Tuesday, April 12, 2011

PBCHRC Update - April 2011

With municipal elections finally behind us, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is again focusing our efforts on encouraging local public officials to enact laws and policies beneficial to our county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

The Council is proud of the relationships we have developed with both elected and appointed officials over the past 23 years. As a result of our work, public employers in Palm Beach County have enacted far more pro-LGBT ordinances and policies than currently exist anywhere else in the Sunshine State.

Our top priority for 2011 is to ensure that local public policy is changed so that all of the family benefits which are provided to non-gay employees are also provided to gay and lesbian employees. To move forward with this agenda, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council leaders have recently been spending a lot of time with public officials.

For years, PrideFest has given everyone in our community the opportunity to meet with LGBT supportive public officials – and this year was no exception.
  • Cloud Lake Mayor Betty James, an open lesbian, proudly marched in the Gay Pride Parade.
  • Outgoing West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel – Florida’s most prolific elected advocate for the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities – spent one afternoon chatting with PrideFest attendees. Everyone was eager to thank Lois for her tireless support of Palm Beach County’s LGBT community for more than 25 years.
  • Every member of the Lake Worth City Commission spent time at PrideFest – and Mayor Rene' Varela even brought his mother!
  • Tax Collector – and former Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Board Member – Anne Gannon caught up with old friends – and made new ones – as she made her way around Bryant Park.
The Council greatly appreciates the effort put in at PrideFest by Council Board Members Hutch Floyd, Rae Franks, Trent Steele and Jessica Blackman – and a host of PBCHRC volunteers – for staffing our booth and helping us promote both our organization and our newest partner – the Gay Polo League.

Congratulation to COMPASS for producing the best PrideFest and Gay Pride Parade in Palm Beach County history.

A few days after PrideFest, Council board members were honored to attend the inauguration of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. Her strong advocacy for LGBT residents and our families ensures that West Palm Beach will remain Florida’s most LGBT-supportive city.

At the inaugural reception, Council leaders spent time with Delray Beach Mayor “Woodie” McDuffie and with newly-elected West Palm Beach City Commissioners Keith James. Keeping on point in both conversations, we addressed allowing municipal employees to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners – a key Council initiative. Both elected officials expressed their strong support for our endeavors.

At the Gay Polo League’s 2nd annual International Gay Polo Tournament the following weekend, I spent time with Wellington Mayor Darrell Bowen, talking about the next steps that need to be taken to implement domestic partner benefits for the employees of the Village of Wellington.

Gay polo was fantastic – and more than a dozen tailgate parties added to the event’s success. Council Board Member Jamie Foreman did an excellent job with the PBCHRC tailgate party – and we thank everyone who stopped by.

The Council is very grateful that the Gay Polo League designated our organization as the charitable beneficiary of the tournament. Thanks go out to Mason Phelps – and everyone at Phelps Media Group – for bringing the event to Wellington and for making it such a success.

Special thanks go out to Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League, for his recognition of the Council’s successful efforts in encouraging the Village of Wellington to adopt an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy.

At the first meeting of the West Palm Beach City Commission presided over by Mayor Muoio, city commissioners unanimously passed a resolution amending the city’’s Family and Medical Leave Policy to allow city employees to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners in the same manner as married employees can use it to care for their spouses. With this action, the City of West Palm Beach became the most LGBT-supportive municipality in the southeastern United States. (And you thought it might have been Key West, Miami Beach – or even Lake Worth!).
  • Way back in 1992, West Palm Beach became the first city in Florida to offer basic domestic partnership benefits (e.g., sick leave, bereavement leave) to city employees.
  • In the years that followed, West Palm Beach offered health insurance and COBRA-like continuation of health insurance coverage to employee’s domestic partners. In addition, the city extended lifetime health insurance benefits to the surviving domestic partner of any city employee killed in the line of duty. West Palm Beach also updated the definition of "immediate family" in the city's Employee Handbook to include an employee's domestic partner's children and parents.
  • During the past decade, West Palm Beach established the county’s first domestic partnership registry, through which any qualified unmarried couple could register their relationship with the city clerk. (Soon thereafter Palm Beach County followed suit). As a result, domestic partners are now treated in the same manner as spouses by health-care facilities throughout Palm Beach County with regard to visitation and care decisions. Domestic partners are to be notified as family members in the event of an accident, and in the event of a partner's death, they will be empowered to make funeral decisions.
  • Additionally, West Palm Beach also has a human rights ordinance which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as gender identity or expression.
The Council truly appreciates how promptly the City Commission acted on our request to expand the city’s Family and Medical Leave Policy. We recognize the great work done by Mayors Muoio and Frankel, City Attorney Claudia McKenna and Assistant City Attorney Joshua Koehler to implement this important change. The Council also thanks City Commissioners Keith James, Kimberly Mitchell, Bill Moss and Ike Robinson for their strong support of the city’s lesbian and gay employees and their families,

A controversy over LGBT issues erupted in Lake Worth between The Cottage (a local bar which conducts a tea-dance every Sunday for the LGBT community) and the City of Lake Worth. At a commission meeting addressing the dispute, City Commissioner JoAnn Golden came out as “a gay woman.” At the end of the meeting, the Lake Worth City Commission unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming the its commitment to promoting and protecting diversity and equality in Lake Worth.

Following up on the Lake Worth resolution, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council filed a public records request with Lake Worth City Manager Susan Stanton to determine what city policies – if any – need to be revised to best serve the city’s LGBT employees and residents.

Another public records request was filed with the Village of North Palm Beach by one of the Council’s newly elected Board Members, Jessica Blackman. Once the Council reviews the documents, Jessica will be working with the Villages public officials to see what changes need to be made in Village ordinances and policies.

The Council met with Palm Beach Gardens City Manager Ron Ferris and Director of Human Resources Sheryl Stewart to discuss the possibility of the city expanding the range of domestic partner benefits offered by the city to include both health insurance and family and medical leave . (The City of Palm Beach Gardens already offers all other domestic partner health insurance benefits to its employees). We also discussed adding “gender identity or expression” into the city’s non-discrimination policies.

We continue to urge the members of the Palm Beach County School Board to amend the School District’s Family and Medical Leave policy to include employees’ domestic partners. The Council is very optimistic that the School Board will support the amendment when the item appears on a meeting agenda later this year.

Carey Haughwout, Palm Beach County's Public Defender, notified the Council this week that she has amended her office's policies to allow employees to use family and medical leave benefits to care for their domestic partners. She also informed us that her staff is in the process of updating her office’s nondiscrimination policy to include "gender identity or expression." The Council thanks Public Defender Haughwout for her leadership on LGBT workplace issues.

The Public Defender joins the County’s State Attorney, Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector and Property Appraiser – all of whom have updated their family and medical leave policies to include domestic partners,

As a result, the sole holdouts on family and medical leave reform among Palm Beach County constitutional officers remain County Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. Although both officials declined to make the changes when asked to do so by the Council earlier this year (and previously in 2008), both Clerk Bock and Sheriff Bradshaw have indicated a willingness to review their policies if the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners amends its family and medical leave policy to include domestic partners. The County Commission will take up this matter on May 2 and the Council is optimistic about the outcome.

Delray Beach Mayor “Woodie” McDuffie recently told the Council that he expects to bring up family and medical leave reform in his city within the next few weeks and that he feels comfortable the Delray Beach City Commission will approve the change in the upcoming months.

The Council’s newest board member is Peter Cava, an Adjunct Instructor in Florida Atlantic University’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and a Ph.D. candidate at in FAU. Peter will be assisting the Council, as well as FAU faculty, staff and students, in our longstanding coordinated campaign to encourage the university add both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" to the school's nondiscrimination policies, and to offer health insurance coverage to employee's domestic partners.

On the national front, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is urging Congressmen Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings to co-sponsor six bills of importance to our community:
  • The Respect for Marriage Act
  • The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2011
  • The Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2011
  • The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011
  • The Uniting American Families Act
  • The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
While we expect Democratic Congressmen Deutch and Hastings to sponsor all six bills, we have no reason to expect similar support – to say the least – from local Republican Congressmen Tom Rooney or Allan West.

Our 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 pbchrc.blogspot.com.

Please help us extend our reach -- and help your Facebook friends keep up with LGBT news, etc. -- by going to the PBCHRC Facebook page and hitting the "Suggest to Friends" button on the right. This will help us out greatly.

The Council continues to assist local organizations and activists across the state in their efforts to secure benefits in their localities. Most recently, we have been assisting activists in Fort Lauderdale in their efforts to convince their city commission to provide domestic partnership benefits to municipal employees.

As you can tell, there is a lot of work being done by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council – and there is even more that needs to be done.

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

Rand Hoch,
President and Founder

Friday, April 8, 2011

Top 10 Things We Wouldn't Know About LGBT America Without the Williams Institute

1. 9 million LGBT people live in the U.S., or 3.8 % of the adult population

2. LGBT people are racially, ethnically, and geographically diverse: 1 in 4 LGBT people are people of color, and same-sex couples identified themselves on the Census in 99% of U.S. counties

3. A substantial percentage of LGBT people are raising children: 1 in 5 same-sex couples, and 6% of children in foster care are being raised by LGB people

4. LGB people are serving in the Armed Forces: 71,000 are currently serving and there are over 1 million LGB veterans in the U.S.

5. 70,000 same-sex couples have gotten married in the U.S.; another 90,000 have entered civil unions and domestic partnerships

6. The annual divorce rate for same-sex couples and different-sex married couples is similar -- about 2%

7. LGBT people are not more affluent. Gay men earn 10 to 23% less, on average, than heterosexual men. Children of same-sex couples are twice as likely to live in poverty.

8. Rates of hate crimes and employment discrimination against LGBT people are similar or higher than those for other protected groups. Until the Williams Institute, no one analyzed this data on a per capita basis, taking into account the size of the LGBT population.

9. Don't Ask, Don't Tell cost taxpayers as much as $500 million during the length of the policy.

10. If all 50 states and the federal government recognized marriage for same-sex couples, the federal budget would benefit by over $1 billion each year.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rev. Mark D. Boykin, a Boca Raton anti-gay media hog, calls PBCHRC a "nefarious extremist group"

Sun Sentinel - Palm Beach Politics

Gay activist hails, religious leader criticizes updated city policy for gay employees

By Anthony Man
April 7, 2011

Rand Hoch, founder of the gay rights group Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, is praising the West Palm Beach City Commission's decision to amend city policy to allow employees with domestic partners the right to use family and medical leave to care for their domestic partners the same way married employees can use it to care for their spouses.

"Perhaps one day, the state of Florida and the federal government will end their discrimination against non-traditional families," Hoch said. "Until that day comes, it is incumbent upon local officials to take action to protect all families."

Before the city policy change, employees were allowed to to take unpaid, job-protected leave to attend to their own serious health conditions, as well as to those of their spouses, children and parents.

"As mayor, I am proud that our lesbian and gay municipal employees are entitled to every family benefit offered by the City of West Palm Beach," Mayor Jeri Muoio said in a statement.

The Rev. Mark D. Boykin, senior pastor of Church of All Nations in Boca Raton, opposed the move.

“We are coming together to defend our family values and the traditions we hold dear in the State of Florida,” said Boykin. “It is sad to see that Mayor Jeri Muoio and the city commissioners capitulating to nefarious extremist groups in order to push a radical agenda. We have so many issues and problems in the City of West Palm Beach, and we need the mayor and city commissioners to focus on solving city issues and not to undermine the fabric of the nuclear family.”


Monday, April 4, 2011

West Palm becomes first city in county to give family sick leave to domestic partners

by Andrew Abramson
Palm Beach Post staff writer

April 4, 2011

Jeri Muoio’s first commission meeting as mayor has few items on it, but the commission just passed a piece of legislation that the county’s Human Rights Council is hailing as a major landmark for gay and lesbian rights.

West Palm Beach became the first city in the county to extend family sick leave to domestic partners. Currently, a heterosexual employee can take up to 12 weeks off if his or her spouse or partner has a major illness. In West Palm Beach, that will now be extended to gay and lesbian couples, as well as heterosexual non-married couples who have registered with the city as being domestic partners.

“We’re on mission this year with the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council to address the problems with the family medical leave act,” said Rand Hoch, founder of the human rights council.

“Here in Florida, we know there’s not going to be any action taken by this (state) legislature in the next two years, and even though we have support on the national level from Congressman Deutch and Congressman Hastings, it’s not going to happen on the federal level in the next two years either. That means activist groups here in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida have to work with every single employer so we can educate them in the gap here.”

Hoch said his organization is working with Delray Beach, Wellington and Palm Beach County to pass similar legislation.

“As usual, with West Palm Beach being probably the city south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi that has the most pro-non traditional family policies anywhere in America, we went to the city first on this one.”

West Palm Beach spokesman Chase Scott said it won’t come at a cost to the city. Workers will still have to burn through their vacation and sick time before taking the extended leave, which will be unpaid although the workers will receive benefits during this time. Their jobs will remain open while they are on leave, and they can return at full salary.

While Muoio campaigned on being a champion for gay and lesbian rights, Hoch said it’s more of a coincidence that this item will be passed at Muoio’s first commission meeting as mayor.

“Lois (Frankel) has been working on this and Lois has been great on these issues all along,” Hoch said. “When Jeri first came on board (as commissioner) she was the one who got COBRA benefits extended to domestic partners, which was a similar situation. I thought this would come up as one of Lois’ last hurrahs so to speak, because she’s done so much for the community. But it had to go through the process and it just came out that the date they could put on the calendar was the date of Jeri’s first meeting. We’re thrilled, we would would have been thrilled with Lois, we’re thrilled with Jeri and it really does help us a lot. I think Jeri is pretty proud to be able to do this at her first meeting.”

Currently, 40 West Palm Beach employees are registered as living in a domestic partnership, with the numbers closely split between gay and straight couples. Muoio said West Palm Beach needs to be at the forefront of these issues.

“We are the largest city (in the county) and we have the most employees,” Muoio said. “It’s appropriate that we do this.”

On the federal and state level, many activist groups are working just to get basic health benefits to gay couples. According to Hoch, West Palm Beach was the first city in the state to give health benefits to domestic partners in 1992.

“We’ve been at this for a while,” Hoch said. “Now we’re just picking up the pieces.”