Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is banning discrimination against LGBTQ state employees in her office.
The recently elected Democrat announced Friday that she’s revising the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ list of workplace protections against discrimination to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
The Florida Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, pregnancy or disability. But the state’s civil rights laws don’t explicitly protect queer and trans communities from discrimination, meaning it’s legal to deny LGBTQ people housing, service and employment.
The state Agriculture and Consumer Services Department will be the first in Florida’s state government to ban discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the office.
“This is a brand new day in which our Department and its 4,000 employees are making a strong statement – we will not tolerate discrimination in our workplace on any basis, including sexual orientation and gender identity,” Fried says in a statement. “We are pledging today that our Department is committed to an inclusive culture of equality, in which every employee is hired, promoted, and respected on the basis of their merit. This is a common-sense, long-overdue measure that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have implemented, and the majority of Floridians agree with. I encourage my fellow Cabinet officials to enact similar policies within their agencies and throughout our government.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-discrimination order for state employees that excluded protections for LGBTQ people. When asked on Thursday why he did not include LGBTQ people in his anti-discrimination order, DeSantis deflected the question and said he just “continued what had been in place before me.”
“My workplace policy is really just one sentence – you will be hired based on merit,” the Republican governor said. “That’s all I care about. And I think if you look at the appointments that I’ve made, nobody has done more diverse appointments than I have.”
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, says Fried’s “historic action” finally aligns the department with “mainstream workplace diversity standards.”
“It also sends a clear message that Commissioner Fried will not tolerate hatred or discrimination of any kind, including against LGBTQ Floridians – a non-controversial stance that no Cabinet-level official was ever willing to officially implement in the history of our state,” says Smith, the state’s first openly gay Latinx lawmaker. “Commissioner Fried did the right thing and should be applauded.”
Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBTQ rights group, also applauded Fried and called on DeSantis and other Cabinet members to extend the same protections to all state employees and contractors.
“Today’s announcement marks the first time a member of Florida’s Cabinet has provided protections on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity – policies that bring the agency up to par with Florida’s leading Fortune 500 companies and largest employers,” says Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director. “Not only are LGBTQ workplace protections common practice, but they are supported by the vast majority of Floridians. … Let’s bring the Sunshine State into the sun. No one in Florida should be denied the chance to work because of who they are or who they love.”