MESSAGE FROM RAND HOCH, PRESIDENT & FOUNDER
March 11, 2015
Yesterday was another stellar election day for Palm Beach County's LGBT community.
All of the viable candidates in the West Palm Beach and Lake Worth municipal elections were 100 percent supportive of PBCHRC's initiatives, so there is no way it was going to be a bad day.
In West Palm Beach, with strong support from the PBCHRC Voters Alliance, Mayor Jeri Muoio and City Commissioner Keith James -- both strong advocates for our community -- were re-elected in landslide elections.
(Unfortunately, shortly before the election, Equality Florida sent out an e-mail blast to Palm Beach County LGBT voters that recommended the candidates running against both Mayor Muoio and Commissioner James. After our "insistence," Equality Florida backed down, deleting its recommendations of Kimberly Mitchell and Len Fintzy and issued hasty endorsements of the two PBCHRC Voters Alliance-backed candidates. Equality Florida made similar unwanted interventions into Palm Beach County electoral politics in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and each time we had to expend time and political capital for them to reverse course and align with our endorsements. PBCHRC has, once again, asked Equality Florida to "cease and desist" from getting involved in Palm Beach County politics. We will keep you posted.)
NOTE: ALL REFERENCES TO “EQUALITY FLORIDA” AND “EQUALITY FLORIDA ACTION PAC” DO NOT INCLUDE ALLAN HENDRICKS, AN EQUALITY FLORIDA VOLUNTEER WHO HAS LONG BEEN THE VOICE OF EQFL IN PALM BEACH COUNTY. ALLAN WAS NOT INFORMED OF THE PAC’S RECOMMENDATIONS PRIOR TO THE E-MAIL BEING SENT OUT. UNLIKE THE EQFL PAID STAFF, ALLAN IS A VALUABLE ASSET TO PALM BEACH COUNTY’S LGBT COMMUNITY.
With virtually no support from the LGBT community, openly gay, first-time candidate Ryan Maier was elected to the Lake Worth City Commission, where he joins openly gay City Commissioner Andy Amoroso, who was elected in 2011.
Year after year, we have been shown that by electing LGBT-supportive public officials, laws and policies will be enacted which help bring us toward our goal of full equality. More than 80 local laws and policies now provide Palm Beach County’s LGBT residents and visitors with both equal protection and equal family benefits.
Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council’s activists – all volunteers – have been screening candidates for public office, making endorsements, educating public officials and taking action with the sole purpose of changing laws and policies to provide equal treatment and equal benefits for the local LGBT community. However, at this stage of our quest for full equality, merely being supportive no longer cuts it. We expect our public officials to be outspoken advocates for the LGBT community.
For more than 25 years, our community has been very fortunate with the leadership of the West Palm Beach Mayors Helen Wilkes, Carol Roberts, Jeff Koons, Nancy Graham, Lois Frankel and Jeri Muoio. During their years of public service, each actively recruited LGBT residents to serve on city boards and commissions. More importantly, each was a consistent advocate for our community.
In 1991, former West Palm Beach Mayor Helen Wilkes, a Republican no less, recruited leaders of the gay community to join her campaign to bring a "strong mayor" form of government to her city. (In a strong-mayor form of government, the elected mayor has almost complete administrative authority and a clear, wide range of political independence, with the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without city commission approval. The strong-mayor prepares and administers the city budget, which must then be approved by the city commission.)
Taking advantage of Mayor Wilkes' outreach, gay community leaders worked diligently to become an integral part of this important -- and successful -- campaign. By the time the campaign ended, we had strengthened the LGBT community's position among the City's power structure and we forged ties that continue to benefit both our community and the City.
While all four strong-mayors have been 100 percent supportive, three have been amazing advocates for the LGBT community.
Nancy Graham was our city's first strong-mayor. Among her many achievements, Nancy was responsible making West Palm Beach the first public employer in Florida to provide domestic partnership benefits. She was also responsible for enacting the West Palm Beach Equal Opportunity Ordinance, which initially prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. (It was amended in 2007 to include "gender identity or expression.") In great part because the ordinance includes an effective enforcement mechanism, after more than 20 years, it remains one of the strongest civil rights laws in Florida.
But more importantly, when the Christian Coalition succeeded in gathering enough signatures to place a repeal referendum on the ballot, Mayor Graham, a Republican at the time, approached PBCHRC and told us that, as mayor, she wanted to head the campaign to fight the repeal. She put together a coalition that included seniors, labor, the faith community and neighborhood community activists. Working together, we defeated the repeal in a landslide. (We got 57 percent of the vote!)
After the turn of the century, Lois Frankel served as our mayor for two terms. I can safely say that there is no public official in Florida who has done more for the LGBT community over 30 years in public life than Lois Frankel. No one.
While serving as mayor, Lois established the West Palm Beach domestic partnership registry and she added "gender identity or expression" into the city's Equal Opportunity Ordinance. And when Amendment 2 placed the marriage ban on ballot in 2008, Lois Frankel assisted Florida Red and Blue in the local campaign to defeat Amendment 2. She even held a rally in opposition to the proposed marriage ban at City Hall, to held draw attention to the unjust referendum. As a result of her efforts, the City of West Palm Beach delivered one of the highest percentage of “No” voters in Florida.
By the time Jeri Muoio came to office, the City of West Palm Beach already had a strong nondiscrimination law. Domestic partnership benefits were being provided to city employees and residents. Jeri could have rested on the laurels of previous mayors, but instead, she took things to the next level.
Every time Jeri Muoio became aware that gay and lesbian city employees were being treated differently than their non-gay counterparts, she found a way to fix the problems.
When Jeri realized that COBRA, a federal law, prevented employees' domestic partners from remaining on the city's health insurance plan when the employee died, divorced or left their job, she implemented a COBRA equivalent so that all employees would be treated equally.
Jeri did the same thing when she implemented a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) equivalent. Thanks to Jeri, employees who have to take time off from work to care for their domestic partners know that their jobs will be kept open until they are able to return to work.
And knowing that employees with domestic partners were paying additional federal taxes, Jeri gave those employees raises to offset the additional taxes. As a result, all city employees doing the same jobs now get the same take home pay and benefits.
Jeri also was one of the first mayors in the US to join Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. And on the first day marriage equality arrived in Florida, Jeri Muoio married a gay couple at City Hall. (She has married several more since then.)
These three mayors -- all women -- have been outspoken in their support of the LGBT community. Without their leadership, advocacy and compassion, West Palm Beach would not have its well-earned reputation for being the best place in Florida for LGBT people to live, work and retire.
But electing leaders who understand our community's needs is only the means to an end -- full equality. To get there, we need our elected officials to act. And since our last President's Update, there has been a lot of action.
Shortly after midnight on January 6, longtime PBCHRC supporters Mike Edmondson and Keith Musbach became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Palm Beach County. Moments after the private ceremony, Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County's Constitutional Clerk & Comptroller held a mass wedding, marrying dozens of lesbian and gay couples.
Later that day, Peyton McArthur, a longtime PBCHRC supporter, was sworn in as a Commissioner of The Port of Palm Beach. At the Commission Meeting, he urged his colleagues to include an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination clause in the Port's contract with Bahamas Paradise Cruiseline -- and they voted unanimously to do so. Commissioner Peyton McArthur then pledged to have similar language included in all future contracts and agreements with the Port.
In early February 2015, West Palm Beach Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen appointed Lieutenant Gregory Babcock to serve as the police department's liaison to the city's LGBT community.
Later that week, the West Palm Beach City Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution put forward at PBCHRC's request by Commissioner Keith James asking the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners to update the Palm Beach County Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation to provide for a more expansive definition of "public accommodation."
Priscilla Taylor is shepherding our campaign to update the definition of "public accommodation" through the Board of County Commissioners. Taylor is a longtime advocate of LGBT initiatives throughout her career as Port Commissioner, State Representative, County Commissioner and Palm Beach County Mayor.
County Attorney Denise Neiman recently told the County Commissioners that he office can easily make the changes. The County Commissioners are awaiting information from the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity concerning the fiscal impact, after which, two votes will be taken to update the definition in the Ordinance. PBCHRC has spoken with a majority of the County Commissioners, all of who were supportive of the requested changes.
Once the County ordinance is amended, the West Palm Beach City Commission is expected to amend the City's Equal Opportunity Ordinance accordingly
As I reported last August, the Boynton Beach City Commission had directed the City Attorney to draft a Civil Rights Ordinance and present it to them for consideration. When no action was taken in a timely manner, PBCHRC forced the issue by filing a public records request in January 2015 to obtain minutes of the meeting at which the direction was given. Finally, on March 2, the Boynton Beach City Commission held the final reading and an LGBT-inclusive Civil Rights Ordinance was enacted. (Mayor Jerry Taylor, who opposed a similar ordinance back in 1993, cast the sole vote against adopting the Civil Rights Ordinance.)
PBCHRC Board Member Meredith Ockman is in the early stages of a PBCHRC initiative to have Greenacres City Council enact a similar ordinance and revise the city's personnel policies to prohibit discrimination based on "gender identity and expression". We are working with the City Attorney and we will keep you informed of our progress.
The Council's other projects include persuading:
Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBT community. Rest assured, we will continue to do so.
Judge Rand Hoch (retired),
President and Founder
View the complete list of candidates endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council
PBCHRC President Rand Hoch, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, PBCHRC Treasurer and PBCHRC Past President Jamie Foreman-Plakas