As Trump targets transgender protections, Florida Gov. Rick Scott won't say if he'll sign an anti-discrimination order


  • Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Gov. Rick Scott remained mum Monday about signing an anti-discrimination order that would protect LGBTQ state employees in the wake of the Trump administration's latest attempt to roll back federal protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Since the 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse, LGBTQ advocates from across the state have been pleading with the Republican governor to sign an executive order protecting state employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Florida civil rights laws don't explicitly protect queer and trans communities from discrimination, meaning it's legal to deny LGBTQ people housing, service and employment.

Scott promised to take action and sign the order, according to leaders with Equality Florida, the state's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. But after two years of back and forth, advocates say Scott broke his promise by never signing the order and insisting that anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation already existed for Floridians on the federal level. 

The Scott administration's logic has been put to the test as the Trump administration continues to target protections for trans people. Details of the most significant maneuver yet were leaked on Sunday, when the New York Times reported on an unreleased memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would define gender as "a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth" that can only be proven with a birth certificate or "reliable genetic evidence."

The department is trying to institute this definition of "sex" under Title IX, a federal civil rights law which bans sex discrimination in government-funded schools. HHS has reportedly called on several federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice and Labor, to adopt this definition,  according to the Times.

While there is a growing number of federal court decisions that continue to affirm the rights and identifies of trans people, the Trump administration's latest proposal would eradicate protections for people who don't identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.

"This proposal is an attempt to put heartless restraints on the lives of 2 million people, effectively abandoning our right to equal access to health care, to housing, to education, or to fair treatment under the law," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. "This administration is willing to disregard the established medical and legal view of our rights and ourselves to solidify an archaic, dogmatic, and frightening view of the world."

A spokesperson for Scott's office refused to answer Monday whether the governor had a plan to implement statewide anti-discrimination protections for transgender people in the wake of Trump's attempted rollback, instead pointing to federal guidelines from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not "explicitly" include sexual orientation or gender identity under protected categories, the EEOC and courts have ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on applicant or employee's gender identity or sexual orientation.

"In accordance with federal guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Florida state agencies do not discriminate based on sexual orientation," Scott spokesperson John Tupps says. "State employees should not be discriminated against in any way."

Tupps also would not say whether the governor planned to sign the anti-discrimination executive order that advocates say he promised to pass.

Scott has been "consistent in abandoning the LGBTQ community" after the Orlando shooting, says Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for Equality Florida.

"Gov. Scott basically lied to the LGBTQ community in Florida," she says. "He has been totally dismissive in providing protections for state employees that he promised after the Pulse tragedy."

Duncan says almost 60 percent of Florida is protected against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by municipal human rights ordinances, which include the City of Orlando and Orange County.

"As a transgender Floridian, I can get in my car in Orlando, drive to Pensacola and get out of my car with less rights and protections than when I got in my car in Orlando," she says. "That's what this proposed policy is trying to roll back and make it that much more dangerous for trans people."

On Monday, Equality Florida delivered 3,000 letters calling for Scott to keep his promise and enact LGBTQ non-discrimination protections for state employees. On Oct. 1, the organization filed a petition to compel Scott's administration to establish LGBTQ protections. The petition for rulemaking requests the Department of Management Service develop uniform personnel rules for state workers that include LGBTQ non-discrimination protections based on state policy and Scott's statements.

"Sexual orientation and gender identity are not enumerated categories for non-discrimination in state policy or the Florida Civil Rights Act," the petition stated. "Nevertheless, Florida clearly does not discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Gov. Rick Scott said so. The Department's uniform rules should say so."

Scott's administration has 30 days from Oct. 1 to legally respond to the petition.

The Trump administration's recent attempts to roll back protections for trans and gender non-conforming people are especially alarming in Florida, Duncan adds.

"Transgender and gender non-conforming people are afraid," she says. "The reason for that is that we've seen firsthand how these demeaning and humiliating policies lead to this national rhetoric, which increases discrimination and violence against the transgender community. Already in Florida, we've experience violence at disproportionate rates for being ourselves."

Duncan points out that five black trans women have been brutally murdered in Florida since February, including one homicide in Orlando. During the first rash of murders in Jacksonville, Scott reportedly said, "I just feel sorry for people …  I hate that these things happen. On the state level, we provide some funding for Jacksonville to deal with, you know, helping to reduce their crime."

But Duncan says Scott has refused to engage in the investigations of those five murders or commit state resources to local law enforcement to solve the killings.

"The community feels so betrayed," she says. "With the violence, our community expects our elected officials to galvanize people to support and protect the trans community. All we're seeing is our leaders proposing this demeaning legislation simply trying to erase the transgender community."

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