(Tampa Bay Times, July 23, 2014)

According to a recent study by the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank, only 38 percent of Floridians live in cities or counties that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city of Tampa has been a trailblazer in this regard, because it is among Florida’s local governments that have such protections in place. It looks like Hillsborough County soon may join the ranks of these local governments that aim for fairness and equality for residents.

Hillsborough County took a step toward updating the county’s antidiscrimination provisions to include gay and transgender people. On July 16, the County Commission voted 7-0 to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identification to the county’s human rights ordinance. The commission will hold a public hearing on the change and vote on the revised language soon.

Hillsborough County commissioners should be applauded for addressing the issue, and I hope state lawmakers take note. Florida law promotes fair treatment and equal opportunity for many, but it does not offer protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. This contrasts with more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies that have such policies in place and 17 other states that have passed similar nondiscrimination protections. If Florida wants to attract and retain the best and the brightest and tout itself as a business-friendly environment, we are going to have to bring our laws into the 21st century.

For this reason, top Tampa Bay area employers, including the three major-league sports franchises — the Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning — are leading the charge to ensure Florida’s antidiscrimination law reflects current public opinion. The growing list of business leaders includes Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Raymond James Financial Inc., the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the Westshore Alliance, C1 Bank and Tech Data Corp., among others who want to modernize the law to make it fair and good for business.

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