City acts to ban retailer discrimination
By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The impetus came from calls to the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council from young black men, that shopkeepers would follow them around stores or demand extra ID. The nickname for their assumed offense: "Shopping while Black."
The gay and lesbian community also felt the sting of wedding cake bakers or photographers who refused to serve them.
The push-back came Monday night with a unanimous final vote of the city commission: an amendment to West Palm Beach's human rights law, banning discrimination by an expanded list of "public accommodations," from restaurants and bars to schools, bakeries, hotels, theaters, spas, gyms and any other "establishment, service, place or building which offers, sells or otherwise makes available any good, service, facility, privilege or advantage."
The amendment, approved without discussion, followed the passage of a similar change to Palm Beach County's law.
"It's the biggest expansion in civil rights in the city and county in decades," Rand Hoch, president of the Human Rights Council, said Tuesday.
Hoch said he is working with Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, to propose a state law with the same prohibitions. Florida laws are "really bad, really primitive" and may take years to change, he said.
West Palm adopted its Equal Opportunity Ordinance in 1994 and has updated it from time to time. But the city law was modeled after civil rights legislation that dated from the 1960s and that focused on lunch counters, hotels, and bars and theaters but didn't reflect the changing face of discrimination, Hoch said.
"All these years since then, when they've tweaked them, they've never really looked where discrimination was taking place. And it's taking place almost everywhere business occurs... We saw nothing in the laws in Palm Beach County that dealt with consumer racism," Hoch said.
Now, he says, whether you're a black customer or a gay couple and someone says they are not going to bake your wedding cake, "that's illegal," Hoch said.
It took about eight months for the city and county to consider and research the proposed changes. There was little resistance from the business community, he said. Extending those protections statewide could take three or four years, he said.
The West Palm amendment represents the county's 101st legal change that deals with LGBT rights, by his count.
"As a civil rights lawyer, this is one of the things I'm most proud of having West Palm Beach do, because it covers so many people."