Friday, March 13, 2015

PBCHRC President's Message - March 2015

March 11, 2015

Yesterday was another stellar election day for Palm Beach County's LGBT community.   

Since all of the viable candidates in the West Palm Beach and Lake Worth municipal elections were 100 percent supportive of PBCHRC's initiatives, there was no way it was going to be a bad day.   
In West Palm Beach, with strong support from the PBCHRC Voters Alliance, Mayor Jeri Muoio and City Commissioner Keith James -- both strong advocates for our community -- were re-elected in landslide elections.
(Unfortunately, shortly before the election, Equality Florida sent out an e-mail blast to Palm Beach County LGBT voters that recommended electing Kimberly Mitchell and Len Fintzy -- the candidates running against  Mayor Muoio and Commissioner James.  After our "insistence," Equality Florida backed down, deleted its recommendations and issued hasty endorsements of the two PBCHRC Voters Alliance-backed candidates.  Equality Florida made similar unwanted interventions into Palm Beach County electoral politics in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and each time we had to expend time and political capital for them to reverse course and align with our endorsements.  PBCHRC has, once again, asked Equality Florida to "cease and desist" from getting involved in Palm Beach County politics. Hopefully this time, we will prevail)

PBCHRC President Rand Hoch, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, PBCHRC Treasurer Dan Hall and PBCHRC Past-President Jamie Foreman-Plakas 

Another victory for our community occurred in Lake Worth, where, without PBCHRCVA's endorsement, openly gay, first-time candidate Ryan Maier was elected to the Lake Worth City Commission, where he joins openly gay City Commissioner Andy Amoroso, who was elected in 2011.

Year after year, we have been shown that by electing LGBT- supportive public officials, laws and policies will be enacted which help bring us toward our goal of full equality.  More than 80 local laws and policies now provide Palm Beach County's LGBT residents and visitors with both equal protection and equal family benefits.

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's activists - all volunteers - have been screening candidates for public office, making endorsements, educating public officials and taking action with the sole purpose of changing laws and policies to provide equal treatment and equal benefits for the local LGBT community.  However, at this stage of our quest for full equality, merely being supportive no longer cuts it.  We expect our public officials to be outspoken advocates for the LGBT community.

For more than 25 years, our community has been very fortunate with the leadership of the West Palm Beach Mayors Helen Wilkes, Carol Roberts, Jeff Koons, Nancy Graham, Lois Frankel and Jeri Muoio. During their years of public service, each actively recruited LGBT residents to serve on city boards and commissions.  More importantly, each was a consistent advocate for our community.But electing leaders who understand our community's needs is only the means to an end -- full equality.  To get there, we need our elected officials to act.  And since our last President's Update, there has been a lot of action.

Shortly after midnight on January 6, longtime PBCHRC supporters Mike Edmondson and Keith Musbach became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Palm Beach County.  Moments after the private ceremony, Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County's Constitutional Clerk & Comptroller held a mass wedding, marrying dozens of lesbian and gay couples.

Later that day, Peyton McArthur, a longtime PBCHRC supporter, was sworn in as a Commissioner of The Port of Palm Beach.  At the Commission Meeting, he urged his colleagues to include an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination clause in the Port's contract with Bahamas Paradise Cruiseline -- and they voted unanimously to do so.  Commissioner Peyton McArthur then pledged to have similar language included in all future contracts and agreements with the Port.In early February 2015, West Palm Beach Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen appointed Lieutenant Gregory Babcock to serve as the police department's liaison to the city's LGBT community.

Later that week, the West Palm Beach City Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution put forward at PBCHRC's request by Commissioner Keith James asking the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners to update the Palm Beach County  Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation to provide for a more expansive definition of "public accommodation."

County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor is shepherding our campaign to update the definition of "public accommodation" through the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners.  Taylor has been a longtime advocate of LGBT initiatives throughout her career as Port Commissioner, State Representative, County Commissioner and Palm Beach County Mayor. County Attorney Denise Neiman recently told the County Commissioners that her office can easily make the changes. The County Commissioners are awaiting information from the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity concerning the fiscal impact, after which, two votes will be taken to update the definition in the ordinance.  PBCHRC has spoken with a majority of the County Commissioners, all of whom were supportive of the requested changes. 

Once the County ordinance is amended, the West Palm Beach City Commission is expected to amend the City's Equal Opportunity Ordinance accordingly  

As previously reported, last August, the Boynton Beach City Commission had directed the City Attorney to draft a Civil Rights Ordinance and present it to them for consideration.  When no action was taken in a timely manner, PBCHRC forced the issue by filing a public records request in January 2015 to obtain minutes of the meeting at which the direction was given. Finally, on March 2, the Boynton Beach City Commission held the final reading and an LGBT-inclusive Civil Rights Ordinance was enacted. (Mayor Jerry Taylor, who opposed a similar ordinance back in 1993, cast the sole vote against adopting the Civil Rights Ordinance.)

PBCHRC Board Member Meredith Ockman is in the early stages of our initiative to have the Greenacres City Council enact a similar ordinance and revise the city's personnel policies to prohibit discrimination based on both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression".  We are working with the City Attorney and we will keep you informed of our progress.

The Council's other projects include persuading:
  • The City of Riviera Beach to amend its nondiscrimination policies and ordinances to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression";
  • Florida Atlantic University to amend its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy to include "gender identity or expression";
  • The Chief Judge of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in mandatory diversity training for judges and court personnel;
  • All public employers within Palm Beach County to adopt policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression"; and
  • The City of Boca Raton to rescind Ordinance No. 5161.
Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBT community. Rest assured, we will continue to do so.
Judge Rand Hoch (retired),
President and Founder
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council 

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