According to a recent study by the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank, only 38 percent of Floridians live in cities or counties that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city of Tampa has been a trailblazer in this regard, because it is among Florida's local governments that have such protections in place. It looks like Hillsborough County soon may join the ranks of these local governments that aim for fairness and equality for residents.
Hillsborough County took a step toward updating the county's antidiscrimination provisions to include gay and transgender people. On July 16, the County Commission voted 7-0 to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identification to the county's human rights ordinance. The commission will hold a public hearing on the change and vote on the revised language soon.
Hillsborough County commissioners should be applauded for addressing the issue, and I hope state lawmakers take note. Florida law promotes fair treatment and equal opportunity for many, but it does not offer protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. This contrasts with more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies that have such policies in place and 17 other states that have passed similar nondiscrimination protections. If Florida wants to attract and retain the best and the brightest and tout itself as a business-friendly environment, we are going to have to bring our laws into the 21st century.
For this reason, top Tampa Bay area employers, including the three major-league sports franchises — the Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning — are leading the charge to ensure Florida's antidiscrimination law reflects current public opinion. The growing list of business leaders includes Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Raymond James Financial Inc., the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the Westshore Alliance, C1 Bank and Tech Data Corp., among others who want to modernize the law to make it fair and good for business.
The state's long-term business successes rely on recruiting and retention, and Tech Data and other coalition members understand we must attract qualified applicants who reflect the state's diverse population. Not only have the businesses and institutions that have joined the coalition put their brands behind the effort, but so have their leaders.
Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce coalition is a 501c(4) made up of 18 top employers, six of which are on the Fortune 500 list. The coalition's mission is to support passage of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which promotes fairness and modernizes state law by banning antigay and gender-based discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. The legislation gained unprecedented bipartisan support during the 2014 legislative session, and the coalition plans a full-court press in 2015.
Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce believes that the Florida Competitive Workforce Act will make Florida more competitive in the national and global marketplace in much the same way companies have benefitted from adopting antidiscrimination policies. The coalition is excited to see the Hillsborough County government reviewing its provisions and looks forward to working with other Tampa Bay-based companies, business advocates and lawmakers to support the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.
John Tonnison, executive vice president and worldwide CIO of Tech Data Corp., serves as secretary for Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.