Legislation similar to North Carolina’s infamous anti-LGBTQ law – HB 2 – was recently filed for the Florida State Legislature’s upcoming 2018 session. Florida House Bill 871 and Senate Bill 1290 would immunize private employers and businesses from local laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, or public accommodations.
The legislation is stealth in nature because the terms sexual orientation or gender identity are nowhere to be found in the bill. Rather, it has a neutral sounding name – the “Free Enterprise Protection Act” and the bill is cleverly couched in terms prohibiting “[d]iscriminatory action by government against businesses.”
HB 871/SB 1290 broadly prohibits any government entity, including counties and cities, from penalizing a business if it has internal policies that are in compliance with state law.
Florida, however, provides no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. So a business is in compliance with state law if it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations. And a business can secure the legislation’s broad immunity by merely adopting an internal policy authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ people.
In Florida, there are more local anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people than any other state. In fact, these laws cover 60% of Floridians. If this harmful legislation becomes law, it would effectively eliminate these critical protections for the LGBTQ community.
So for example, an employer or landlord with a discriminatory internal policy could legally advertise “Gay, Lesbian or Transgender People Need Not Apply” for a job or an apartment. Based on the same policy, a gay employee could marry his partner on a Sunday and the following Monday be legally fired for putting a wedding photo on his desk. Also, a restaurant or store could adopt an internal policy that would allow it to refuse service to gay or transgender people.
Taking away the rights of LGBTQ people and legalizing discrimination against them is wrong, immoral and violates the fundamental American value of equality. Leadership in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate should publicly and emphatically reject this legislation simply because it is the right thing to do. And they should advance the Competitive Work for Act, which would provide state-wide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
But if standing up for equality and being on the right side of history are insufficient reasons to renounce this bill, Leadership should heed the lesson of HB 2. North Carolina’s adoption of that law had a devastating impact on the State’s economy, which ultimately compelled the state legislature to partially repeal it. With an economy heavily reliant on tourism dollars, Florida could be even more vulnerable to financial harm should the legislature imprudently move this bill forward. If that happens, ADL will tirelessly work with the LGBTQ community and beyond to oppose this odious legislation.