LGBT anti-discrimination bill lives, barely

Posted at 7:52 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 19:52:46-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers considered giving anti-discrimination protections to gay and transgender people for the first time Monday and ended the discussion in a stalemate for at least one more day.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-5 on a bill to include LGBT people in the law that gives civil rights protections to other groups. The vote normally would have killed the bill, but a procedural move kept it alive. It will be considered by the committee again Tuesday as its Democratic sponsor seeks to make changes that will earn the support of at least one more Republican in hopes of moving the legislation forward.

"I do not believe that the senators on this committee want on their permanent record that they voted against civil rights," said Democratic Sen. Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington. "That they said to every gay person within the state of Florida and across America that you are not accepted here in Florida, that you have no protections."

The fact that it was even considered was a victory for gay rights supporters. Similar legislation has been filed for about a decade without ever receiving a committee hearing in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But yesterday's two-hour meeting was bogged down for about an hour by questions about how the bill would affect transgender people's use of bathrooms and locker rooms, a point raised repeatedly by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. At one point Brandes asked if an "anatomical male" could change in a woman's locker room. When asked to explain what he meant, Brandes replied, "Someone with male parts."

Supporters were frustrated that civil rights and economic benefits weren't the predominant point of discussion. Still committee chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said the fact that he and another Republican voted for the measure shows the issue once only championed by Democrats can have bipartisan support.

"It's a sign that attitudes are changing, that understanding is changing, that people may be coming around to having a different perspective than perhaps they did 10 years ago or 20 years ago," said Diaz de la Portilla. "We did hear it today. I think that's important. I think that's progress."