Chris Latvala: State needs to follow Tampa Bay area’s lead in passing anti-discrimination measure

CLICK HERE to read the original op-ed on the Tampa Tribune.

BY CHRIS LATVALA

For many of us living in the Tampa Bay area, it seems difficult to believe that people living in other areas of our state can be fired simply for being gay. It’s true. Although Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are among 37 counties and municipalities in Florida that have passed local ordinances banning discrimination against gay and lesbians, more than 9 million Floridians (44 percent of the state’s population) live in areas that offer no such protections. The time has come for the state to update the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and make Florida a place where everyone who wants to work and visit here feels welcome.

A study in March found that discrimination against LGBT employees in Florida is costing employers more than $360 million a year. The study also reported that executives recognize that millennials, the largest age demographic in the U.S. labor force, value diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Understanding the effect that inclusive policies and work environments have on recruiting the best and the brightest, it should come as no surprise that nine out of 10 Fortune 500 companies ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and three out of four include gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies.

As a member of the Florida House of Representatives, I am proud to cosponsor House Bill 45 by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. The legislation, commonly referred to as the Competitive Workforce Act, seeks to add protections for LGBT people to the state’s existing anti-discrimination law. It has garnered bipartisan support from 19 members of the House, including Reps. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg; Edwin Narain, D-Tampa; Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island; and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. The companion bill in the Senate is filed as Senate Bill 120 by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, and is cosponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

In addition to the bipartisan support in the Legislature, a coalition of 36 major Florida employers that includes nine Fortune 500 companies is pushing for passage of the Competitive Workforce Act. Members of the Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce coalition understand the economic advantage of providing a discrimination-free environment for employees and customers. As employers competing against other states and even other countries for top talent, they understand more than anybody that creating a welcoming environment that values diversity and a variety of perspectives and experiences gives their companies an advantage to attracting the best and the brightest.

Bay area members of the coalition are Tech Data, C1Bank, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, DTCC, HSN, Raymond James, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the University of South Florida Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity. In addition to corporate members, many small businesses here are among 400 across the state that have pledged their support for the Competitive Workforce Act.

If you agree and believe passing the Competitive Workforce Act will benefit the state’s economy or you simply think it’s the right thing to do, please contact your local legislators and let them know you want them to support and vote “yes” for HB 45 and SB 120. Another way to voice your support is to sign a petition at www.FlCompeti tiveWorkforce.com.

Discrimination on any level must not be tolerated.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, represents District 67 in the Florida House of Representatives. He is one of eight Republicans co-sponsoring HB 45.