HRC Blog

A Banner Day for Equality in Florida

The following post comes from Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida.

In the space of three hours, we saw pro-equality actions taken by city and county leaders on both coasts of Florida.  The Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to move forward on a domestic partnership registry, Miami Beach passed the strongest tax equity policy in the nation, and the Hillsborough County Commission voted 7-0 to repeal the notorious anti-gay pride ban.

Members of the Sarasota County Commission unanimously voted to direct the County Attorney to draft a Domestic Partnership Registry and set it for public hearing.

Miami Beach Mayor Bower and city commissioners unanimously approved a new Tax Equity Policy for city employees. The new policy is the strongest and most comprehensive of its kind in the U.S., and it ensures that city employees with domestic partners will no longer pay thousands more in taxes than married employees pay when health insurance coverage is extended to the employee’s partner.

Florida is leading the nation on tax equity policies, with six of these policies passed already this year - more than have ever been passed in the rest of the country combined.

Equality Florida has been working closely with advocates and leaders in Miami Beach for more than a year on this landmark policy, which we believe will become a model for the nation. Equality Florida staff assisted the Miami Beach LGBT Business Enhancement Committee in bringing the issue forward in the spring of 2012. We have provided ongoing technical support, background research, and economic studies to city staff drafting the policy. And we have participated in every public hearing and workshop on the policy.

In Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, absolute pandemonium broke out as the commission voted 7-0 to repeal a ban on recognizing LGBT Pride that was enacted eight years ago.

Commissioner Les Miller earned a standing ovation with his passionate rebuttal of the idea that the ban on recognizing Pride was anything but discrimination. He described himself as an African-American who has been eyeball to eyeball with bigotry, someone who has lost jobs and endured the separate and unequal humiliation of Jim Crow laws. He spoke of the day he had the ugliest racial slur hurled at him as he wore his Air Force uniform and walked along the street with his daughter.

Commissioner Mark Sharp tearfully told the crowd that he was late to the event because he was at the school with his son who was being given the American Legion award. His voice broke as he described telling his son, "When you make a mistake, it's up to you to fix it." After a long pause to gather himself, he expressed his deep regret for having voted for the policy in the first place. “I'm just glad that I'm still here to fix it.

Finally, Commissioner Kevin Beckner was an absolute hero. Beckner, who is the county’s first openly gay commissioner, stood strong to refute anti-equality amendments so that a simple up-and-down vote could be taken on repealing the ban. It is impossible to overstate how skillfully Commissioner Beckner handled that delicate moment when consensus could have been forged or lost.

It is an amazing day. It is a turning point. And we have so much more work to do.

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