In the state of Florida, it is illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, national origin, handicap, pregnancy or marital status.
But it is not illegal to so discriminate against someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
This is a gaping hole in Florida legal protections that civil rights advocates have been trying for a decade to plug with legislation. But this year, once again, a bill — the Florida Competitive Workforce Act — went nowhere in the Republican-led state legislature. A second, trimmed down bill — the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act — addressing only employment discrimination didn’t get a hearing either, despite being sponsored by state Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
We present Exhibit A for why a law is needed: State Rep. Mike Hill.
Last month, the state representative with a knack for controversy, got caught on tape laughing off a suggestion that society resume the ancient practice of stoning gay people.
The reprehensible comment came at a town hall event in Pensacola with a group called Women for Responsible Legislation. A constituent incorrectly stated that 1 Corinthians in the Bible says “a man who has an affair with another man will be put to death.”
“It says that in the Old Testament, too,” Hill replied.
“Can you introduce legislation?” the constituent asked.
Hill and others laughed, then Hill said, “I wonder how that would go over?”
The freshman lawmaker first denied even having had the encounter. Then a Pensacola News Journal columnist confronted him with the audio clip. Hill spent the next few days stating that he was taken out of context, the whole controversy was merely “fake news,” and that he was a victim of a “social media lynching.”
Republican leadership has criticized him. “Such callous indifference to an outrageous question is unacceptable, runs contrary to our founding principles, and in no way reflects the beliefs of the Republican caucus in the Florida House,” Speaker Jose Oliva and House Rules Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said in a joint statement. Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said Hill “owes his colleagues an apology and he owes the Republican caucus a better example of political courage.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis followed up by telling reporters, “I support Speaker Oliva’s comments and I trust the speaker to take whatever action is necessary.”
This is far from the tolerance and open-mindedness that we should expect from our legislative leaders. Indeed, it is more reflective of an intolerance and indifference that feed a hateful cancer on our society.
That’s why state legislators need to follow the lead of dozens of municipalities in passing a bill like the proposed Florida Competitive Workforce Act to ensure that LGBTQ individuals have the law on their side if they are refused a job, denied housing or refused access to certain public accommodations by the kind of person who thinks stoning homosexuals is a good idea.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post.