Sunday, July 24, 2016

PBCHRC is well represented at the Democratic National Convention

On May 21, former PBCHRC Board Member Anne Gannon,
a longtime ally of the LGBT community who currently serves as the Constitutional Tax Collector for Palm Beach County and  
former PBCHRC Vice President and Board Member Deidre Newton, an out woman who serves as the Democratic State Committeewoman for Palm Beach County, were elected to  serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

On the following day, PBCHRC Founder and President Rand Hoch, who served as Florida's first openly gay judge in the mid-1990s, was appointed by the Clinton campaign to serve on the Democratic Party's Platform Committee. 

Former Congressman Barney Frank with Rand Hoch and Deidre Newton 

Gannon, Newton and Hoch are longtime supporters of Hillary Clinton. Last November, Clinton was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance. 

Rand Hoch presents Hillary Clinton with 
 the PBCHRC Voters Alliance endorsement letter
Over the years, the Democratic Party has relied on PBCHRC activists to help shape the party's platform. 

In 2004, then-PBCHRC Vice President Deidre Newton was tapped by John Kerry's presidential campaign to serve on the Platform Committee. 

PBCHRC research assistant Michael Ira Thayer was recruited by the Hillary Clinton campaign to serve on the Platform Committee in 2008.

Florida's 291 member delegation to the 2016 Democratic National Convention includes 246 delegate, 18 alternates and 9 members of each of the three standing committees: Platform Committee, Rules Committee and Credentials Committee. 
The Florida delegation includes 29 LGBT Democrats, including Florida Democratic Party First Vice Chair Alan Clendenin, who is running for Hillsborough County School Board and Broward County's Democratic State Committeeman Ken Evans.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

West Palm Beach Offers Health Benefits to Transgender Employees

By Jess Swanson 

Broward-Palm Beach New Times
July 12, 2016

Four months after North Carolina lawmakers required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificates, the City of West Palm Beach has announced that it will now make life a little easier for its transgender employees and their families.

Now the city's health insurance policy will cover gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and other medical benefits. It is the first public employer in Palm Beach County and one of the first cities in Florida (after Miami Beach and St. Petersburg) to do so.

Rand Photo 2013
"The City of West Palm Beach is now one of the best places for LGBT people to live, go to school, work and retire," says Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County's Human Rights Council. "The beauty of it is that we don't have to do a whole lot of lobbying here; our leaders know this is the right thing to do."

After more than 100 anti-transgender laws were introduced this past legislative session, the City of West Palm Beach's new health insurance is its own triumph. After North Carolina and Mississippi passed anti-LGBT laws, West Palm Beach swiftly issued a travel ban to its employees for the both states.  The idea: send a message that it will not tolerate such bigotry. Even Wilton Manors, with the largest percentage of LGBT people on the East Coast, couldn't pass a similar motion expanding benefits to transgender employees at a commission meeting in April - even though more than a dozen residents took to the podium in support.

"Part of my true life story is finding employment and benefits that my child can medically have," Wilton Manors resident Deanna Muniz told commissioners in a heartfelt plea. "My child living as Alina had 100 percent medical benefits...when I found out my child was transgender, and living as Jake, he no longer had them, maybe 30 percent of those benefits."

Wilton Manors commissioner Julie Carson introduced the motion to include health benefits for transgender employees. Four months later, she is still surprised by the lack of support from her fellow commissioners. She believes the motion didn't pass because it would cost employees an extra $6 to $12 per month. (Currently, employees pay between $82 and $151 bi-weekly.)

"I'm so happy to know the [City of West Palm Beach was] able to do this," Carson says. "I still have a bitter taste in my mouth after the motion wasn't successful here. There was such opposition and disdain."

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio could not immediately respond to an interview request about the new health insurance and it's unclear if extra money will be deducted from employees's paychecks to cover the costs.

"Other companies have been doing this for years; it's not a huge cost item," Hoch explains. "There aren't that many people taking advantage of this benefit simply because it doesn't apply to them."

The benefits went into effect in West Palm Beach this past July 1.

According to the city's policy with Cigna, gender reassignment surgery and pre- and post-hormone therapy will be covered for any individual 18 years or older. However, preserving embryos or sperm and a long list of surgeries like breast augmentation, penile prostheses, and trachea shave are not considered medically necessary.

"It's good to see the City of West Palm Beach put their money where their mouth is," says Michael Rajner, who sits on the Broward County Human Rights Board and was a vocal supporter of Wilton Manor's plan. "It demonstrates what it means to be truly supportive of the LGBT community in its entirety." 

W. Palm Beach and Palm Beach County considering banning conversion therapy for LGBT children

June 21, 2016

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has asked the City of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County to ban conversion therapy.  West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger have directed their legal departments to research our request and to draft ordinances for consideration by the City and County Commissions.  PBCHRC is working closely with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) , which has had great success on these initiatives.

Check out excerpts from an article in today's Sun-Sentinel about the efforts with the County:


Palm Beach County considering a ban on conversion therapy for gay, lesbian children

By Skyler Swisher
Sun-Sentinel reporter
June 21, 2016

Palm Beach County could become one of the first communities in Florida to ban conversion therapy for children - a practice in which therapists attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said Tuesday she would support the ban if county legal staff determines it's within the County Commission's authority.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, an advocacy group, is pushing for county commissioners to take up the issue.

"It is still something licensed practitioners here in Florida can do," said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the council, which supports equal protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. "Other states have taken position this is not good medicine, not good psychology. This is actually harmful."

If successful, Palm Beach County would become the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy for people under the age of 18.

Efforts to pass a ban at the state level have failed in the Florida Legislature, and Miami Beach is the only local government board to prohibit conversion therapy for minors, according to the group.
Gay teenagers have been told in counseling sessions they are not actually gay and can change. The therapy stresses being a true man or a feminine woman, playing up traditional gender notions.

Conversion therapists advertise online that they can "address unwanted same-sex attraction" and offer weekend retreats that offer "intensive emotional-healing work." One service advertises, "You'll stand eye to eye with another man while we help you process whatever feelings might arise."

Conversion therapy is not taught in accredited psychiatric or mental health training programs, and leading medical groups have denounced it, said Dr. Jack Drescher, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Most practitioners are not licensed, and it is not in mainstream activity," he said. "If you want to learn conversion therapy, you have to learn it on the street."

The American Psychological Association has concluded trying to change someone's sexual orientation can cause depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

But the therapy is still offered under the radar - mostly by therapists affiliated with religious groups and people calling themselves "life coaches," Drescher said. Hoch said he's not aware of any licensed therapists in Palm Beach County offering conversion therapy, which is also known as reparative therapy.

Drescher said he views bans, such as the one Palm Beach County is considering, to be mostly symbolic because they are difficult to enforce. The measures do help to raise awareness about the issue, he said.

Conversion therapists have challenged bans unsuccessfully in federal court. They dispute that sexual orientation is innate and cannot be changed. They argue a person's sexual identity can be influenced by childhood trauma and can be changed with therapy.

Earlier this month, Miami Beach became the first governmental entity in Florida to prohibit the controversial counseling for anyone under the age of 18.

In Miami Beach, therapists who offer conversion therapy could be subject to a $200 fine each day they offer the counseling.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to children, according to Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy organization.

West Palm Beach Strengthens Law Prohibiting Discrimination by City Contractors

July 5, 2016

At this evening's meeting, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously voted to amend the city's procurement code to require contractors doing business with the city to expressly prohibit  discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The ordinance also covers other protected classes, including race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and marital status.

The action was taken at the request of  the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, the County's most effective civil rights organization. Over the past twenty-eight years, the organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 110 laws and policies providing equal rights and benefits for women and minorities.

Rand Photo 2013
"During the past year, public officials throughout  across our country have been taking steps to weaken civil rights laws by carving out exceptions," said Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.  "In contrast, under Mayor Jeri Muoio's leadership, the City of West Palm Beach continues to move forward on civil rights."

 "West Palm Beach has been and continues to be committed to protecting the rights of all protected groups," said Mayor Jeri Muoio. "Discrimination of any kind must not be tolerated in our community nor in the laws that govern us."  For a copy of West Palm Beach City Ordinance No. 4643-16 , click here.

Rick Scott Can Redeem Himself by Helping LGBTs Fight Employment Discrimination!.

Rick Scott Can Redeem Himself by Helping LGBTs Fight Employment Discrimination
By Jerry Iannelli, Broward-Palm Beach New Times reporter 
June 22, 2016

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi staked a sizable chunk of her political career on trying to ensure that same-sex couples were never allowed to marry. 

Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

The "promotion of family continuity and stability is a legitimate state interest," Bondi once wrote in a legal brief. Translated from Bondi-speak, she was just implying that same-sex parents aren't fit to have children. She's also argued that the state does not need to pay lawyers who defend plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases. But Bondi's longstanding stance on gay-rights didn't stop her from declaring herself a "fierce defender of the LGBT community" in the wake of this month's shooting at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed. It also took Gov. Rick Scott 48 hours to use the words "gay" or "LGBT" whatsoever. 

Those facts are inexcusable. But Rand Hoch, founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which fights to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity in Florida, says that Scott's administration can do more than pray to help the state's LGBT community heal: He can instead right a longstanding wrong, by passing laws to protect LGBT people from job discrimination.

Hoch said that in the past, his group has sent Scott's administration two letters asking the governor to sign an executive order banning LGBT employment discrimination in state jobs and contracting. Hoch says he didn't hear back either time. But in the wake of Orlando, Hoch is now pounding on the governor's door a third time, begging him to award LGBT people the most basic of civil rights. And to even give him the courtesy of responding to his letter.

"I didn't think it was going to be difficult," Hoch said. "When Scott got in, we sent a letter to his transition team. But we never heard back." Then, on Scott's first day in office, the governor signed an anti-job- discrimination ordinance into law - it just didn't include anything about LGBT people, or, oddly, disabled people, either."

"Orlando reopened the door for our request," Hoch said.  "As soon as we saw him understanding the bigger issue, we thought, 'Let's see what we can do.'" Hoch has even written the order out for Scott, using the existing law he signed on Day One of his term. All he'd need to do now is sign the new one.

To view PBCHRC's Correspondence with Governor Scott, 
click here. 

But Scott isn't alone in his silence. Hoch said his group sent former Florida Governor Charlie Crist exactly 12 letters during his tenure. Crist, he says, did not bother to respond once.

"There were rumors that he might be gay, and so a lot of times when you have those type of rumors out there, you want to ignore doing anything," Hoch said. "But that was before he got booted out of the Republican party. I think if Charlie Crist was governor now, he'd clearly issue an executive order."

Nationally, 32 states do not have ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, though Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have enacted discrimination bans at the county level.

"I'd be thrilled to have someone like Pam Bondi or Rick Scott or some other Republicans say its important to include LGBT people," Hoch said. "Now is their chance to back up their words with some action - to prove that LGBT people are part of this community."

But, he says, he'd be stunned if Bondi professed to having a true "change of heart" when it comes to gay people.

"Evolution does happen," he said. "But it's really hard. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was fighting not to pay the attorneys who won in federal court. It would be a very quick turnaround."

We've asked Rick Scott's office straight-up why he hasn't taken action on this. We still await the governor's reply.

Palm Beach County Commissioners Proclaim LGBT Pride Month

June 7, 2016

LGBT community leaders and activists were on hand this morning as the Palm Beach County Commission issued a proclamation marking the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and declaring June as LGBT Pride Month in Palm Beach County.

The proclamation, which was presented by Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, was co-accepted by PBCHRC Secretary Rae Franks, Compass CEO Tony Plakas and Metropolitan Community Church Pastor Rev. Dr. Lea Brown.

"We are all Americans. Period. We live in a country that stands for freedom, justice and equality for all.  We shall not discriminate on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation," said Commissioner McKinlay. "I am proud to support a resolution that stands for all of these things."

"The Stonewall riots in New York City served as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States," said PBCHRC Founder and President Rand Hoch.  "On that night in June of 1969 when harassed by the police officers who raided the Stonewall Inn, beleaguered gay, lesbian and transgender patrons finally fought back."

Shortly thereafter, riots occurred as LGBT and supportive New Yorkers joined the fray, denouncing the longstanding and unwarranted actions of the New York City Police Department.

"The rest is history," said Hoch. "Our history"