www.ambiente.us  AUGUST | AGOSTO 2009

By Stephen Gaskill

In South Florida, openly-gay TV reporters and news anchors are no big deal.  A few
years ago it would have been unthinkable for the main face of a local television news
team to appear at gay pride festivals, or for the station itself to sponsor such an event.  
That it’s no big deal says a lot about how far Floridians have come to view GLBT
issues and personalities, at least in some instances.

So it’s disturbing that Charles Perez, the weeknight news anchor on WPLG-TV, the
ABC affiliate in Miami, was fired after filing a discrimination suit against the station for
demoting him to weekend anchor earlier this summer.  Now, this is a fresh lawsuit,
and certainly more information from both Perez and the station will continue to come
out.  Whether or not Perez was “too gay” to be on the air is the question.  But what’s
important for the larger community is that Perez is able to sue due to a new ordinance
in Miami-Dade County that adds sexual orientation as a protected class.

Miami-Dade’s ordinance, passed last fall, is one of a handful in Florida.

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Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of the US population (12 states and about 100
municipalities) is covered under laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
workers from discrimination, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
(NGLTF).  Even that coverage is spotty and inconsistent, varying by state, county and city.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in the US House of
Representatives in June, and a companion bill was introduced in the US Senate this
month.  Both bills have a bipartisan cast of cosponsors.  In the House, one of the lead
sponsors along with openly-gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is Florida Republican Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen; she’s joined by a majority of Florida’s Democratic delegation – Reps.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ron Klein, Alcee Hastings, Kathy Castor, Alan Grayson,
Corrine Brown, Robert Wexler and Kendrick Meek.  Missing from the list are “Blue Dog”
Democrat Alan Boyd, freshman Democrat Suzanne Kosmas, and all the other Florida
Republicans.  These members need to hear from you – the ones who have signed on
need to hear “thanks,” and the ones who haven’t need to hear why they should.

The Senate bill was introduced by freshman Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with
Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and the lion of the
Senate, Ted Kennedy (D-MA).  Florida’s senior Senator Bill Nelson has not signed on
as a cosponsor.  He’s described as a reliable vote on GLBT-related legislation, but not
one to step out in front.  Call him and tell him it’s time he co-sponsors S. 1584.  And
while we don’t yet know who Gov. Charlie Crist will select to fill the seat of the just-
resigned Mel Martinez, it’s doubtful Florida’s new interim Senator will be inclined to sign
on, if Republican Party politics is any guide.
                                                           So what exactly does the Employment Non
                                                           -Discrimination Act do?  Simply, ENDA
                                                            prohibits employment discrimination on the
                                                            basis of sexual orientation and gender
                                                            identity.  According to NGLTF, it creates
                                                            express protections for gay, lesbian,
                                                            bisexual and transgender people similar to
                                                            those available under existing federal
                                                            discrimination laws for other protected
                                                            classes of workers.  

                                                            Importantly, the legislation introduced in
                                                            this Congress is known as “inclusive ENDA,”
                                                            because, unlike the bill proposed in the last
                                                            Congress, this one includes gender identity.
                                                            Campaigns targeting gender identity laws
                                                            are the newest battleground from the far
                                                            right that sees a growing acceptance of
                                                            GLBT individuals.  Earlier this year, voters in
                                                            Gainesville beat back an effort to overturn
                                                            that city’s human rights protections, which
                                                            include gender identity.

Corporate America is ahead of most legislative bodies on this issue.  The Human
Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that as of February of this year, 423 of the Fortune 500
companies had implemented non-discrimination policies, and 176 had policies that
include gender identity.  The reasons are clear: it’s just good business to hire the best,
most experienced person for the job, and employees who don’t fear discrimination are
loyal and productive.

ENDA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, labor unions,
employment agencies, and federal, state and local governments.  The Armed Forces
are exempt – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not affected – as are religious
institutions and employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Florida’s estimated 1.2 million GLBT residents will benefit from this federal ENDA law.  
While Congress and the administration have a long list of pressing issues facing them
this fall, it’s imperative that workers who have jobs in an unstable economy feel secure
that they won’t be canned because of who they are.  ENDA has been a long time in
coming.  Charles Perez might not be reporting on its ultimate passage, but wouldn't it
be comforting to know that you don’t have to be a high-profile television anchor to seek
redress for losing your job?

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