Friday, June 12, 2015

President's Message - LGBT Pride Month - June 2015

June 2015

Another LGBT Pride Month is here and there is so much to celebrate for LGBT people in Palm Beach County.

Rand Photo 2013 Unlike Floridians living in approximately 90% of Florida’s 67 counties, Palm Beach County’s LGBT residents are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Our public school students are protected from harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And unmarried lesbian and gay couples can register as domestic partners and enjoy limited benefits.

All Floridians should enjoy the same civil rights that we have in Palm Beach County.

While we have been celebrating marriage equality in Florida since January, with a favorable Supreme Court decision any day now, lesbians and gay men across America will be celebrating nationwide marriage equality.

PBCHRC hopes that the Supreme Court decision will provide the momentum needed to pass a statewide LGBT rights bill. For the seventh year in a row, Equality Florida’s proposed Competitive Workforce Act died without any action taken by the Florida Legislature. In fact, from 2009 through 2015, there has never even been a vote, a committee hearing or even an official workshop on the Equality Florida’s proposed LGBT rights bill.

In contrast, when PBCHRC was running with a similar bill in 2008, the Senate Commerce Committee not only held a hearing on our gay rights bill, it passed the bill by a 7-1 bipartisan vote. However, the bill died shortly thereafter. The following year PBCHRC was told by key legislators and lobbyists that there was no chance of our bill passing in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we stopped spending our limited funds on this doomed legislation and EQFL has run with it since 2009.

Hopefully the forthcoming momentum will assist EQFL in finally enacting the first LGBT-inclusive bill in Florida history. But until that happens, PBCHRC will continue work locally to ensure that Palm Beach County remains one of the best places in the world for LGBT people to live, work, play, study and retire.

Earlier this year, PBCHRC launched our "Palm Beach County: You’re Welcome” campaign to encourage local municipalities to enact LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinances. So far this year, two new ordinances have been enacted. Boynton Beach and Greenacres have enacted LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinances. (Special thanks go out to PBCHRC Board Member Meredith Ockman and Greenacres City Councilwoman Paula Bousquet for their successful work in Greenacres). Local municipal LGBT inclusive civil rights ordinances have long been in effect in both Lake Worth and West Palm Beach.

PBCHRC Board Members Jess Blackman, Hutch Floyd, Rae Franks and JP Sasser - and PBCHRC volunteer Marcie Hall - have begun working on municipal civil rights ordinances ordinances in Delray Beach, Lake Clarke Shores, Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington. As PBCHRC Past President, I am also working with the City of Lake Worth to update existing ordinances by making them LGBT inclusive.

For several months, PBCHRC has been working 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." We expect the amendments to be voted on later this summer. Once the county ordinance is amended, then the West Palm Beach City Commission is expected to amend the City's Equal Opportunity Ordinance accordingly.

As high school graduation season was about to begin, PBCHRC Board Member Carly Cass was informed that certain high schools sent out “Graduation Dress Guidelines” prohibiting female students from wearing pants to graduation. Since this is in clear violation of the School District policy “Protecting Students From Harassment and Discrimination,” I contacted School Board General Counsel Julie Ann Rico. Shortly thereafter, her office sent the following directive to all high school principals:

As you are preparing students for graduation it is important to remember that dress code requirements from all schools are to be gender neutral. As an example, it is not acceptable to prohibit women from wearing pants. Any questions or concerns about this legal requirement should be directed to the Office of General Counsel.
Our relationship with the school board and the school district remains strong. As the process of hiring a new superintendent was underway, a search committee forum focused exclusively on LGBT issues was held, thanks in great part to the efforts of PBCHRC supporter Donald Cavanaugh. PBCHRC Board Members Meredith Ockman, Carly Cass and I participated. PBCHRC looks forward to working with newly-hired superintendent, Dr. Robert Avossa, who starts work this month.

While I am on the topic of education, late last month PBCHRC presented the inaugural Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Award to Ethan Kennedy. The scholarship is named after Dan Hall, who has served as PBCHRC’s treasurer for the past 25 years. Ethan, who recently graduated from Oxford Academy, founded and served as president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). He was also responsible for implementing the school's participation in the National Day of Silence, a day of action in which students vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools. Ethan will be attending New College of Florida, where he plans to study Political Science and Women's/Gender Studies.

And as long as I am on the topic of awards, I want to thank the Harvey Milk Foundation for presenting me (along with five other LGBT leaders from South Florida) with the organization’s inaugural Diversity Honors Award at wonderful gala held at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. PBCHRC also wishes to thank two longtime supporters - Real Estate Consultant Don Todorich and Joseph Pubillones Interiors for providing us with limousines service for the night.

Our Board of Directors also extends thanks to James Tigani and Mark Bennett for opening up their Palm Beach home for a party recognizing PBCHRC’s achievements over the years. The event was organized by long term PBCHRC Volunteer Scott Kent, who was assisted by PBCHRC Past President Jamie Foreman-Plakas and PBCHRC Board Member Trent Steele. It was a fun evening and we received several thousand dollars in contributions from a handful of our major donors.

Robert Telford, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio’s liaison to the LGBT community, recently informed PBCHRC that for the first time, the city participate in the 2015 Municipal Equality Index (MEI). MEI, which is coordinated by the Washington, DC-based Human Rights Campaign, examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there. Last year, the MEI rated 353 cities from across the United States. The 16 Florida municipalities which participated in 2014 were Cape Coral, Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah, Hollywood, Jacksonville, Miami,  Miami Beach, Miami Shores, Oakland Park, Orlando, Pembroke Pines, Port Saint Lucie, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa and, of course, Wilton Manors.

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