Cape Coral City Council members have approved an ordinance adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT city employees. Cape Coral is the first municipality in Lee County to provide such protections.
City Council members voted unanimously Monday night in favor of an ordinance adding protections for city employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The ordinance was championed by City Council member Jessica Cosden. She said she had not heard personally from any of the city’s roughly 1,500 employees about LGBT discrimination in the workplace until after she began advancing the proposal.
“After I started the process, I had a few employees reach out to me and say, ‘Thank you. I have experienced discrimination,’” said Cosden. “One employee told me that she was afraid to come out because she was worried about any ramifications and now she feels safer. And just after the ordinance passed, I got two different messages from employees saying, ‘thank you so much.’”
Co-founder of the Visuality LGBT youth center in Fort Myers, Arlene Goldberg, says she’s met with Lee County manager Roger Desjarlais and that he’s indicated the county is also working to update its employment policies to include discrimination protections for LGBT workers. No other municipalities in the county have passed similar ordinances, but Councilwoman Cosden said she hopes other local governments will follow Cape Coral’s lead. She said she has also considered working to extend an LGBT non-discrimination measure to the private sector as well.
“I worry about the polarization it will cause,” said Cosden. “I know this was unanimous, but I’m quite certain based on comments made by other council members that a city-wide ordinance would not be unanimous. And I just worry about causing even more division and bringing up an ordinance that could fail. So, the end result would be, not only division, but a failed ordinance.”
Cosden said speakers at Monday’s city council meeting addressed the misconception that LGBT workplace protections already exist in federal law, which currently is not the case.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are 10 Florida counties and 29 municipalities, including North Port and Venice, which have adopted similar ordinances that cover workers in both the public and private sectors. Cape Coral now joins Sarasota County and two other Florida cities in adopting ordinances that protect against LGBT workplace discrimination in the public sector only.
At the state level, lawmakers such as Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, have supported a competitive workforce measure aimed at extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBT workers in Florida, but the legislature has so far failed to adopt such proposals.