptly the City Commission acted on our request to expand the city’s Family and Medical Leave Policy. We recognize the great work done by Mayors Muoio and Frankel, City Attorney Claudia McKenna and Assistant City Attorney Joshua Koehler to implement this important change. The Council also thanks City Commissioners Keith James, Kimberly Mitchell, Bill Moss and Ike Robinson for their strong support of the city’s lesbian and gay employees and their families,

A controversy over LGBT issues erupted in Lake Worth between The Cottage (a local bar which conducts a tea-dance every Sunday for the LGBT community) and the City of Lake Worth. At a commission meeting addressing the dispute, City Commissioner JoAnn Golden came out as “a gay woman.” At the end of the meeting, the Lake Worth City Commission unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming the its commitment to promoting and protecting diversity and equality in Lake Worth.

Following up on the Lake Worth resolution, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council filed a public records request with Lake Worth City Manager Susan Stanton to determine what city policies – if any – need to be revised to best serve the city’s LGBT employees and residents.

Another public records request was filed with the Village of North Palm Beach by one of the Council’s newly elected Board Members, Jessica Blackman. Once the Council reviews the documents, Jessica will be working with the Villages public officials to see what changes need to be made in Village ordinances and policies.

The Council met with Palm Beach Gardens City Manager Ron Ferris and Director of Human Resources Sheryl Stewart to discuss the possibility of the city expanding the range of domestic partner benefits offered by the city to include both health insurance and family and medical leave . (The City of Palm Beach Gardens already offers all other domestic partner health insurance benefits to its employees). We also discussed adding “gender identity or expression” into the city’s non-discrimination policies.

We continue to urge the members of the Palm Beach County School Board to amend the School District’s Family and Medical Leave policy to include employees’ domestic partners. The Council is very optimistic that the School Board will support the amendment when the item appears on a meeting agenda later this year.

Carey Haughwout, Palm Beach County's Public Defender, notified the Council this week that she has amended her office's policies to allow employees to use family and medical leave benefits to care for their domestic partners. She also informed us that her staff is in the process of updating her office’s nondiscrimination policy to include "gender identity or expression." The Council thanks Public Defender Haughwout for her leadership on LGBT workplace issues.

The Public Defender joins the County’s State Attorney, Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector and Property Appraiser – all of whom have updated their family and medical leave policies to include domestic partners,

As a result, the sole holdouts on family and medical leave reform among Palm Beach County constitutional officers remain County Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. Although both officials declined to make the changes when asked to do so by the Council earlier this year (and previously in 2008), both Clerk Bock and Sheriff Bradshaw have indicated a willingness to review their policies if the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners amends its family and medical leave policy to include domestic partners. The County Commission will take up this matter on May 2 and the Council is optimistic about the outcome.

Delray Beach Mayor “Woodie” McDuffie recently told the Council that he expects to bring up family and medical leave reform in his city within the next few weeks and that he feels comfortable the Delray Beach City Commission will approve the change in the upcoming months.

The Council’s newest board member is Peter Cava, an Adjunct Instructor in Florida Atlantic University’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and a Ph.D. candidate at in FAU. Peter will be assisting the Council, as well as FAU faculty, staff and students, in our longstanding coordinated campaign to encourage the university add both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" to the school's nondiscrimination policies, and to offer health insurance coverage to employee's domestic partners.

On the national front, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is urging Congressmen Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings to co-sponsor six bills of importance to our community:
  • The Respect for Marriage Act
  • The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2011
  • The Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2011
  • The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011
  • The Uniting American Families Act
  • The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
While we expect Democratic Congressmen Deutch and Hastings to sponsor all six bills, we have no reason to expect similar support – to say the least – from local Republican Congressmen Tom Rooney or Allan West.

Our 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). According to Facebook, our postings are viewed more than 235,000 times per month! In addition, PBCHRC maintains a blog which can be viewed at pbchrc.blogspot.com.

Please help us extend our reach -- and help your Facebook friends keep up with LGBT news, etc. -- by going to the PBCHRC Facebook page and hitting the "Suggest to Friends" button on the right. This will help us out greatly.

The Council continues to assist local organizations and activists across the state in their efforts to secure benefits in their localities. Most recently, we have been assisting activists in Fort Lauderdale in their efforts to convince their city commission to provide domestic partnership benefits to municipal employees.

As you can tell, there is a lot of work being done by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council – and there is even more that needs to be done.

As always, we will keep you informed of our progress.

Rand Hoch,
President and Founder

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