Gay activists in Florida are growing
increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of progress on gay rights in
“Almost two decades have passed since
Florida passed a law addressing the gay and lesbian community,”
said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm
Beach County Human Rights Council. “It's frustrating.”
Hoch's group is among the handful of
grassroots organizations working for change at the local level. He
talked to On Top Magazine about his concerns after a new
scorecard ranked Florida among the lowest states on gay and lesbian
The report compiled by the group
ranked Florida at 43 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi and Tennessee ranked lower. While no
state received a perfect score, California, Iowa, New Jersey and
Vermont received high marks. Of those states, only Iowa and Vermont
have legalized gay marriage.
Florida is the only state that
specifically forbids gay adoption. Failure to outlaw discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas
of employment, housing and public accommodations also effected
Florida's low score.
Hoch said his group has sponsored a
non-discrimination bill for the past three years.
“Although 25% of state legislators
signed on as sponsors for the bills in 2009, all were Democrats and
the bills went nowhere,” he said. “With Republicans still firmly
in control of the Legislature, there is a long way to go.”
R. Zeke Fread, director of Pride
Tampa Bay, agreed, saying the report's conclusions were “very
disappointing but not surprising”given the political climate in
“I don't see that changing anytime
soon, because it's run by the Republicans,” he added.
But Fread said he sees hope in local
politics, pointing to Tampa's
recent passage of a transgender non-discrimination law, the
election of several openly gay lawmakers – Steve Kornell to the St.
Pete City Council and Ken Keechl as mayor of Broward County – and
the appointment of Jane Castor, who is openly lesbian, as police
chief of Tampa.
While Hoch and Fread might be
frustrated, they both remain optimistic.
“I'm optimistic that we are turning
the corner here in Florida,” Hoch said. “Last July,
Organizations United Together (OUT) – a newly formed federation of
Florida's local LGBT and allied organizations – received a $150,000
grant to strengthen local organizations to create an environment
where statewide LGBT policy change is possible.”
And Hoch said plans are already
underway to reintroduce a gay protections bill in the Legislature
next year. The Access to Opportunity Act (ACT) is expected to
attract support from Republicans and the business community because
it creates a framework for business owners to address discrimination
“The proposed law would also allow
Florida to retain $2 million in federal funding to investigate
housing discrimination claims,” Hoch added.