Florida LGBT Rights Bill Stalled in Senate by GOP's Bathroom Obsession

Throughout much of the state of Florida, it's still completely legal to fire someone simply for being gay. Sure, several cities and counties in the state have passed local ordinances banning anti-gay discrimination, but those only protect 55 percent of Floridians (and not all of those local laws extend to transgender people). 

The Florida Competitive Workplace Act aims to change this. It's backed by some of the state's biggest employers, including Disney and Winn-Dixie, and was even introduced by a Republican co-sponsor in the state House. The bill, however, was delayed during its first hearing yesterday by, of all things, social conservatives' fixation on bathrooms. 

The bill is pretty straightforward. It simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's existing anti-discrimination laws. Those laws already protect people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, marital status, disability, and age. It would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in the areas of education, employment, housing, and public accommodations. Even people who are perceived to be gay are protected under the bill. 

It's the tenth year in a row a similar bill has been introduced, but no previous version has even received a hearing in either wing of the Republican-controlled state legislature. 

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and allowed the bill to come up for discussion yesterday. 

Some Republican members of the committee, however, seemed really hung up on the idea of transgender people being allowed to use bathrooms. 

“This bill would allow an anatomical male to undress as a public accommodation in a gymnasium?” asked Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Brandes asked the question several times in a Marco Rubio-like repetition. 

"You could have a lot of weirdos doing weird things in bathrooms. Men or women," said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. 

This concern comes despite the fact that several states and cities across the country have enacted laws protecting transgender people's right to use the bathroom of their choice and there's been no widespread occurrences of "weirdos doing weird things" because of such laws

The bill even requires transgender people to prove that their "gender-related identity is a sincerely held part of a person’s core identity and is not being asserted for an improper purpose" if they were to seek protection under the law. 

Some Republicans on the committee also worried about the possibility of improper lawsuits stemming from the bill. 

Still, several activists and members of the business community spoke out in favor of the bill. Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman even traveled to Tallahassee to speak in favor of the bill. 

Heyman pointed out that Miami-Dade, Florida's largest county, has passed LGBT protection laws and has seen no problems with out-of-control lawsuits or misbehavior in bathrooms. 

The final vote on the bill came down 5-5, but in a rare move Diaz de la Portilla allowed sponsor Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Lake Worth, to rework the bill and discussion will continue today. 

Even still, the bill has little chance of even being heard in the much more conservative House. Meanwhile, the House is moving forward on the "Pastor Protection Act" that would protect churches from lawsuits stemming from refusals to perform gay marriages, despite the fact church's rights to not perform weddings for whatever reason are already protected by the Constitution.
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Kyle Munzenrieder