Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Florida On Bottom of Nation's Equality List

By Cliff Dunn

A new ranking by an LGBT advocacy group rates the Sunshine State Number 47 out of 51 when it comes to equality for its gay citizens.

The privately-funded organization eQualityGiving places Florida near dead last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to promoting LGBT equality.

This number is especially notable since Florida ranks among the top 10 states for donations made to national, state and local LGBT organizations.

“We have the money, but we need a different strategy to change the dynamics,” says Jim Stork of Wilton Manors, who serves on the advisory board of eQualityGiving.

The group, founded in 2005, provides free services and advice to individuals and groups with an aim of achieving legal equality for LGBT Americans.

The organization lists seven Equality Goals: federal hate crimes protection; protection from discrimination in employment, housing, pu­blic accommodation and credit; a repeal to the mi­litary’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) po­licy; marriage equal­ity; re­cognition of gender identity and expression under hate crimes legislation; protecting LGBT youth; and parental rights for same-sex couples.

Only the first of the goals has been realized, with the passage last October of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Stork says there are some political realities in the Sunshine State that explain this.

“We are a deeply Red state in terms of our legislature,” says Stork, who was Mayor of Wilton Manors from 2002 to 2004.

“The Republican legislature is largely opposed to everything we stand for, which is equality for all Floridians,” Stork observed. “Pretty revolutionary stuff.”

Under the organization’s criteria, a state is awarded one point for each Equality Goal it meets. Half a point is given for the partial achievement of a goal. Since repeal of DADT is a federal goal, the maximum number of points a state can earn is six.

No state has earned a perfect score.

Florida received a score of 1.5 points, placing it near the bottom of the list of rankings; only Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee scored lower.

The Sunshine State ‘earned’ its abysmal ranking based on the following criteria:

There is no statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression.”

There is a statewide law prohibiting gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

Both the Florida Constitution and state laws prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying their partners.

While the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act specifically pro­hi­bits “sexual, religious, or racial harassment,” the law makes no reference to either “sexual orientation” or “gen­der identity or expression.”

Ex-Mayor Stork says that one avenue of redress for these inequalities would be the passage in November of Amendments 5 and 6 to the Florida Constitution.

“We need to have sensible legislative districts based upon community boundaries,” he said. “A blue-ribbon panel of Independents, Democrats and Republicans. Floridians—gay and straight—deserve that.”

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