Friday, October 26, 2012

Boca Bigots mislead the media on LGBT discrimination

New contract: Boca agrees not to discriminate against gays, lesbians

But Palm Beach County Human Rights Council president says they will press on with his concerns

October 24, 2012| 
By Anne Geggis, Sun Sentinel
The Boca Raton City Council Tuesday approved a contract with Palm Beach County with a provision that says the city will not discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The contract was approved without discussion after a month of controversy about the city's equal opportunity policy.

The language, however, is not what you would expect in a 51-page contract that will pay Boca Raton about $235,000 a year to participate in a countywide system of removing hazardous waste.

Boca stopped short of fully adopting the county's policy. But this decision provided the understanding to smooth over the differences between the county's equal opportunity policy and the city's, which does not cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Later, Vice Mayor Susan Haynie complained that she was getting e-mail based on misinformation about the city's opting out of the county's more inclusive equal opportunity provision.

"We did not take away anyone's rights," Haynie said, contending that the city follows state and federal guidelines against discrimination. "We are not discriminatory."

This compromise language in the contract won't be enough to stop the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council questioning why the city in January 2011 formally opted out of the county's equal opportunity provision, said Rand Hoch, president of the council.
Approving the contract with the statement — and letting stand its internal policy that doesn't include gays, lesbians and transgender employees — leaves those groups without any recourse if they feel they've been discriminated against, Hoch said. The contract also says that the provision doesn't allow city employees to press for domestic partnership benefits

"They'll take the money [for the hazardous waste removal] but they won't do anything about discrimination" against gays, lesbians or transgender employees, Hoch said. "Until they change their minds, we at the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council are going to mark Boca Raton as a city run by bigots." or 561-243-6624

PBCHRC Launches "Boca Bigots Run City Hall" Campaign

South Florida LGBT Group Launches ‘Boca Bigots Run City Hall’ Campaign

By Jason Parsley, South Florida Gay News

October 22, 2012

What started off as a routine contract over hazardous waste material has now erupted into a full-fledged war over gay rights between LGBT activists and the City of Boca Raton.

City officials claim the issue isn’t about gay rights at all, but instead about home rule. But the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is calling it homophobia and has launched a campaign called ‘Boca Bigots Run City Hall’ to shine a spotlight on what they perceive to be 20 years of slights against the gay community.

To make matters worse for the city, three weeks ago the assistant city manager of Boca equated protecting LGBT employees from discrimination to protecting pet lovers from discrimination.

“What’s to keep other groups from wanting to be protected?” Mike Woika told SFGN. “How about me? I’m a pet lover. I think should be included in your anti-discrimination law. Someone who has dogs should not be discriminated against either.”

The issue of gay rights in Boca came to the forefront last month, when the Palm Beach County Commission was informed that the City of Boca Raton opted out of the county’s anti-discrimination clause, which includes both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression.”

Boca doesn’t include either one, instead deferring to the state and federal anti-discrimination requirements. Then the city took it to another level when in January 2011 they passed Ordinance 5161, which opted them out of the county’s anti-discrimination policy. No other city in Palm Beach County has taken such a step to avoid protecting LGBT employees.

The county, meanwhile, has a policy stating that it doesn’t do business with entities that won’t adhere to its anti-discrimination policy. Because of this, the city and county have run into a conflict. In this instance, it happens to be a regional plan for the county to pay the costs of hazardous material emergencies in some of its cities, one of which is Boca.
It’s worth $235,000 to the city.

When the conflict was presented to the County Commission, County Commissioner Steve Abrams suggested they give Boca an exemption, but the suggestion was ignored and the county instead sent the contract back as is, giving Boca 60 days to accept or reject it.
Now it appears the city staff of Boca and the Palm Beach County staff are desperately trying to find a loophole to allow Boca to move forward with this agreement without actually having to agree to the county’s anti-discrimination policy.

That may be hard to do since at the beginning of this year the county made it clear that they would not do business with any public or private entity which practices discrimination.

Here’s what the county resolution says:

“It is hereby the express policy of the Board of County Commissioners of Palm Beach County, Florida that Palm Beach County, Florida shall not conduct business with nor appropriate any funds for any organization that practices discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, ancestry, sex, age, familial Status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or disability.”

President of the PBCHRC Rand Hoch said in an email to the county attorney:

“I can not tell you how upset I am right now, having read the exchange of your e-mails with your counterparts in the City of Boca Raton.  You struck a deal by which the mandatory nondiscrimination language would be included in the Interlocal Agreement, but assured Boca Raton that ‘the City and County agree that the County would not have jurisdiction over an employment discrimination claim filed by a City employee against the City under the PBC Ordinance.’”

County Attorney Denise Nieman denied any deal making.

“This is in response to the email you received from Rand Hoch late Friday alleging that the County Attorney's Office ‘cut a deal’ with the City of Boca Raton regarding the nondiscrimination language in County contracts. Please be assured that this allegation has absolutely no merit,” Neiman wrote to the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners.

“The City Attorney's Office also advised that the City of Boca had opted out of the County's Equal Employment Ordinance as it pertained to City employees.  The City is entitled to do so by law.  Due to this opt out, the County would not have jurisdiction over discrimination complaints by City employees against the City.”

Meanwhile, the PBCHRC is pushing back against city officials’ recent comments about LGBT rights and the city’s denial of four public records request they recently made.
They’ve retained the law offices of W. Trent Steele in order to force the city to comply with the state’s public records laws. On Oct. 19, they sent a letter to Boca’s city attorney giving the city one last chance before they file suit against the city.

It appears that Boca Mayor Susan Whelchel is standing behind the city’s actions on LGBT rights. She went so far as to tell the Sun Sentinel that she doesn’t see this situation as a civil rights issue.

"We follow state and federal laws — cities have the right to opt in or opt out as long as we follow the law,” she said.

The Vice Mayor of Boca Susan Haynie stood by those sentiments as well telling the Sun Sentinel:

"We feel very strong that ... it's not necessary to impose the county's rules on us.”
The PBCHRC blasted Whelchel in a letter to her this weekend. The letter starts off with:
“I am writing to explain why Ordinance 5161 is a matter of civil rights, since it appears from today’s article in the Sun-Sentinel, that you do not understand.”

The PBCHRC does give some benefit of doubt to the Mayor and Vice Mayor.

“I have reviewed the somewhat misleading January, 4, 2011 memorandum on Equal Employment Opportunity prepared by City Manager Leif Ahnell and Human Resources Director Mark Buckingham, which was included in the backup for the January 25, 2011 City Council meeting at which Ordinance 5161 was enacted. The memorandum makes no reference to “sexual orientation” “gender identity” or “gender expression.” Nor does it inform anyone that the civil rights of female and minority employees would be curtailed. Therefore, it is possible that neither you nor your colleagues had any idea that by enacting the ordinance, you were completely eliminating the civil rights of the City’s gay, lesbian, and gender non-conforming employees, as well as restricting the rights of the City’s female and minority employees.”

That very well could be the case since the Sun Sentinel noted that the Boca ordinance in question took a mere one minute and 38 seconds to unanimously pass in January 2011. However from Whelchel and Haynie’s recent statements it appears they knew exactly the impact that ordinance would have.

The letter ends demanding some action taken against Assistant City Manager Mike Woika for his comments to SFGN.

“Putting it simply, Mr. Woika’s comments are not only ignorant, but also hurtful. There is no longstanding history of employment discrimination against pet owners. While PBCHRC is not calling for a public apology by Mr. Woika, it would seem appropriate for the City to take some disciplinary action in an attempt to assure the LGBT residents of Boca Raton – and our allies – that such callous and hurtful statements are not acceptable.”

The letter concludes with “please be advised that long as Ordinance 5161 remains in effect, PBCHRC will move forward with our ‘Boca Bigots Run City Hall’ campaign.”

Boca Raton officials plan on discussing this issue at their Tuesday, Oct. 23 meeting. SFGN will attend the meeting and keep you updated on any developments.

Boca Bigot Mike Woika equates gay rights to Canine Rights

Boca Raton Officials Compare LGBT Equality to Canine Rights and Bad Hair

Written by Jason Parsley, South Florida Gay News

October 3, 2012 

Protecting LGBT employees from discrimination would be like protecting pet lovers from discrimination.

That’s what the assistant city manager of Boca Raton thinks.

Mike Woika was trying to make a point — saying if the city were to adopt an ordinance protecting LGBT employees, then who knows what other classes of people would crawl out of the woodwork demanding their rights, too.

“What’s to keep other groups from wanting to be protected?” Woika said. “How about me? I’m a pet lover. I think should be included in your anti-discrimination law. Someone who has dogs should not be discriminated against either.”

The issue of gay rights in Boca Raton was thrust into the spotlight last week when the Palm Beach County Commission was informed that the City of Boca Raton opted out of the county’s anti-discrimination clause, which includes both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression.”

Boca Raton doesn’t include either one in its anti-discrimination policy, instead deferring to the state and federal requirements.

The county meanwhile has a policy stating that it doesn’t do business with entities that won’t adhere to their anti-discrimination policy. The ‘business’ happens to be a regional plan for the county to pay for the costs of hazardous material emergencies in some of its cities, one of which being Boca.

But the county can’t save the city the $235,000 that the project is worth without adherence to its anti-discrimination policy. Now, Boca has 60 days to change its ways, or it loses out on almost a quarter of a million dollars.

Woika stressed that regardless of what people are protected, the City does not discriminate against anyone whether or not they are a part of a protected class.
But the issue gets even stickier.

Besides just not including “sexual orientation” and/or “gender identity and expression,” in its policies, in January 2011 Boca decided to take the unusual step of officially opting out of the county’s anti-discrimination requirements.

Woika simply called that vote a reaffirmation.

The only other city to have taken that step is West Palm Beach. The difference though is that WPB includes “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity and expression” as a part of their protected classes.

Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has said he’s been approaching Boca Raton for more than 20 years urging them to add sexual orientation to their anti-discrimination requirements as well as offer city employees domestic partnership benefits.

Tony Plakas, the executive director of county’s GLCC, Compass, believes the opt out was done covertly and wonders if the City Council understood at the time the real impact of it.

Or was this something pushed for by the city management?

“This is a great example of things happening behind the public’s back and they don’t know about it,” he said. “Maybe they did think it was just housekeeping. But again it doesn’t matter. The motivation was to do it quietly.”

Woika, though, said the opt out came about because this isn’t the first time Boca has run into a problem with the county’s anti-discrimination requirements.

“There was a formal affirmation of the opting out. Because the city is under home rule it has established its own anti-discrimination [requirements]. There was always a conflict with the county,” Woika said. “I think when they legally adopted their own, that really was an opt out. But the city said ‘let’s make it very clear.’”

Last time around, though, the project fell through, Woika said, before the city and county came into conflict.

The current issue became muddied after Palm Beach County Commissioner Steve Abrams, whose district includes Boca, stressed to the commission that Boca only had a problem with adhering to the “gender identity and expression” requirement. He said they didn’t have a problem with the “sexual orientation” requirement.

Abrams then attempted to persuade the commission to give Boca an exemption, which it declined. Boca will now have 60 days to accept the county’s proposal or decline it and lose the funding.

Later, when Abrams realized that “sexual orientation” wasn’t a federally or state protected class, he wrote in an email:

“I want to state that the city manager advised me, as Boca’s district commissioner, only about their concerns regarding the gender identity and gender expression clauses.  I have no knowledge concerning their position on sexual orientation, which they did not raise with me.”

Woika said when Boca Raton opted out of county’s ordinance, they made it clear they would only follow state and federal requirements regarding discrimination.
Rand Hoch summed it up differently.

“What they are saying is that they wish to retain the right to discriminate against gay men, lesbian and transgender people. ‘We want to be able to preserve the right to discriminate,’” he explained. “No one else in Palm Beach County tried to opt out, except for West Palm Beach, which had its own law before the county had a law.”
SFGN reached out Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel for a comment, but as of press time received no response.

Gender Identity and Expression

At the Palm Beach County Commission meeting Commissioner Steve Abrams defended Boca Raton’s right to opt out of the county’s anti-discrimination policies and claimed protections for gender identity are not a “settled area of law” and the city did not want open itself up to liability.

 He also made this comment:

“Someone could sue because the entity doesn’t like the way their hair is styled or how they dress or something like that so I’m just explaining the basis of the city’s objection.”
Michael Keeffe, Executive Director of Transaction Florida, the only statewide trans organization, took issue with Abram’s comments.

“My first response to that is it’s just ludicrous. That’s an uneducated statement. These kind of comments come from a fear of cross dressers or fetish type of people will want to come in on different days and dress differently. One day as John and one day as Jane,” he explained. “This is about people who live full time as a certain identity. This is people like myself who was born as one sex, but live my life as the opposite of that, on a full time basis.”

Keeffe said more than dozen cities across the state now offer protections for “gender identity and expression.”

Three of those cities are in PBC and include West Palm Beach, Wellington and Lake Worth. The County and School District of Palm Beach County also includes it. Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton’s largest employer, already includes “sexual orientation” in its equal employment opportunity policy for employees and anti-discrimination policy covering students. FAU will consider adding “gender identity and expression” later this year.

Gay Rights in Palm Beach County

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and its president Rand Hoch has been surprisingly successful at getting the county and municipalities to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” to their anti-discrimination requirements as well as getting some of them to offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees.
But one city where they’ve had almost no success is Boca Raton, whom Hoch said has been less than receptive.

Here are a few facts when it comes to gay rights in Palm Beach County:

West Palm Beach was the first city in Florida to enact an Equal Opportunity Ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodation.  And that was in 1994. In 1995 a strong effort was made to repeal the law, but the voters upheld it with 56 percent. Even smaller cities in the county have been more progressive on gay rights than Boca.

Lake Worth is home to one of the Southeastern United States’ largest gay and lesbian community center, Compass. And Lake Worth was the first city in Florida to raise the gay flag during the week of Compass’ PrideFest, a tradition that started in 2000. Lake Worth also had no problem hiring a transgender city manager.

In addition to all of the larger cities in Palm Beach County (except for Boca) offering some type of protections or benefits for the LGBT community, many smaller county municipalities also offer such protections. A few of those include Belle Glade, Hypoluxo, Lake Park, Manalapan, Royal Palm Beach South Bay, and Tequesta.

Additionally, the county and school district offer protections and benefits for the LGBT community as well as the Office of the Clerk and Comptroller, Office of the Property Appraiser, Office of the Public Defender, Office of Supervisor of Elections, Office of the Tax Collector, Children Services Council, Palm Tran, Solid Waste Authority and South Florida Water Management District.


PBCHRC Asks Boca's Bigots to Rescind "Opt Out" Ordinance

Council calls on Boca to rescind ordinance

By Anne Geggis, Sun-Sentinel Staff Writer
September 26, 2012

The president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council called on members of the Boca Raton City Council to rescind an ordinance that preserves the city's right to discriminate against employees for sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

City officials say that Boca Raton's anti-discrimination policy meets state and federal guidelines.

Opting out of the county's version of that policy was part of an ordinance the Boca City Council unanimously passed in January 2011.

But the issue emerged this week when Boca Raton refused to join a proposed agreement that would pay the city about $235,000 to handle emergency responses to hazardous materials.

Council President Rand Hoch wrote to each of the City Council members Wednesday that such a stance, "subjects each and every one of you to being considered the five most prejudiced and bigoted public officials in Palm Beach County, if not the state."

City Council member Mike Mullaugh wouldn't rule out including homosexuals and the trans gendered in the city's discrimination policy, but it won't happen because of county demands.

"We will decide what we do ourselves," he said.

Boca Bigots refuse to sign contract over nondiscrimination provision

Boca balks at county's anti-discrimination language

Dispute holds up deal for handling hazardous waste

By Andy Reid and Anne Geggis, Sun Sentinel
September 25, 2012
A contract dispute has turned into a transgender civil rights standoff between the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County government.
That leaves a countywide hazardous materials response plan in limbo as the city and county differ over how far to take anti-discrimination protections.

The city objects to the county's anti-discrimination requirements included in a proposed agreement that would pay the city about $235,000 to handle emergency response to hazardous materials found in Boca Raton and nearby areas.

The county includes protections for "gender identity or expression" among its anti-discrimination standards for those that want to do business with county government. The city has anti-discrimination standards of its own, but doesn't include "gender identity or expression."

Aside from the funding at stake, the dispute is really a "civil rights" issue, Commission Chairwoman Shelley Vana said Tuesday.

"As a county we have stood for equal opportunities for everybody and that means everybody," Vana said.

If the city refuses to sign onto the deal — and the anti-discrimination standards that come with it — then the city loses out on about $235,000 to help pay for hazardous material response in 2013.

As result, the county might have to send its own Fire-Rescue crews or rely on those from Delray Beach to handle hazardous material calls that would otherwise be Boca Raton's responsibility.

Mike Woika, Boca Raton's assistant city manager, said that the city's anti-discrimination policy reflects state and federal requirements — and that the city passed an ordinance in January 2011 affirming that it won't use county's more expansive anti-discrimination language.

Boca Raton agrees that regionalizing a response to a hazardous materials event as a good thing, Woika said. The city just doesn't want to get drawn into an anti-discrimination policy that goes beyond state and federal requirements.

"We're willing to go forward, but we can't agree to things that are outside of our parameters," Woika said.

Boca Raton's stance on gender identity or expression is another example of how the city is "out of touch with reality," said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

The purpose of getting the county to adopt anti-discrimination standards was to spread those standards to other entities that get public money, Hoch said.
"You want to do business with the county, you have to put in the contract that you don't discriminate," Hoch said.

The county since 1992 has had anti-discrimination requirements in place that forbid funding companies or other organizations that discriminate based on the county's list of standards.

The county in January added "gender identity or expression" and "familial status" to a list of anti-discrimination standards that also includes race, color, national origin, religion, ancestry, sex, age, marital status and disability.

The "gender identity or expression" change was meant to provide discrimination protection for transgender job-seekers, employees and potential contractors.

The countywide hazardous materials response program calls for the county to distribute money from the Solid Waste Authority to hazardous material response teams that include local fire-rescue departments such as Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The County Commission approved the hazardous waste response deal with Boca Raton, contingent on the city signing off on the deal — including the anti-discrimination terms., 561-228-5504 or Twitter@abreidnews