Saturday, July 23, 2011

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council: President's Message - July, 2011

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly said "everyone should get a seat at the table, but no one should be able to buy up all the seats."

Last week the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council got our seat at the table, through an invitation to participate the Florida Community Leaders Briefing at the White House. I must admit, it felt pretty good.

When the invitation to the White House was extended last month, I asked if we were being invited to the President’s annual Gay Pride Reception on June 29. I was told that while the reception is a social event, the Community Leaders Briefing was a working meeting.

The briefing was in keeping with a pledge made by the President in his Inaugural Address, when he told America that his “commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know."

At the President’s request, the White House Office of Public Engagement identified 150 activists representing a variety of local constituencies throughout Florida. We were being invited not only to be briefed by senior administration officials on a variety of national issues, but also to let administration officials know what we were doing on the local level.

The night before the Community Leaders Briefing, our favorite Congressman – Ted Deutch – co-hosted a reception for us at the U.S. Capital along with Congresswoman (and Democratic National Committee Chair) Debbie Wasserman Schultz. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson came by to say a few words.

Looking around the room, I saw Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians and Carribean Islanders. (If there was a Native American there, I missed her). I met people from South Florida, the Panhandle, Tampa Bay, Central Florida, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Gainesville and Tallahassee. There were teachers, students, lawyers, union members and health care workers. Talking to people that night, I learned we were advocates for children, seniors, working people, the unemployed, retirees, people with disabilities, immigrants, the LGBT community, women and men. Our group was a virtual cross section of Floridians – and we were all working hard to improve life for our constituents.

At the reception I spent time catching up with other LGBT activists including Joe Falk, Chairman of SaveDade ( and Alan Clendenin, a National Democratic Committeeman and the Hillsborough County State Democratic Committeeman.

The White House Office of Public Engagement easily filled our day for the Community Leaders Briefing. Throughout the day there were briefings from administration officials from the Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Small Business Administration and NASA.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President. The President had been spending day after day with Congressional leaders working on the debt ceiling negotiations, and I was curious to learn from an insider how things were going.

Unfortunately, she only spoke for a few minutes. Fortunately, she kept her comments very brief so she could introduce “a very special guest” – President Obama.

Needless to say, our group rose to our feet, applauded, and cheered. Frankly, I thought the President probably needed a break from the budget negotiations, and he started his talk by letting us know just how happy he was to take that break.

While he only spent five to ten minutes with us, he spent the bulk of the time thanking us for our activism and our dedication to the people we work for. He strongly encouraged us to keep engaged with the White House.

To see what the Obama Administration is working on for the LGBT community, please check out:

Back at home, there was a great decision from the Circuit Court which confirmed what the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has been telling public employers in Palm Beach County for many years: the County’s Equal Employment Ordinance (which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression) has jurisdiction over all public employers in Palm Breach County with fifteen or more employees – except for the City of West Palm Beach. (West Palm Beach has its own Equal Employment Ordinance which includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression)

Over the years, the School District, Florida Atlantic University, some of our constitutional officers and some municipalities have claimed they were exempt from the County ordinance. With the Circuit Court ruling, they no longer can effectively claim this defense!

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council continues our work on family issues, particularly our effrots to ensure that gay and lesbian employees in domestic partnerships have the same rights to use family and medical leave as non-gay married employees.

As reported previously, so far this year, the City of West Palm Beach, the Office of the State Attorney and the Office of the Public Defender have all updated their family and medical leave policies to include employees with domestic partners. (The County’s Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector and Property Appraiser have provided this benefit to their lesbian and gay employees for several years).

In early May, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to update the County's Family and Medical Leave Policy to include families based on domestic partnerships. Within days, both Sheriff Ric Bradshaw Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock informed the Council that they will do the same.

We continue to work with the Palm Beach County School Board and the Cities of Lake Worth and Delray Beach on family and medical leave and we are very optimistic that all three will update their policies in the near future.

Speaking of Lake Worth, congratulations go out to newly-elected Mayor Rachel Waterman, who was elected by a wide margin. Mayor Waterman was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.

The Council’s newest board member, Peter Cava, reports that Board of Trustees of Florida Atlantic University will vote in October on adding both ”sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the school’s non-discrimination policies. Peter is working with a strong coalition of professors, administrators, staff and students who have been working on this issue for well over a decade. It appears that the amendment has the support of FAU President M.J. Saunders. If all goes well the coalition will move forward with their longstanding campaign for domestic partnership benefits for FAU employees.

On the subject of domestic partnership benefits, Board Member W. Trent Steele continues to lead the Council's efforts to urge the Town of Palm Beach to provide domestic partnership benefits to Town employees. To read Trent’s recent Op-Ed piece in the Palm Beach Daily News, go to:

The Council also continues to work with the City of Palm Beach Gardens on adding “gender identity or expression” to the city’s non-discrimination policies.

Greenacres City Council Member Paula Bousquet contacted the Council concerning updating that City’s non-discrimination policies to include both ”sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression”. PBCHRC Board Member Hutch Floyd will be working with her on this project.

PBCHRC Board Member Jessica Blackman continues her work with the Village of North Palm Beach, urging Village Council Members to adopt pro-LGBT policies for Village employees.

Kudos go out to Fort Lauderdale attorney Miriam Richter for her success in getting the Fort Lauderdale City Commission to finally take steps to move forward on domestic partner benefits. The Council was happy to help out with some of the research.

Our expansion into the social media has been a great success. Throughout the day, local, state, national and international news of interest to the LGBT 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

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 "Invite Friends" button on the right. This will help us out greatly.

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