At last week's Boca Raton City Council meeting,City Attorney Diane Grub Frieser was directed to research updating the city's nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and to report back to the council "in the very near future."
The action was taken following heartfelt comments made by Boca Raton native Tyler Morrison, a high school student at the Dreyfus School of the Arts.
"Currently in Boca Raton, LGBT employees have no legal recourse to protect themselves. LGBT employees are fair game for discriminatory acts," said Morrison. "It is simply unacceptable."
Boca Raton's longstanding animus against its gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming municipal employees came to light again two months ago when it was revealed that the city had quietly opted out of Palm Beach County's Equal Employment Ordinance in 2011.
The county ordinance provides legal recourse to individuals who may have been subjected to discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
"Since no federal or state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, the Palm Beach County Equal Employment Ordinance provided the only legal recourse to gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees working for the City of Boca Raton," said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "Boca Raton's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees were stripped of all of their civil rights in 2011."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a local non-profit organization which, since 1988, has been dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.
"Since we had no idea just who it was in city hall that was responsible for taking away the all of the rights of the city's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees, we filed a series of public records requests to find out," said Hoch.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council also launched its "Boca Bigots Run City Hall" media campaign to prevent city officials from ignoring the issue.
When Boca Raton failed to timely provide the requested public records, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council hired attorney W. Trent Steele to file suit against the city for violations of the Florida Public Records Act. Shortly thereafter, the city began to produce some of the requested documents.
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council attorneys reviewed hundreds of pages of public records in an attempt to discover who was behind Boca Raton's discriminatory actions against the city's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees.
That review led to the conclusion that the city attorney and City Manager Leif Ahnell had not provided complete and accurate information when the city council opted-out of the Palm Beach County Equal Employment Ordinance back in 2011.
"I do not believe that a majority of the members of the Boca Raton City Council have any problems protecting the rights of Boca Raton's gay, lesbian and gender-nonconforming employees," said Hoch. "Unfortunately, over the past few years, they made some very harmful decisions because city staff did not provide them accurate and complete information."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council took steps to provide the city council members with the information that had been withheld by city administrators. That information, along with Morrison's eloquent public comments at last week's city council meeting, moved the council to take action.
Immediately after City Council Member Constance Scott initiated the discussion on updating the city's nondiscrimination policies, the city attorney took an offensive position, as she had done previously. However, it was obvious she had little support from the city council members.
In response to questioning by Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie, City Attorney Freiser was forced to admit that Boca Raton had not updated its list of protected classes in the Boca Raton Code of Ordinances since 1966.
"It is frightening that we have not looked at the policies since then," declared Haynie.
"Based on the comments made at the meeting, it appears that had the city council been presented with full and accurate information back in 2011, they would not have opted-out of the county's Equal Employment Ordinance," said Hoch.
"The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is particularly encouraged by the hands-on approach taken by Deputy Mayor Haynie and City Council Member Scott," said Hoch. "It is our hope that the City of Boca Raton will soon rescind the 2011 opt-out ordinance, adopt LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, and offer the full range of domestic partnership benefits to its lesbian and gay employees."
Send an e-mail message to the members of the Boca Raton City Council, thanking them for agreeing to update the city's nondiscrimination policies.
Step one: Cut and past these e-mail addresses onto your "To" Line.
Step two: When your e-mail pops up, type the following in the "Subject" line:
Step three: Compose a personal message to all five Council Members or cut and past the following message:
Thank you for directing staff to update the city's nondiscrimination policies to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression." Be sure to rescind Boca Raton Ordinance 5161 to provide your female and minority employees local recourse in the event they feel they have been discriminated against.
Also, please consider offering he full range of domestic partnership benefits to city employees.
Step four: Hit send.
Step five: Forward this to your supportive friends and family, so they may take action as well.
The Boca Raton City Council Members are:
Mayor Susan Whelchel
Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie
Council Member Anthony Majhess
Council Member Constance J. Scott
Council Member Michael Mullaugh