Florida gays say prom­ise bro­ken

No or­der is­sued to pro­tect work­ers de­spite com­mit­ment by gov­er­nor

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MIKE SCHNEI­DER In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Tamara Lush and Bren­dan Far­ring­ton of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

OR­LANDO, Fla. — Gayrights ad­vo­cates ac­cuse the Florida gov­er­nor’s of­fice of break­ing a com­mit­ment it made af­ter the 2016 mas­sacre at a gay night­club to pur­sue an ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against LGBT state work­ers and con­trac­tors.

Gov. Rick Scott at the time pub­licly of­fered his sym­pa­thy to the 49 vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. “These are in­di­vid­u­als. Let’s love ev­ery one of them,” he said then.

Be­hind the scenes, gayrights ad­vo­cates said, Scott’s staff promised to seek the is­suance of the ex­ec­u­tive or­der. But more than a year later, no such or­der has been is­sued.

The ad­vo­cates be­lieve the or­der has be­come even more im­por­tant in the past cou­ple of weeks as the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, un­der At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, filed court pa­pers in a New York case say­ing sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is not cov­ered by Ti­tle VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law bans work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, color, re­li­gion, sex or na­tional ori­gin.

The Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, how­ever, en­forces the law against pri­vate em­ploy­ers and says sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is cov­ered.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor wouldn’t talk about the al­leged com­mit­ment his staff made when asked by a re­porter Tues­day. But he said fed­eral guide­lines pro­tect the gay com­mu­nity and the state fol­lows them.

State Rep. Car­los Smith, a gay Demo­crat, ac­cused Scott of us­ing the Pulse night­club shoot­ing to his po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage.

“Many po­lit­i­cal lead­ers used the tragedy at Pulse to lever­age their own po­lit­i­cal ca­reers and to make prom­ises to our com­mu­nity that they could have de­liv­ered on but they did not,” Smith said at a re­cent fo­rum for Or­lando’s gay and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties. A ma­jor­ity of the Pulse vic­tims were gay His­pan­ics.

Af­ter the Pulse at­tack, the gay-rights ad­vo­cates said two mem­bers of the gov­er­nor’s staff met at a ho­tel with lead­ers from the group Equal­ity Florida.

Scott’s then-Chief of Staff Kim Mc­Dou­gal and leg­isla­tive af­fairs di­rec­tor Kevin Reilly asked what could be done to show sol­i­dar­ity with the LGBT com­mu­nity, and the ad­vo­cates an­swered that Scott should is­sue the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion or­der, ac­cord­ing to the Equal­ity Florida rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“They sat with us and said, ‘This is some­thing that is im­por­tant.’ This was an is­sue they be­lieved could move for­ward and if there was any prob­lem, any con­cerns, they would let us know,” Equal­ity Florida Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Nadine Smith said. But noth­ing hap­pened. When asked about the mat­ter in Tampa on Tues­day, Scott wouldn’t say whether he would sign such an or­der.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­body in our state feels com­fort­able and never feel dis­crim­i­nated against, and that’s what’s im­por­tant to me,” Scott said.

Reilly and Mc­Dou­gal didn’t re­spond to emails or a phone call.

Scott has had a chilly re­la­tion­ship with the gay com­mu­nity.

The gov­er­nor sup­ported Florida’s at­tempt to de­fend its ban on gay mar­riage, which even­tu­ally was struck down by fed­eral courts, and he cam­paigned against adop­tions by gays and les­bians in 2010.

Af­ter the Pulse at­tack, he was crit­i­cized for call­ing it a ter­ror­ist act but ne­glect­ing, ini­tially, to note that it tar­geted the LGBT com­mu­nity, though he would later men­tion the com­mu­nity in speeches and in­ter­views. The Pulse gun­man had sworn al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group.

An ex­ec­u­tive or­der from the gov­er­nor would be im­por­tant for Jim Bren­ner and his hus­band, Chuck Jones, be­cause now there’s too much am­bi­gu­ity on whether gay state work­ers are pro­tected from dis­crim­i­na­tion, said Bren­ner, who re­tired in Septem­ber from his job as fire man­age­ment ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Florida Forestry Divi­sion in Tal­la­has­see. His hus­band still works for the state Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

Bren­ner, who is widely pub­lished in trade pe­ri­od­i­cals, said he be­lieves his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion hin­dered po­ten­tial ca­reer pro­mo­tions.

“Peers felt I did a very good job, but I got to a cer­tain point where things just came to a screech­ing halt,” Bren­ner said. “I be­lieve it’s be­cause of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Ev­ery­body knew that I was liv­ing with some­one and that some­one wasn’t a woman.”


Jim Bren­ner (left) and Chuck Jones dis­cuss Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s fail­ure to sign an or­der pro­tect­ing gay and les­bian state work­ers from dis­crim­i­na­tion Wed­nes­day in Tal­la­has­see, Fla.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks June 13, 2016, about de­tails of the fa­tal shoot­ings at Pulse Or­lando night­club dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing in Or­lando, Fla.

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