FORT MYERS, Fla. — Florida’s LGBTQ+ community is standing one step closer to equal treatment under the law because of a new declaration by the state's equal rights commission.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations, the organization responsible for addressing civil rights violations, confirmed its responsibility to protect Floridians from discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
This means the agency will now have to investigate claims of anti-LGBTQ practices in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
"It just means that I can live as equal as my neighbors," says Shawn Williams, President of the Lee County LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus. "And that my community can live as equal as their neighbors. We don’t have to fear economic hardships based on sexual identity or gender identity."
The new order was adopted partly due to an anti-discrimination Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office.
The decision was also affected by a Supreme Court ruling in June of 2020.
The court decided that under Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that the clause that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender also applies to gender identity.
"It is now identifying that LGBT issues are human rights issues and it has been a long time coming. I mean the legislation was passed back 40, 50, 60 years ago and it hasn’t provided protection for everyone as it should," says Williams.
Williams says here in southwest Florida discrimination is often affects where a person is able to live.
"I know that there are homeowners associations that will not let gay couples, lesbian couples, or a transgender person live in their communities," explains Williams.
So he is hopeful the legal consequences from the declaration will bring this practice to an end and create new hope for the LGBTQ community.
"We have been a community that has lived in the closet for quite a while because we have always been afraid of what others think. Now we can live as our authentic selves, live as our neighbors under the same protections as our neighbors without the fear of discrimination," says Williams.