Friday, December 21, 2012

Boca Raton Appoints Openly Gay 17-year-old Tyler Morrison to City's Community Relations Board

South Florida Gay News - Written by Dylan Bouscher
December 19, 2012

Tyler Morrison went from speaking out against the Boca Raton City Council's lack of LGBT protection, to becoming one its employees, who is now unprotected by a 46-year-old anti-discrimination policy.

Boca Raton became the only city in Palm Beach County to opt-out of protecting its LGBT employees when it passed Ordinance 5161 in January 2011. Morrison, a gay 17-year-old Boca Raton resident, introduced himself to the City Council at its Nov. 14 meeting. Once there, he urged the council members to update a 46-year-old anti-discrimination policy to include protection for the city's LGBT employees.

When city council member Constance Scott supported Morrison and asked the rest of the council what prevented them from moving into the 21st century, Morrison cried.

Then, at their Dec. 11 meeting, the Boca Raton City Council unanimously appointed Morrison to the city's community relations board.

"He seemed like such an articulate and dedicated young man who wanted to get involved," Susan Haynie, Boca Raton's Deputy Mayor, told SFGN after the meeting. "And I suggested that serving on one of the city's advisory boards was the perfect vehicle for him to get involved with our community."

Morrison, however, wasn't at the meeting where the council appointed him. He was playing oboe at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in his school's holiday concert.

"I tried to log on to watch the meeting live, and the Internet wasn't allowing me to view the live video feed," Morrison said. "So it was a little frustrating at first."

Then Rand Hoch, the President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), left Morrison a face book comment congratulating him for the unanimous appointment.

"This makes you, probably, the youngest openly gay appointed public official in Florida. Congrats," Hoch wrote.

The PBCHRC is a local non-profit focused on eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Recently, they have been pushing the Boca Raton City Council to rescind Ordinance 5161 and update its policy along with Morrison.

"I'm not so interested in the title or being the first this, or first that," Morrison said. "It doesn't matter unless I do something about it. I'm looking forward to what I can do."

Hoch came across the community relations board vacancy while researching the Boca Raton city council's anti-discrimination policy. He also encouraged Morrison to apply for the position.

"We discussed it, and he thought that would be something worthwhile to apply to because, at the time, there was no LGBT representation on the Board," Hoch said. "And he's extremely interested in participatory government."

Extremely interested is an understatement. Morrison wants to run for Mayor of Boca Raton in 2014.

"I think he's got to put in his time, before he becomes a viable candidate for Mayor," Hoch said. "One of the ways you do that is to run for city council and one of the ways you do that is to be on the community relations board. But there's a lot of time between now and March 2014, when the election is. Who knows, with his experience on the community relations board, he could be a viable candidate."
Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie agrees Morrison needs time.

"I would like to speak with him about that," Haynie said. "I really want to educate him on what kind of a commitment that truly is too. But for now I think board service is the perfect place for him."

In the meantime, Morrison is focused on using his new position to expand LGBT rights in the city. He's starting with the anti-discrimination policy.

"Absolutely, absolutely, 100 percent, there's not a doubt in my mind it should be updated," Morrison said.

Friday, December 7, 2012

PBCHRC to Boca: Extend domestic partner benefits now

"We're not asking for anything radical"

By Anne Geggis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 6, 2012|

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Thursday formally asked again that the Boca Raton City Council recognize the domestic partners of city employees as family members — and extend them the benefits legal spouses receive.

Boca Raton is the biggest Palm Beach County city that hasn't yet done it, said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

"We're asking the city of Boca Raton to do what the city of West Palm Beach did in February 1992 – 20 years ago," Hoch said. "We're not asking for anything radical. We're asking for them to treat their employees and their employees' families equally."

City Council members asked City Manager Leif Ahnell last month to prepare some information on what it would mean for the city to adopt a policy that recognizes domestic partners. They also wanted to know what it would mean for the city to fully embrace the county's equal employment opportunity policy — which says the county will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Mayor Susan Whelchel said she's waiting to see that report before she'll agree with the Human Rights Council's suggestion. But the item is not on next week's City Council agenda, said Mike Woika, assistant city manager.

"We asked the city manager to look around at what other cities are doing and, it hasn't come to us as of this moment," Whelchel said. "I don't know what the costs are, what the consequences of these changes to the city are."

Hoch said that domestic partnership benefits are currently offered by the municipalities of Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington and West Palm Beach, and also by Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County School District, the Port of Palm Beach, the Palm Beach County Health Care District, Palm Beach State College, the Children's Services Council, Palm Tran, Seacoast Utility Authority, the Solid Waste Authority and all five of Palm Beach County's elected officials.

Boca has been on the Human Rights Council president's radar since a contract snag brought to light a City Council ordinance passed in January 2011. In that ordinance, Boca Raton opted out of including sexual orientation and gender expression as the county's equal employment policy does. The snag in the contract was resolved 30 days later when language was added to the contract providing that Boca Raton would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, without requiring the city to provide benefits to gay domestic partners.

Hoch said many of the changes he's suggested to Boca Raton's policy won't cost much. In addition to health benefits, the proposed changes to Boca's policies would also mean, for example, that people can get bereavement leave if their domestic partner's mother dies or if a domestic partner falls ill.

In Florida, domestic partners can't legally become spouses.

"We're just asking for people to be treated the same way," Hoch said. "They are talking maybe three to five employees, at most. You are either going to treat people fairly or you are going to discriminate against them."