For years, the Town of Lake Park (population 8,508) was the only municipality in South Florida that prevented LGBTQ people from pursuing claims of discrimination in housing and public accommodations.
That ended Wednesday night.
Following a contentious campaign by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), which lasted more than two years, the Lake Park Town Commission finally voted to restore the civil rights of LGBTQ people. The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner John Linden casting the sole vote against the civil rights ordinance.
“It took two years to get the Town of Lake Park reinstate laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,” said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. “There is no reason it should have taken this long.”
In Florida, only a handful of counties and cities have ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since 1974, numerous bills have been filed in the U.S. Congress to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people nationwide. Similar bills have been filed in the Florida Legislature since 2007. Unfortunately, not a single one has been enacted into law.
Fortunately, gay men, lesbians and bisexuals throughout Palm Beach County have been protected against discrimination for more than three decades. Trans people have been protected since 2007.
In deference to home rule, Palm Beach County Commissioners included a provision in the Palm Beach County Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation permitting any municipality to opt out of the ordinance by simply adopting a resolution.
And that is what Lake Park Town Commissioners did in 2018.
Ostensibly because of a dispute with the county over sober homes, Town Manager John D’Agostino urged Town Commissioners to opt out of the county’s LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights law. Town Attorney Thomas J. Baird of the Jones Foster law firm drafted the municipal resolution allowing Lake Park to opt out.
The resolution was introduced on August 10, 2018, by Commissioner Roger Michaud, the Town’s only Black commissioner. Interestingly, more than half of the Town’s population is Black. With the votes of just two additional commissioners, the resolution passed and the civil rights of LGBTQ people were immediately stripped away. The resolution also made it more difficult for women and minorities in Lake Park to pursue discrimination claims.
At no time prior to the adoption of the resolution did Town Attorney Baird advise the Town’s elected officials about the adverse impact his resolution would have on minorities. It is unclear whether Baird even realized at the time that adopting the resolution he drafted would result in removing the only legal recourse LGBTQ people in Lake Park had if they faced discrimination in housing and public accommodations.
In March 2019, after PBCHRC discovered what Lake Park had done, Hoch advised Baird “there was collateral damage unrelated to the Town’s purpose for opting out. As a result of the opt out, LGBTQ people in Lake Park are no longer protected against discrimination in housing.”
Hoch asked Baird to bring this matter to the attention of the Town Commission.
Over the years that followed, PBCHRC repeatedly asked Baird and Town Commissioners to come up with a solution that would balance the Town’s desire to regulate sober homes with the rights of LGBTQ people whose civil rights had been taken away.
It took until last Wednesday for that to occur.
“PBCHRC is pleased the civil rights of LGBTQ people in Lake Park finally have been fully restored,” said Hoch.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.