Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged Saturday to support legislation that would prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.
Despite support from the business community, the legislation, known as the “Competitive Workforce Act,” has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Also, a call for Gov. Rick Scott to use his executive power to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies has gone unheeded.
“If you elect me governor, you won't have to wait any longer,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Florida is too big, too proud, too diverse a state for our politics to reflect an error of yesteryear, yesterdecade, yestercentury,” Gillum said during a caucus conference in Tallahassee.
Candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said passing the anti-discrimination law is both morally and economically right for the state.
“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable here, everyone is safe here, everyone is protected here,” King said.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee said she would work to “stop discrimination in its tracks.”
“We're going to protect every Floridian, no matter what color their skin is, where they come from, or who they love,” Graham said in a prepared text of her speech Saturday night to the caucus.
All three candidates said, if elected in November 2018, they would sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state agencies.
Two candidates talked about how ending discrimination was personal for them.
King talked about the discrimination faced by his older brother, David, growing up as a gay man in the South. He said his brother, who moved to California, took his own life at age 30 after battling depression and mental illness.
King said his brother's experience has compelled him to make anti-discrimination initiatives a centerpiece of his campaign and underscored the importance of speaking “with moral clarity on these issues.”
“I promise you I will,” King told the caucus. “I will give it my best shot.”
Gillum said his older brother, Terrance, faced similar discrimination as a young gay man in Gainesville, moving to California as soon as he could “so that he could live and be himself.”
Gillum said throughout his 15-year public career he has spoken out for LGBT issues.
“Not only because it's the right thing to do but it was my little way of showing my big brother that I saw him,” he said.
Graham recounted her support for marriage equality during her successful 2014 campaign for Congress in a North Florida district that covered some of the most conservative regions in the state. She said it was one of the first questions a reporter asked her in a Panama City stop.
“I proudly told him if one of my sons or daughter were gay, if one of your children were gay, I would want them to be happy, and that means supporting them no matter who they want to marry,” Graham said.
King, who is an affordable-housing developer, said he will also stress an economic message in his campaign.
“I don't believe a Democratic candidate is going to win in 2018 if we don't win the economic debate, if we don't convince folks that this party has a vision and has a plan to lift up people and make this a more fair, homegrown economy,” King said.
He said he would work to improve affordable housing, expand health-care coverage and support public schools.
Gillum said Democrats need a “bold” message on issues like discrimination, climate change and health care and need to advocate it statewide.
“We have to give voters a reason to choose us. It's not going to be by capitulating. It's not going to be by Republican-lite,” Gillum said. “We have to offer a different, bolder vision.”
However, Gillum acknowledged that his campaign has been hindered by an ongoing FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, although he said he has been assured he is not a target of the investigation and is fully cooperating with federal investigators.
“I'm 1,000 percent confident that when the facts are all the way known I will be removed from under this cloud,” Gillum said.
Graham said she has proven her political viability by winning election to a North Florida congressional seat, while not wavering on traditional Democratic issues. Graham did not run for a second term in Washington after the district was redrawn and became a Republican stronghold.
“I stood up for my values on marriage equality, for a woman's right to choose, for protecting the environment —- and you know what, not everyone agreed with me, but they knew I said what I believed and believed what I said,” Graham said.
She also said she followed through on her campaign promises once in office. “Folks aren't used to public servants actually doing what they say,” she said.
Terry Fleming, president of the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said the group has not endorsed a candidate but will consider it after the candidates formally qualify next year.
Other potential Democratic candidates include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.