A human rights group recently recognized Tampa as top in the state in its support of the LGBT community. Meanwhile, gay rights advocates hope to advance their cause statewide, and state lawmakers have a slate of civil rights bills planned for the 2014 legislative session.
Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights advocacy group, recently released its annual Municipal Equality Index. The Index serves as an evaluation of protections, benefits and services offered to LGBT people at the municipal level. Tampa received a score of 89 out of a possible 100 — a huge jump up from its score of 66 in last year’s survey.
Tampa has been recognized for its non-discrimination policies in housing and employment for the past two years. But until recently, Tampa’s score suffered for its lack of protections for transgender people and for its lack of requirements for municipal contractors to offer employment protection to LGBT individuals.
Another advocacy group, Equality Florida, recently issued a press release calling Florida “the new frontline” for gay rights in the South. The release recognized the quickly changing political landscape in the state, and it outlined three changes the group hopes to help achieve in Florida within the next three years.
The first is gay marriage. In 2008, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships. Equality Florida says it is preparing to file a lawsuit to overturn the ban. The second goal strives for LGBT protections in employment, housing and public accommodations. In 30 states, U.S. law allows employers to fire employees for their sexual orientation. Third, the group plans to boost support to local initiatives to protect gay rights at the city and county level.
Advocacy groups will need some help from state lawmakers if they want to accomplish all their goals. Fortunately for them, Democrats in the Florida Senate are already advancing a number of civil rights bills for 2014, including protections against discrimination in housing, employment and banking.
Another measure would establish a statewide domestic partnership registry, similar to those already in place in Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. These registries, available to both same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, ensure a host of legal protections that are automatically granted to married couples. These protections include the authority to make decisions regarding child care, health care and after-death care.
Equal protection for all Floridians under the law has not yet been achieved, but the work of lawmakers and advocacy groups has brought the goal much closer.