The fight continues for LGBT equality

June is National LGBT Pride Month. This year, I joined several thousand demonstrators from across the U.S. to participate in the annual Equality March in Washington, D.C. It was an amazing show of solidarity to support equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Sadly, this year’s celebration also marks a somber occasion, as we remember the 49 victims killed and others injured in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando one year ago. Many of the victims were LGBT Hispanic young people. This horrific event underscores the need to stamp out hatred toward LGBT people and all minority communities to prevent future targeted acts of violence.

This month, we also celebrate the two-year anniversary that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples nationwide. This ruling was a milestone for the LGBT community and our fight for equality under the law. I wish my late wife, Carol, had been with me on that day to see it happen. Carol and I were partners for 47 years before she passed away in 2014, one year before the historic decision was delivered.

Carol and my marriage was the first same-sex marriage to be recognized by the state of Florida. We were married in a legal ceremony in New York in 2011. But when we returned to our home in Fort Myers, our marriage was not recognized at that time in our home state. Following Carol’s death, with the help of the ACLU of Florida, I challenged the state of Florida in court to be listed as Carol’s surviving legal spouse on her death certificate and prevailed. Carol’s death certificate was amended to recognize us as a married couple. Four months later, in January 2015, the Florida Supreme Court allowed marriage equality to proceed for same-sex couples in the state.

For most of my life, I never considered myself an activist. In fact, for many years, Carol and I kept our relationship a secret from family members, friends, and co-workers.

There is far greater acceptance today for LGBT people than existed nearly fifty years ago when Carol and I met and fell in love. This is due in no small part to the millions of LGBT people and our allies who for decades have demonstrated, spoken out and demanded acceptance and equality.  

Carol and I worked for many years as employees of the Lee County government. We kept our relationship hidden from our bosses and co-workers because we feared retaliation if anyone discovered our relationship. For Carol, especially, this fear consumed her and she did not believe it was possible for our relationship to be accepted. It is painful to look back on these years in which we felt there was no other choice than to hide our relationship if we wanted to keep our jobs and survive.
LGBT people today want to come out of the shadows in the workplace. That is why LGBT-inclusive workplace policies are so important.Lee County government is now in the process of updating its employment policy. This past year, I have lobbied Lee County commissioners and administrators to expand their employment policy to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their list of protected classes alongside age, race, sex and religious belief. Several large employers in Lee County already provide these workplace protections, including Lee Health, Hertz, Chico’s and the City of Cape Coral. Current employees of Lee County government who are openly LGBT have also advocated for this change. Our position is that an inclusive policy will send a reaffirming message that it is safe to be openly LGBT in the workplace and that no harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be tolerated. This could have made all the difference for Carol and me.

Despite these efforts, Lee County administrators have recommended to commissioners that no update is necessary. These protections are important because no federal or Florida state law exists to specifically protect individuals from discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Commissioners will review other proposed revisions to their policy during a public meeting on June 20. Local LGBT activists and our allies plan to attend this meeting to show our support for the board of commissioners to reconsider this decision and provide stronger workplace protections to their LGBT employees.

This is personal for me. No one should experience the fear and anxiety Carol and I endured for so many years. No person should be afraid to acknowledge their identity, relationship or marriage for fear that they may experience discrimination, harassment or retaliation in their workplace. This is one reason why the work of advancing LGBT equality must continue.
Arlene Goldberg is a founding member and board member of the Southwest Florida Harmony Chamber of Commerce, the area’s first business chamber for LGBT-owned businesses and business allies, and a co-founder and board member of Visuality, an organization providing educational resources and programs for LGBTQ people and their families living in Southwest Florida.

By: Arlene Goldberg

Source: https://www.usatoday.com

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