Saturday, August 22, 2015

Activist marks 27 years of fight for equality

Florida Weekly correspondent
Week of August 20-25, 2015

The long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court action in June overturning bans on gay marriage liberated many to openly proclaim their joy and celebrate.

But some of those same celebrants had found coming out as gay to be a long and painful process.
Rand Photo 2013 They also may have found that once you were out, you could hit a wall of discrimination that was hard and hurtful.
Palm Beach County lawyer Rand Hoch has fought diligently over the years to bring along thousands of his gay brothers and sisters through his battle for gay rights and his openness and activism.


"When I started law school in the early 1980s, I toned things down a bit. I was still dating men, going to the clubs and the beach, but wasn't overly out at law school. At the time Stetson was still a Baptist school, so I didn't want to cause any problems."

And there was still fear and doubt that gays could be openly accepted practicing law.

"During my second year of school, a budget analyst for Broward County, Todd Shuttleworth, was fired for having AIDS. When he lost his job, he also lost his health insurance. I sent a letter to Alan Terl, an ACLU participating attorney who was representing Todd, offering my assistance.

"Alan called to thank me and advised me not to get involved. He feared that my association with the case could jeopardize my admission to The Florida Bar. At the time, the Florida Supreme Court had ruled that one's sexual orientation alone could not be used to deny admission to The Florida Bar. But the Court did not rule on whether a 'practicing homosexual' could be admitted. And I had been practicing for quite some time."

But practicing and being openly accepted are two different things, especially concerning employment. Mr. Hoch found this out while working as a clerk for a law firm in North Palm Beach years ago

He had assumed the firm tacitly acknowledged his sexual orientation when members gave him two weeks to go to San Francisco and attend the Democratic National Convention.

"Now, most people know that political conventions last a few days, not two weeks," he notes. "So when the firm said that would be fine, I thought that maybe this was the firm's way of saying, 'It's OK to be gay and work for us.' "

He was very wrong.

He was offered a job with the firm after graduation; that was the good news.

But when he decided he didn't want to "actively hide" his personal life, he asked how his homosexuality would affect eventually becoming a partner.

That brought the bad news.

"I watched the color drain from his face, and then I watched the color return as he said, 'We've never had that problem before.' This was not a good sign.

"He asked how my being gay might have an impact on the firm.

"I replied that I didn't intend on asking male clients to dance at the Christmas party, but, if there was going to be a firm party or retreat, I would like to be able to bring along my significant other, if I had one. As it turns out, one of the firm's biggest clients would probably have enjoyed dancing with me. But at the time, I didn't know he was gay."

Eventually, Mr. Hoch negotiated a graceful exit that allowed him to say he had turned down their job offer when questioned about why he left.

This was a big turning point in his career.

"Having been a victim of discrimination based solely on my sexual orientation, I refocused my legal studies to labor law," he said.

"After graduation, I went to work for a labor law firm in West Palm Beach, representing workers and unions. Based on what had happened with the other law firm, I decided not to volunteer information about my sexuality, but I decided that I would be truthful if asked. They didn't ask."

He went on to become a founder in 1988 of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. He has twice served as the organization's president and has helped to spearhead efforts that have greatly expanded gay rights, particularly in Palm Beach County.

"Over the past 27 years, PBCHRC has been the impetus for enacting close to 100 LGBT-inclusive laws and policies," Mr. Hoch says.

"Personally, I am most proud of orchestrating the successful campaign in 1989 and 1990 to have the County Commission amend the County's Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.

"Until that was done, a gay rights law had only been enacted one time in Florida, in Dade County, and it was repealed within a matter of months. So, our law remains the oldest LGBT rights law in effect in Florida today."

What he doesn't mention in his biography and public statements is his effort to see that there is strong leadership trained to carry on this battle.

"After having the honor to have been mentored by Rand Hoch I can honestly say he believes in supporting the next generation to continue the work above all else," says Carly Elizabeth Cass, a council board member.

"Since I joined the board of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council last year, he has repeatedly expressed the belief that 'a good leader is always looking for his or her replacement,'" she says.

"Rand does not let his ego get in the way of the work. He has expressed and shown the importance of asking for help, and always giving credit where credit is due. Out of everything he has taught me, perhaps the most important is that there is a process as to how things should be done and it must be respected.

"Rand is not the type of person to jump the gun, rather he is one of the most diplomatic leaders I have ever met.

"He will exhaust all resources before taking controversial action. With all that being said, Rand has a lot more on his to-do list before stepping down from his position within the community."

To read the complete article, click here.

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