Schmitz, 6-11-2019

Guest Column: It’s time Florida passes the Competitive Workforce Act 

Schmitz Profile(Orlando Sentinel, June 11, 2019)

By Rev. Kathy Schmitz

As Pride Month continues across the country, here in Central Florida we reflect on the events at Pulse Nightclub three years ago.

We knew at the time of the massacre that we, as a community, would be changed forever. And this has proven true. So much has happened. There has been much healing. There are signs of social progress. But there also remains much work to do.

As a minister serving in Orlando at the time of the shooting, I had the opportunity to see the outpouring of love from the community. People searched for ways to help — providing food and water, offering counsel and support, speaking up and bearing witness to what had happened.

I watched as those who previously preached messages that were less than inclusive searched their hearts and changed. I watched as those who were silently supportive realized they must use their voices and their power.

Three years is both a long time and a blink of the eye. Our annual remembrances offer us an opportunity to consider whether we have lived up to the passionate commitments uttered in the tragedy’s wake.

Do we continue to help bend the arc of the moral universe so that no one and no community is marginalized? How far have we come in creating a world with true justice and liberty for all?

While there are many things that need our time and attention, there is one thing we can do in the year ahead that can make a tremendous difference and does not need to be difficult: We can declare that in the state of Florida it is not OK to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

It would be lovely if there were no need for legal protections. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Legislation — called the Competitive Workforce Act — has been put forward in Tallahassee in recent years and inches a little further forward at each legislative session. During this Pride Month, let’s make a commitment that 2020 will be the last legislative session that needs to discuss this proposal.

Let’s get it done!

Florida is one of 32 states without statewide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This puts us at a civil and commercial disadvantage. Most importantly, it sends the unintentional message that we condone such discrimination. Yet 73 percent Floridians support the protections provided by the Competitive Workforce Act.

We must ensure that everyone in our state can earn a living, have a place to live and be equally served by government and businesses alike. Most of us would like to think this is already the case. Sadly, in much of the state there is nothing to prevent our LGBT+ friends and neighbors from being discriminated against in these areas based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity. Our family members and co-workers are not equally protected under the law. But we can change this.

It is incumbent on people of faith, with their faith communities, to join together with others of goodwill to ensure that thousands of cases of discrimination that occur across the country each year are not seen in Florida.

Regardless of differences in beliefs and practices, a thread we share is the desire to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. We honor the worth and dignity of each person and recognize the need of all families to feel secure in their living and their working. The Competitive Workforce Act helps to provide this security.

This week, as we reflect on where we have been and what is still to come, let’s remember the love that poured from our broken hearts three years ago. Let’s honor those lost, as well as those still suffering and recovering, by bending that arc of the moral universe just a little further toward justice.

Rev. Kathy Schmitz is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.