OP-ED: State’s business community supports anti-discrimination measure in the Legislature

CLICK HERE to read the original op-ed on Miami Herald.

By LILIAM M. LÓPEZ

When I co-founded the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SFLHCC) more than 20 years ago, our vision was large and our mission simple: to promote Hispanic businesses in South Florida and advocate on their behalf.

Since then, our organization has grown to include nearly 1,300 members. While our mission of promotion and advocacy remains, at times we take the lead on broader issues because of the impact on the greater business community and more importantly, because it is the right thing to do. One such issue the SFLHCC board of directors voted to support is the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

As an organization working to enhance the environment in which our business members operate, it only makes sense that we support an initiative that bans discrimination and advances our state in a positive direction. Simply put, if Florida has a reputation for being a difficult place for some to work and live, businesses will suffer when the talent inevitably chooses to go elsewhere.

While news stories have covered a small sample of events where business owners chose not to serve LGBT customers, I would caution that the companies highlighted in these stories do not represent the greater population of small businesses. In fact, studies show a majority of local establishments support anti-discrimination laws that include LGBT people.

A national poll conducted in April 2015 found two out of three small business owners say businesses should not be able to deny goods or services to someone who is LGBT based on the owner’s religious beliefs. The poll also found eight in 10 entrepreneurs support a federal law to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels and other businesses that are open to the public.

In March 2015, another study 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.

That is why SFLHCC joined Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, a coalition of 36 major Florida employers backing House Bill 45 by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Senate Bill 120 by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach. The bipartisan legislation, known as the Competitive Workforce Act, seeks to add protections for LGBT people to the state’s existing anti-discrimination law. In addition to nine Fortune 500 companies, the coalition includes a number of pro-business organizations and entities, including AmericanAirlines Arena, Akerman, Bilzin Sumberg, Carnival Corporation, Chamber SOUTH, Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, Coral Gables Chamber, Florida Realtors®, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association and Miami Heat.

Business owners are not the only ones who believe we need to update the law. A new poll of 600 likely voters in Florida found that 68 percent of voters support legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida’s non-discrimination law.

The time has come for state lawmakers to modernize the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and make Florida a place where everyone feels welcome. Let’s make Florida a welcoming place for everyone.

If you believe passing the Competitive Workforce Act will benefit the state’s economy and you think it is the right thing to do, please contact your local lawmakers and tell them to pass HB 45 and SB 120. Another easy way to demonstrate your support is to sign a petition at FlCompetitiveWorkforce.com