Yes, Florida, there are Republicans who want to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents legal protection from discrimination. Today the Competitive Workforce Act is being discussed in Tallahassee.
"It's a breakthrough for the South. It's of huge significance that a Southern state -- the third largest in the country -- is taking this up," Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, told the Associated Press. "It is the first time that a Southern legislature will be contemplating passage of a bill that affirms rights, not takes them away."
As noted by the wire service, GOP lawmakers in the Sunshine State are better known for their efforts to block transgender people from using the bathrooms that align with their gender identity, for bills to protect pastors from having to marry same-sex couples (something already protected by the U.S. Constitution), and for measures that seek exemptions for private adoption agencies opposed to placing children with gay and lesbian foster parents.
But the Competitive Workforce Act being considered by the State Senate Judiciary Committee today is, according to the AP, a sign that Republican attitudes on LGBT issues are changing. Bills like this one have never been given a hearing by the Republican-dominated legislature.
This antidiscrimination bill would be the most far-reaching gay rights law ever enacted in Florida, but it is not the only Republican-sponsored bill addressing LGBT issues currently pending in the legislature. Among anti-LGBT bills proposed by Republicans: one to permit hospitals and other health care providers and hospitals to legally refuse to treat anyone identified as gay, and for any business to refuse service to gay customers, if they have religious objections, and bills in both the House and Senate establishing that no house of worship could be forced to marry a same-sex couple (again, something already established by the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion).
"You have my bill on one side, and you have their bill[s] on the other side," said Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, the House sponsor of the anti-discrimination bill, told the AP. "Sometimes you take two steps forward, three steps back, but that's all part of the battle."
Raschein's bill has nine GOP cosponsors and many corporate supporters, together touting it as good for Florida business. There's a corporate campaign to promote the legislation, backed by AT&T, Wells Fargo, Marriott, and Carnival Corp. They say antidiscrimination laws will help attract high-paying jobs and skilled workers to the state.
"Republicans are able to see that this is not only the thing to do, but it's also the right thing to do from a competitive standpoint," Patrick Slevin, the campaign manager for Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, told the AP. "It's not just the employees that we're trying to recruit, it's also their families. When they're looking at job offers across the country, it's going to be taxes, it's going to be education, it's going to be safety and it's also going to be diversity."
On the other side is the antigay Florida Family Policy Council, which is telling supporters in emails that Raschein's bill is "a dangerous piece of legislation," one of several being used nationwide "as weapons to punish Christians living out their faith."
The group's leader, John Stemberger, told the wire service he doesn't believe this bill will help Florida's economy one bit.
"To infuse somehow that these nondiscrimination laws are going to bring gays into town and that's going to stimulate the economy and we bring the 'best and brightest' ... that's just an incredible insult to the general population as if we're not the best and the brightest, that you have to engage in some kind of alternative sexual behavior or lifestyle in order for you to be the best and the brightest," Stemberger said. "That's really junk economics."