’Boca Bigots Run City Hall’ Campaign Could be Reinstated
Florida's youngest gay city official didn't wait long after his appointment to make waves in Boca Raton.
During his first community relations board meeting last December, teenage Boca resident Tyler Morrison gained unanimous support for a recommendation to the city council.
Their recommendation? Revoke the city ordinance that makes Boca the only city in its county to forgo protecting its LGBT employees, and update the city's now 47-year-old anti-discrimination policy. The city ordinance also removes protections for other minority groups and women as well, according to human rights and equal employment advocates.
"There was really no reason not to," Morrison told SFGN afterward. "I didn't feel uncomfortable with it... after reading all the information I needed to read, after being surprised by some of the things that weren't included, there was no question in my mind they should be at least talked about.
Morrison first spoke out against the city council's lack of protections last November. Then in December, applied and was appointed unanimously to the community relations board by the same council members he blasted a month earlier.
The recommendation won't be official before mid-January, according to Morrison.
"Hopefully it won't drag on more than a few months," Morrison said.
But the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) and the Anti-Defamation League have been urging the city council to take these actions since last September, according to PBCHRC president Rand Hoch.
"Every minority, and women, are affected by what the city of Boca Raton did in January of 2011," Hoch said. He's referring to the city council passing Ordinance 5161, which opted the city out of LGBT protections provided by Palm Beach County's anti-discrimination policy.
The PBCHRC learned about the city's lack of protections when a $200,000 hazardous waste contract between the county and city nearly violated the county's policy of not doing business with entities that do not adhere to its anti-discrimination policy.
"The LGBT community, we're the only ones that are unprotected, because the only law that protected us was the county law," Hoch said. So to keep the contract from being nullified, the city council adopted it with an exception to protect LGBT employees working under it.
But the city has yet to expand the same protection to the rest of its employees, or to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, which is another major concern to Hoch.
"It's not going to cost them any more money to offer insurance to domestic partners and the children of domestic partners," Hoch said. "They can't say 'well we can't afford to spend the money to insure domestic partners'... The only reason they would deny domestic partners to be treated the same way as spouses was the city was anti-gay. There's no other reason."
The city's employee handbook also states family coverage is available, but the employee pays the costs of covering dependents. So the city does not protect LGBTs in its decades old anti-discrimination policy, and does not offer dependent insurance to its employees.
But state and federal anti-discrimination policies do not include protection for sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression either. And that makes what the city of Boca is doing legal, according to Boca Mayor Susan Whelchel
"We've complied with state and federal law," Whelchel said at an October city council meeting. She declined to clarify her comments after the meeting.
But Hoch did not stop there, he asked Pam Guerrier, Director of the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity for a second opinion about the city's policy.
"The option for African Americans, women and other minorities to utilize the services
provided by this office are no longer available since the City opted out of the County's Equal Employment Ordinance," Guerrier wrote in a letter to Hoch. She also explains minorities and women had the option to file charges of discrimination from 1995 until the opt-out ordinance was passed around Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2011.
Then Hoch forwarded her letter with one of his own to Boca City Manager Leif Ahnell, explaining he was not alone in his interpretation of the opt-out ordinance.
"Your staff's inaction has denied the City of Boca Raton the opportunity to finally remove this stain on the City in time for this year's celebration of the birth of Dr. King," Hoch noted in his letter. "Frankly, it is difficult to comprehend how your staff could allow this matter to drag on this long, considering the consequences to both the City and to each of you individually. (Do you really want the word "bigot" to continue to appear on the very first page of a Google search your names?)"
The next city council meeting is January 8. Morrison is set to speak at it, not as a community relations board member though. He's the newest member of the PBCHRC's Board of Directors, and plans to address the council as such. But because the city council advertises votes on ordinances for two weeks prior to them, and because the council hasn't advertised a vote on rescinding Ordinance 5161, little will have changed after the meeting.
"My thought is that we reinstate the 'Boca Bigots Run City Hall' campaign if no progress is made at the next city council meeting," Hoch wrote in an email to other members of the PBCHRC.
But Hoch remains hopeful the city will change.
"A combination of what Tyler is doing as an individual, the community relations board is doing as a government entity, the PBCHRC is doing in terms of educating the people of Boca Raton, I think that's going to affect change," Hoch said. "And change will occur in 2013."