Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Update - March 9, 2011

March 2011

As expected, the general voter turnout in the March 8 West Palm Beach municipal election was extremely low. While many voters opted to stay home, LGBT voters - and our allies - responded overwhelmingly to the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance voter identification, voter education, absentee ballot and get-out-the-vote campaigns.

In mid-February, the four candidates for Mayor and three candidates for City Commission attended the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's "Meet and Greet" at Grandview Gardens Bed & Breakfast. Almost 100 LGBT voters had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the candidates. Thanks go out to Grandview Gardens' owners Peter and Rick and Council Vice President Deidre Newton for making this event such a great success.

A few days after the "Meet & Greet", the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance met individually with each of the seven candidates for 20 minutes to discuss issues of concern to the city's LGBT community. Shortly thereafter, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance made endorsements based on the organization's criteria:

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance endorses candidates who support LGBT initiatives and privacy rights. Endorsements of candidates are made upon consideration of:

* How a candidate has voted on LGBT and privacy issues
* How a candidate has supported the Palm Beach County LGBT community

As a result of our efforts, once again voter participation by Palm Beach County Human Rights Council supporters was exceptionally strong and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Jeri Muoio, who was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance, was successful in her campaign to succeed Lois Frankel as Mayor of West Palm Beach.

Congratulations Jeri!

While neither of the two candidates in the March 22 run-off for West Palm Beach City Commissioner (District 4) was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance, both are supportive of LGBT issues. We are in the process of determining whether or not to endorse either candidate in the March 22 election.

Special thanks go out to West Palm Beach's outgoing Mayor Lois Frankel for promptly acting on the Council's request to amend city policy to permit municipal employees with domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners in the same manner married city employees can take leave to care for their spouses.

Mayor Frankel's action on family and medical leave came just days after Michael McAuliffe, State Attorney for the Fifteen Judicial Circuit of Florida, amended his office's policy on family medical leave to include domestic partners. McAuliffe also updated his policies to prohibit harassment based on gender identity and expression.

Thanks also go out to Carey Haughwout, Palm Beach County's Public Defender, who recently informed the Council the she would be amending her office's policies to allow employees to use family and medical leave benefits to care for their domestic partners. She also told us that her office's nondiscrimination policy will be updated to include "gender identity or expression."

The Council is also working on family medical leave reform with the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners and looks forward to a vote on this in the near future. If this effort is successful, the Council will then ask the City of Delray Beach to honor a commitment made years ago to update their family medical leave policy accordingly.

Earlier this year, the Council also asked the County's Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to review their policies to allow employees to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners. Although both recently declined to make the changes (as they both did when initially asked in 2008), both Clerk Bock and Sheriff Bradshaw have pledged to revisit this issue if the County Commission amends their policy.

Congratulations also go out to State Attorney McAuliffe, along with Assistant State Attorneys Ché Padron and Daniel Funk, and Officer Jennifer Thornton of the Riviera Beach Police Department for their successful efforts in the investigation and prosecution of an anti-gay hate crime in Riviera Beach. Thanks to their efforts, the juvenile assailant - Alvontay Cook - was sentenced to five and one-half years in prison.

In January 2010, Cook and another man started taunting a gay man who was out for a walk in his neighborhood. Although the victim ignored their anti-gay comments, Cook came up from behind him and punched him in the head. His accomplice then held the victim down while Cook repeatedly hit him in the face with a glass bottle until it shattered. Cook then used the broken glass to slash the victim's face. (The severe laceration required hospitalization and reconstructive surgery). Fortunately for the victim, a neighbor came to his rescue, chased Cook and his accomplice away, and treated the victim's wound until the ambulance came. The neighbor then assisted the police in identifying Cook.

On a more positive note, the Council was pleased to participate to participate in Florida Atlantic University LGBTQA Resource Center's grand opening event panel discussion on the "History of Pride." It was a great event and we are very proud of the work done by FAU faculty, administrators, staff and students in making the resource center a reality.

Meanwhile, Allan Barsky, an openly gay professor who has been working for close to a decade on LGBT issues at Florida Atlantic University, met last month with University President M. J. Saunders to discuss adding both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" to the school's nondiscrimination policies, and to consider offering and health insurance coverage to employee's domestic partners. Allan reports that progress is being made.

Our work with the School District of Palm Beach County is centered on enforcing the LGBT inclusive anti-bullying and harassment policy the Council worked on so diligently in 2007, educating both students and School District employees on GLBT issues, encouraging the establishment of gay student alliances (GSAs), and conforming a variety of nondiscrimination policies so that all will include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. School Board Member Jenny Prior Brown has offered to take the lead in our efforts regarding the policy changes and the Council will be meeting with the other school board members throughout the year as we move forward on these issues.

The Council is also working closely with Palm Beach Gardens Mayor David Levy as we renew our efforts to secure domestic partnership health insurance for the employees of the City of Palm Beach Gardens. The city already provides other domestic partnership benefits to its employees.

The Council's expansion into the social media has been a great success. Throughout the day, local, state, national and international news of interest to the GLBT community is posted on the Council's Facebook page (PBCHRC). According to Facebook, our postings are viewed more than 235,000 times per month! In addition, PBCHRC maintains a blog which can be viewed at

The Council is pleased to announce the addition to two new members to our Board of Directors, Hutch Floyd of West Palm Beach and Jessica Blackman of North Palm Beach. We hope you will stop by our booth at PrideFest on March 26 and 27 and meet them both.

We also hope to see you on Saturday afternoon, April 2, for the Second Annual International Gay Polo Tournament at the Grand Champions Polo Field in Wellington - and for the after-party as well. You can purchase advance tickets by going to: Thanks to the generosity of the Gay Polo League, fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale of general admission tickets will be donated to the Council!

The Council continues to work with Wellington officials on our campaign to have the full range of domestic partnership benefits extended to Village employees.

Though our affiliation with Florida Together, the Council will continue to assist other local organizations across the state, so that they may secure the protections and benefits secured by the Council for Palm Beach County's LGBT community for more than two decades.

As always, we will keep you informed of our progress.

Rand Hoch
President and Founder

P.S. If you are on Facebook, please join the more than 1,800 people who "like" PBCHRC. And if you blog, please check us out at: