Big Business Mega-Coalition Decides Florida Should Stop Hating Gays So Much

Poor Republican legislators are surely going to be in a bind over this. On one hand, they're used to bending to the whims of big business. On the other, they party has gone all in on the "Yeah, LGBT people are kind of icky" front. So what are they to do when a giant coalition of some of Florida's biggest businesses and employers band together to demand just a little bit more rights for LGBT citizens in Florida?

For the past eight years, left-leaning legislators have filed bills that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to state's existing anti-discrimination laws to no avail. The bill hasn't even made been heard in committee thanks to Republican's iron clad grip on both houses.

Now, big business has decided to get involved. Eleven major businesses have joined an effort to get the bill passed. They include C1 Bank, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, CSX, Darden Restaurants, Florida Blue, Haskell, HSN, Tech Data, University of North Florida, Walt Disney World Resort, and Wells Fargo.

CSX and Florida Blue in particular are big donors to Florida politicians, but both tend to give more money to Republicans. Florida Blue has already given $85,000 to Rick Scott's reelection efforts. Darden (which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden) and Tech Data are two of Florida's most prominent Fortune 500 companies. Walt Disney World is also a major player in the state, obviously.

They all fear that Florida's reputation as an anti-gay state is hurting their bottom line and impeding their ability to attract top talent to the state.

"Recruiting and retaining talent is critical to our long-term business success," read a statement announcing the push. "Florida employers must attract qualified and diverse applicants who reflect the diverse population of the state."

The bill the corporate cats are supporting is the Competitive Workforce Act (HB 239/SB 348), which is sponsored by Representatives Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) and Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) in the House and by Senator Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) in the Senate. The bill would protect LGBT citizens from being discriminated against in areas like employment and housing.

More than half of Floridians already live in areas that have enacted similar ordinances on the local level. Miami-Dade, for example, already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but an effort to expand those rights to transgender citizens was derailed earlier this year by the Christian Family Coalition and Commissioner Lydia Bell.

The Orlando Sentinel however points out that there's no guarantee as to how strongly the businesses will expand political capitol on the issue or whether they're just throwing their names behind the bill.

"I'm not sure we saw active lobbying on that issue," Rep. Saunders told the paper. "But just being able to say that they supported it made a big difference."

However, socially conservative but pro-business Republicans are already sort of freaking out.

"We're feeling the pressure that we're supposed to change our moral view and that's quite a challenging dialog to have," Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told the Tampa Tribune.

He said that LGBT rights have gained support thanks to "the media and Hollywood," but he still thinks "among the people that have to make the hiring and firing decisions in daily life, I think there's still a broad discussion that has to be held."

Nevermind that people's growing support for gay rights is not just informed by the "the media and Hollywood" but also things, like, oh, the President of the United States, a growing list of religious leaders, giant corporate monoliths, and, most importantly, their own LGBT family members and friends.

Still for many Republicans who claim to be pro-business, including Gov. Rick Scott, the issue will present a quandary. When some of Florida's biggest businesses are saying that making sure gay citizens aren't discriminated against is good for business, what are they to do when Florida is still struggling to recover from the downturn?

If the bill did pass this year it would need to be signed by Scott as he's running for reelection on a pro-business platform. Ultimately, don't expect the Republican-controlled legislature to put him in such a quandary, but maybe things might change next year if Florida elects a Democrat as governor in November.

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