TALLAHASSEE — The Supreme Court decision brought pure joy to LGBTQ Floridians, equal rights advocates and allies across the state.
But the ruling, that employers may not fire workers because they are gay or transgender, also raised an important question for those who’ve been fighting for years for state LGBTQ protections.
Does the ruling make it more or less likely that the Florida Legislature will take up anti-discrimination measures in the future?
“When we’re looking at the fight for justice, and equity and fairness in our country, this decision is the floor, not the ceiling,” said Nathan Bruemmer, a transgender man and an equal rights activist, on a news conference call with reporters Monday. "Every aspect of my life has been impacted by discrimination.”
Tallahassee does not have a strong track record of fighting for equal rights for LGBTQ Floridians, who comprise about four percent of the state’s population, according to a 2017 Gallup poll.
At the start of the 2020 legislative session, four proposals drew heavy criticism from progressives, who accused GOP lawmakers of trying to pass a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
One bill, House Bill 305, would have prevented local governments from regulating conditions of employment, including making rules that regulate the interview process.
Pre-employment screening — or a job interview — is the stage where discrimination can take place, LGBTQ advocates said at the time.
The bill died in its last committee stop.
And despite bipartisan support in the Legislature, Republican leadership has for years failed to put a key equal rights proposal up for a major vote.
That bill, the Competitive Workforce Act, was introduced in 2009. It would prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Florida when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Supreme Court settled the employment part of the proposal on Monday, but not the housing or public accommodations piece.
To Nadine Smith, the Executive Director of Equality Florida, an influential LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit based out of St. Petersburg, the court’s ruling only adds to the urgency to pass the bill.
“This does not in any way reduce the need for the state Legislature and the governor to act,” Smith said. "In fact, we hope that it will prod the Legislature into action.”
Support for the bill has grown in recent years among business groups, which argue a state with nondiscrimination legislation on the books looks better to companies looking to invest.
“One of our core values is inclusion, and because of that we’ve been supporting the mission for legislation and clarification of laws in this way for a very long time,” said John Tonnison, the executive vice president and chief information officer at the Pinellas-based Tech Data, on a news conference call.
But the anti-discrimination legislation has never made it anywhere near the Florida governor’s office, which, under Republican control, has been resistant to LGBTQ equality measures.
After the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, then-Gov. Rick Scott promised to extend workforce protections to state LGBTQ workers via executive order, activists said at the time. He never did.
And Gov. Ron DeSantis has not said whether he would support a bill like the Competitive Workforce Act. When asked whether he would, spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said only that the governor planned to respect federal law.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, one of the activists who criticized Scott and a Democratic legislator from Orlando, hopes DeSantis will take advantage of this moment to sign an executive order that would codify the Supreme Court decision into Florida law.
Most Floridians live in places with local anti-discrimination policies. For example, Tampa and St. Petersburg both ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality in the workplace, in housing and in places of public accommodation.
Jane Castor, Tampa’s first openly gay mayor, tweeted her support for the Supreme Court’s decision Monday.
“No one should live in fear of losing their job because of who they are or who they love. Love always wins,” Castor said.
Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, noted that many of the activists who’ve fought for LGBTQ workers’ rights have also been consumed in recent weeks by the police brutality protests that have swept the nation. Although she said there’s still work to be done, she compared the Supreme Court’s ruling to a cool glass of water on a hot day.
“For those of us that have been heartbroken, this has been a reminder that we have to keep pushing," Nadine Smith said. "That there’s so much more work ahead to secure real equity and justice.”
Correction: This story originally misstated where Equality Florida is headquartered.