It’s 2019. Why aren’t LGBTQ protections part of our Civil Rights Act? | Editorial
The time has come for Florida to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace. In fact, the time came years ago.
Marchers on Saturday, June 22, 2019 during the St. Pete Pride Parade and festivities in St. Petersburg.
Marchers on Saturday, June 22, 2019 during the St. Pete Pride Parade and festivities in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Aug. 29, 2019|Updated Aug. 29, 2019

It’s past time for this nation to make it illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the U.S. Supreme Court will have an opportunity to correct this injustice within the next year, the Florida Legislature should follow the lead of other states and add gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination law. There’s no reason equal protection for all should be a partisan issue in Tallahassee.

This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear three cases that will affect how the federal government interprets the term “sex” in the U.S. Civil Rights Act. The Justice Department has filed two briefs that make the Trump administration’s narrow-minded views clear: It argues that sex does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. It notes Congress “has repeatedly declined to pass bills adding sexual orientation to the list of protected traits” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In the case of transgender individuals, the administration argues that when Title VII was enacted in 1964, the word “sex” meant “biological sex, not transgender status." The brief states: “Subsequent action by Congress confirms that it has never understood or intended Title VII to cover transgender individuals as a protected class.” That merely indicates Congress has had a particularly pinched view of the statute, and it is not a reason to uphold this narrow definition of “sex.”

Florida’s own Civil Rights Act largely mirrors the federal law, except it includes other categories not specifically named in the national standard such as age, handicap and marital status. It notably does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, but legislators from both political parties have previously pushed to add those protections. Those bills never reached the full House and Senate last year, and the Legislature should give the issue more attention as it prepares for the 2020 legislative session that begins in January.

With the Legislature failing to act, local governments have enacted their own protections for the LGBTQ community. Forty-three cities and counties in Florida, including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas, have enacted human rights ordinances that specify protections for gender identity and sexual orientation, according to LGBT activist group Equality Florida. That amounts to more local nondiscrimination laws than any other state in the country. But LGBTQ residents should be protected under state law and federal law, not just by local ordinances that leave huge gaps from community to community.

Floridians support the change. A 2018 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed 68 percent of Floridians were in favor of laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. In fact, that same poll shows that more than 50 percent of residents in every state in America support these laws. If the Legislature doesn’t support laws that the majority of Floridians—and Americans—want, what are they doing?

It’s well past time for Florida to make the state a safer place for the LGBTQ community, particularly when the discussion will soon play out on the national stage. There was once a time when businesses could legally be segregated by race. Making discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity illegal falls in the same camp. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s what must be done to ensure a fairer and more equitable state for all Floridians.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.