Human rights, anti-bullying move forward in Legislature

The Florida Legislature might have a long way to go in protecting gay rights, but recent legislative decisions indicate that they might be taking a step in the right direction.

Last Tuesday, the Florida Senate Commerce Committee approved a Civil Rights bill that would ban anti-gay discrimination in employment and housing statewide by 7-1. The bill will now be reviewed by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

The Civil Rights bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Deutch, is similar to a bill sponsored by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, which is currently making its way through the House. While both bills would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, the House bill bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as well.

Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to comment on whether or not he would approve the bill.

Currently, Florida protects residents from employment and housing discrimination via the Florida Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, which both ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status, but omit protections based on sexual orientation.

Also under legislative review is the Safe Schools anti-bullying bill, sponsored by Rep. Nick Thompson, which was heard on Tuesday by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. It would protect all students from sexual, racial, and religious harassment, but makes no mention of bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite this omission, local activists view the bill as a step in the right direction.

“You don’t want to kill the bill. It may not pass as is, but it is a start. You don’t want to push too hard to kill what is the start of a good bill,” said Florida ACLU legislative director of Larry Spalding.

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