Sunday, September 27, 2015

Palm Beach County expands anti-bias law to include retail businesses

By Wayne Washington - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
September 23, 2015

WEST PALM BEACH — With demands for freedom of religious expression spilling into the presidential race — and sparking fears of renewed discrimination — Palm Beach County vastly expanded the types of businesses that are expressly barred from discriminating against customers and would-be customers.

At the urging of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council — a group best known for its work in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians — the County Commission voted 6-0 Tuesday to expand the definition of what is considered a “public accommodation.”

The county’s anti-discrimination law has, for a quarter century, barred discrimination in public accommodations, typically thought of as restaurants and places of lodging and entertainment.
Now, though, the county has expanded the definition of public accommodation to include a broad range of businesses, including retail outlets and places of transportation.

“This is really a big deal,” said Rand Hoch, the president and founder of the West Palm branch of the Human Rights Council. “This is just putting it out there that if you hold yourself out there to serve the general public, you can’t do that if you’re going to discriminate against members of that public.”

Hoch alluded to incidents in Florida and other states to highlight the potentially sweeping impact of the county’s expanded ordinance, which was first discussed in August.

On Monday, a transgender woman live-tweeted her experience of being detained by security officials at Orlando International Airport because of what they described as “an anomaly,” her penis.
The woman said she missed her flight.

“Yesterday, the airport (in Palm Beach County) wasn’t a public accommodation,” Hoch said. “Today, the airport is a public accommodation.”

Owners of an Indiana bakery made national news last year when, citing religious objections, they refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

After Indiana passed a “religious tolerance” law some saw as giving businesses permission to discriminate, many canceled vacations and conventions in the state. The law was eventually modified.

The bakery, boycotted by some who saw its actions as discriminatory, closed in December, though its owners said it remained financially viable.

“Today, the bakery is a public accommodation,” Hoch said, adding that a bakery in Palm Beach County could not legally refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Since it was passed in 1973, Palm Beach County’s anti-discrimination ordinance has been modified to include additional groups of people, but the limited definition of a public accommodation remained, a sort of relic, Hoch said, of the civil rights-era protests that led to its creation.
First-time violators of Palm Beach County’s anti-discrimination ordinance can be fined as much as $10,000. A second violation within five years could bring a fine of up to $25,000. And three violations within seven years could mean a fine of as much as $50,000.

Complainants can sue in court or go to the Fair Housing Board.

Demands for freedom of religious expression exploded into the presidential race this year when Kim Davis, an elected county clerk in Kentucky, said her religious faith compelled her to refuse to issue the wedding licenses to gay couples, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring it.

On the day of her release, Davis was greeted by two Republican Party candidates for the president — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Both men praised her and blasted her jailing as the “criminalization” of Christianity. Others, however, argued that Davis’ behavior was homophobic, discriminatory and illegal.

“This is the real world,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said. “Discrimination still exists.”

When the Human Rights Council first asked the County Commission to expand the definition of places of public accommodation last January, “its main priority was to prohibit consumer racism in retail stores — a practice known as ‘shopping while black,’ ” Hoch said.

The experience of people of color being refused service, or given poor service, is not uncommon. Many African Americans describe as a sort of black right of passage being followed in a store or being asked, repeatedly, “Can I help you?”

Hoch said the Human Rights Council gets two or three calls a year from black residents describing an unpleasant shopping experience. According to the council, the complaints include being wrongly detained, steered away from certain products and asked for additional forms of identification regarding credit applications.

“They’d say they were followed in the store and treated like a criminal,” Hoch said. “They said it was embarrassing.”

Palm Beach County’s expanded ordinance puts it on legal par with other counties in the southern part of the state. Hoch, however, said he’d like the see it adopted by the state Legislature.

Previous efforts to expand the state’s anti-discrimination laws have failed.

Typically, the push back against expanding anti-discrimination laws have come from business owners worried about being sued.

Officials with the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County could not be reached for comment on the county’s expanded ordinance. Danny Martell, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, said he does not know enough about the expanded ordinance to comment on it.

Commissioners passed changes to the ordinance without comment on Tuesday, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the move, Taylor said.

“I don’t think we can do too much to protect the rights of people,” she said.

Palm Beach County bolsters anti-discrimination law

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Palm Beach County Expands Civil Rights Protections

September 22, 2015

Palm Beach County Commissioners have unanimously voted to expand civil rights protections for minorities by redefining "places of public accommodation" in the Palm Beach County Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation.
The vote, which passed in 6-0 decision, was held on Tuesday morning. 

Specifically, the amendment will now mean that it is prohibited to discriminate not only in hotels or restaurants - which the original ordinance was written for - but also in retail stores and other places of business throughout the county. 

For over forty years, Palm Beach County has steadily strengthened civil rights ordinances that prohibited discrimination. In 1973, the county passed an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in hotels, motels, and restaurants. Over the years those rights have expanded to include race, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. However, those public accommodation discrimination ordinances were limited to places offering lodging, food service or entertainment. 

"The ordinance traced its roots back to civil rights laws written in the 1960s when it was legal to have 'Whites only' hotels, restaurants and bars and the County Commissioners only addressed inequities had occurred in very few places of commerce," explains Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "As we know, discriminatory acts are not limited to those few places."

Now, thanks to Tuesday's vote, the County Commissioners have expanded the definition of public accommodation to include retail stores, schools, day care and senior centers, medical offices, funeral homes, bakeries, laundromats and virtually all other places of business throughout the county.

"Since there is no statewide law covering discrimination in retail stores, the ordinance passed today is clearly the most significant civil rights law passed in Palm Beach County in decades," says Hoch. "Allowing store owners to choose their customers based on prejudice deprives shoppers of the freedom to walk into a store that seems to be open the general public and get served like everybody else."

Hoch, and the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, approached the County Commission in January to address expanding the ordinance. The group's objective was to prohibit consumer racism in retail stores, and to end the so-called "shopping while black" practice, a phrase used to describe racial profiling, or being denied service at a business because the customer is black.

"The experience of people of color being refused service - or given poor service - is not uncommon," the PBCHRC said in a statement. "'Shopping while Black' also includes black customers being followed by store clerks, wrongly detained, steered away from certain products, and being asked for additional forms of identification regarding credit applications."

The amendment also extends to those in the LGBT community who may face discrimination from businesses refusing service over sexual orientation.

The legalization of same-sex marriage throughout several states recently has also brought upon examples of discrimination, where places like locally-owned bakeries and wedding shops have refused to provide services for gay and lesbian couples looking to get married. 
Hoch explains that, under the new ordinance, a bakery that refuses a gay or lesbian couple service may be subject with not only litigation, but a fine of up to $50,000.

"In Palm Beach County, businesses engaged in commerce will no longer be allowed to refuse service based on a person's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or any other protected classes," Hoch says. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wellington Unanimously Passes LGBT-Inclusive Civil Rights Ordinance

By Chris Joseph, Broward-Palm Beach New Times Staff Writer 
Friday, September 11, 2015

Fifty six counties and 392 municipalities across Florida have yet to move forward with prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community.  But last night, Wellington - the largest village in Florida and the fifth largest municipality in Palm Beach County - unanimously voted to enact an LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance establishing that the city opposes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity or expression, genetic information, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, pregnancy, familial status, or age.
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), which has spurred several cities and municipalities across the state to pass similar ordinance, have been diligently working to persuade elected officials in Wellington to enact the ordinance. Delray Beach passed the ordinance in July, and the group hopes that Lake Clark Shores, and Palm Beach Gardens will soon join in.
The movement to get the ordinances passed across the state is part of the PBHRC's Palm Beach County: You're Welcome! campaign.

"The 'Palm Beach County: You're Welcome!' campaign encourages municipalities to enact LGBT-inclusive civil rights laws," PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch says. "These laws will educate local residents and business owners of their civil rights and responsibilities. Moreover, the laws will help attract more jobs, revenue and resources to Palm Beach County."

Yet even as more and more cities and municipalities are joining in on passing the ordinance, there's still more work to do, Hoch says.
Florida lawmakers have yet to move forward with prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community, Hoch tells New Times.
"Clearly much work needs to be done," he says. "Congress has refused to pass a bill since 1974, and Florida has failed to do so since 2007 So all the work needs to be done on the local level - and it still isn't being done in so many parts of the state."

PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch 

On August 11, Hoch presented a draft civil rights ordinance and urged the Village Council to enact it. By a vote of 4-1, the Council directed the Village Attorney to prepare an LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance for their consideration. Councilwoman Anne Gerwig cast the sole "no" vote. Having met with Hoch following the August 11 vote, Gerwig was persuaded to support the civil rights ordinance on Thursday night,
Following Thursday's vote Wellington joins Atlantic Beach, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Dunedin, Gainesville, Greenacres, Gulfport, Key West, Lake Worth, Leesburg, Miami, Miami Beach, Oakland Park, Orlando, St. Augustine Beach, Tampa, Venice, West Palm Beach and Wilton Manors among the cities and municipalities that have enacted LGBT-inclusive municipal civil rights ordinances.
The PBCHRC says the Town of Lake Clarke Shores will be considering an identical LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance at their September 15 Town Council meeting.
"Much work remains to be done in our state," added Hoch.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PBCHRC President's Message - September 2015

September 2015

It has been an incredible summer for LGBT Americans.

On the national level, marriage equality is now the law of the land for all LGBT people across America. Additionally, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) now stands ready to help LGBT people who have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 
Rand Photo 2013
But the help being offered by the EEOC is not enough. Federal, state and local laws expressly prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people are sorely needed.

Last month, the federal Equality Act to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced in Congress. Although there are 195 sponsors who are Democrats - including Palm Beach County's Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy - not a single Republican has signed on to support the bill. So, the likelihood of the Equality Act becoming law before the 2016 elections is remote.

Here at home, Equality Florida will be trying for the eighth consecutive year to get some traction on their proposed Competitive Workforce Act, which, if enacted, would include sexual orientation and gender identity in our state's civil right and fair housing acts. The bill died in the 2015 legislative session without a hearing and a vote - just as it has every year since Equality Florida first introduced it. While incremental progress is being made, with the current legislative leadership, the likelihood of passage of the bill in 2016 remains as remote as ever.

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. And, in contrast to many other civil rights ordinances in Florida, every civil rights ordinance in Palm Beach County expressly protects LGBT people from discrimination.

Yet, we are not resting on our successes over the past 27 years. PBCHRC continues to work diligently to strengthen our county and municipal civil rights laws.

We recently launched our latest initiative - the "Palm Beach County: You're Welcome!" campaign. Close to 100 PBCHRC supporters celebrated the campaign kick-off at Meat Market in Palm Beach. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage local municipalities to enact LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinances.

So far this year, three new ordinances have been enacted. Boynton Beach, Greenacres and Delray Beach have all 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, and to PBCHRC volunteer Marcie Hall for her work in Delray Beach.)

PBCHRC Board Member Hutch Floyd, a Lake Clarke Shores resident, and Secretary Rae Franks have been working for the past few months with Lake Clark Shores Vice Mayor Greg Freebold and Town Council Members Robert Shalhoub and Val Rodriguez on an LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance for the town. The town council is expected to hold its initial vote on the ordinance later this month.

In August, PBCHRC Board Member (and former Mayor of Pahokee) J.P. Sasser and I attended the Wellington Village Council meeting where the vote was 4-1 to direct the village attorney to draft an LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance. Thanks go out to Mayor Bob Margolis, Vice Mayor John Green and Councilmen John T. McGovern and Matt Willhite who all spoke out -- and voted -- in favor of PBCHRC's request for the ordinance. Village Councilwoman Anne Gerwig cast the sole "no" vote. At her request, in late August I met with her to discuss the ordinance; however, it remains to be seen whether she will continue her opposition when the ordinance comes up for initial reading on September 10.

In Haverhill, Vice Mayor Lawrence Gordon asked the Town Council to enact an LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance. On September 1, longtime PBCHRC supporter  and Haverhill resident Charlie Fredrickson and I addressed the Town Council.  Vice Mayor Gordon's request is now headed to the Code and Ordinance's Committee for consideration later this month.

PBCHRC Board Member Jamie Foreman and I continue to work with Lake Worth Mayor Pam Triolo and Vice Mayor Pro Tem Andy Amoroso to strengthen the city's existing civil rights ordinances.
PBCHRC recently approached the South Florida Water Management District, which has employees spread out over 16 Florida counties, to update its Equal Opportunity and Harassment Policy to prohibit discrimination based on "gender identity or expression."

PBCHRC Secretary Rae Franks and I attended the August meeting of the Palm Beach County League of Cities when they discussed an amendment to the Palm Beach County Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation which PBCHRC had drafted. The League had no objection and the ordinance was unanimously approved on first reading on August 18. The final vote is set for September 22, and, that evening, PBCHRC will recognize the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners for their leadership on civil rights over the years.

The September 22 event for the County Commissioners is a happy hour, which will be held at Wine Scene, near CityPlace in West Palm Beach. We expect more than 100 people to attend, and we hope you can make it. For more information - and to RSVP for this free event - please click here.

Also, please click here to go to the event's Facebook page to show that you will be attending.  Please feel free use the "Invite" tab on the event page to invite your friends.

Our relationship with the Palm Beach County's School Board and School District remains strong. PBCHRC Board Member Carly Cass did a presentation on bullying issues faced by LGBT students for the school district in mid-summer. PBCHRC Board Members Meredith Ockman and Carly Cass also participated in the August "Train the Trainer" session entitled "LGBTQ 101: Moving the Margins," which was sponsored by ChildNet Palm Beach.

Robert Telford, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio's liaison to the LGBT community, recently informed PBCHRC that, for the first time, the city will 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.


On Saturday evening, January 16, 2016, PBCHRC will hold our Winter Gala.  The gala will be held at the historic 1920s Palm Beach estate of Bill Eberhardt.Thanks go out to Bill Eberhardt and to  longtime PBCHRC supporter Scott Kent, who will be producing the gala.More information about underwriting opportunities and tickets sales will be provided soon.

PBCHRC will be joining other LGBT and allied organizations in working on Habitat for Humanity's Pride House next year. Construction is currently set for the weekend of February 6, 2016 and if you would like to help out, please contact PBCHRC Board Member Carly Cass at
The Council's current projects include persuading:

*   The Village of Wellington and the Towns of Lake Clarke Shores and Haverhill to enact LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinances and revise their personnel policies to prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" and"gender identity and expression";
*   The Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners and the West Palm Beach City Commission to adopt more comprehensive definitions of "public accommodation" in their human rights ordinances;
*   The South Florida Water Management District to update its Equal Opportunity and Harassment Policy to prohibit discrimination based on "gender identity or expression";
*   Florida Atlantic University to amend its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy to include "gender identity or expression";
*   The City of Boca Raton to rescind Ordinance No. 5161;
*   The chief judge of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in mandatory diversity training for judges and court personnel; and
*   All public employers within Palm Beach County to adopt policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression."

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