By: Brandon N. Kneeld, Guest Contributor
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” These words that open the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence make up the most basic foundational statement on which the United States is built. However, few would argue that this has been universally applied throughout our nation’s history. Despite great achievements in the realms of social justice, even today, minority groups continue to face prejudice and systemic inequity that prevent them from fully realizing their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In the fifty years since Stonewall, the most recent decade has brought about significant progress toward LGBT equality. The nation’s final LGBT adoption ban was overturned in Florida in 2010, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” restrictions on military service were lifted in 2011, and Obergefell v. Hodges delivered marriage equality nationwide on June 2015. Despite these advancements, however, there are still a number of shortcomings.
While LGBT youth are more likely to find acceptance today than even twenty years ago, bullying and family rejection remain a primary factor in high rates of homelessness, drug, abuse, and suicide. Also, despite their rejection by the mental health community, conversion therapy and the gay panic legal defense used in cases of violence toward LGBT individuals, are still legal throughout most of the country. Couple this with renewed efforts by some states to pass legislation that outright contradicts stare decisis of rulings where the ink has barely dried, including Obergefell, against a more conservative court, and it is easy to see why LGBT families are on edge about what the future might hold.
It is impossible to legislate love or regulate thought, a key hurdle of every civil rights movement, but the 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent actions identified key areas in which discrimination could be regulated, particularly housing, employment, and public accommodations. These nationwide protections have for decades provided resources for those who have been discriminated against on the basis of immutable characteristics such as race, sex, religion, and age, among others.
In May of this year, the US House passed the Equality Act, which would extend these same protections to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, however, the bill has stalled in committee in the Senate. Twenty states have passed their own protections for LGBT individuals, but similar bi-partisan efforts at the state level in Florida have also failed to get out of committee.
With a lack of an action at the federal and state level, local jurisdictions have taken it upon themselves to amend their own civil rights ordinances to protect their LGBT residents, and today, more than 60% of Floridians live in jurisdictions that provide for civil remedies against discrimination for LGBT people. This includes all of Hillsborough, Orange, and Osceola counties, but currently, no such protections exist anywhere in Polk or Lake counties. This is despite overwhelming support for protections from major business entities in the region, including Amazon, Pepsico, and Darden Restaurants just to name a few.
It should also be mentioned that our area’s largest employer, Disney, as well as other entertainment giants like Universal are continuously recognized as top employers in the LGBT community, providing both protection and equal benefits to their LGBT workers. As such, LGBT individuals from around the country have come to work at these locations, and with a lack of affordable housing in the Orlando Metro area, many of these families are flocking to Davenport, Clermont, and beyond as they begin their careers.
For places that have built their reputation on being a hometown, it’s vital as they continue to grow to keep a sense of welcome and belonging. This will promote a vested interest in the community by new residents, encouraging them to lay down roots and build their families here, play an active role in area life, and invest in the future of the region. Failure to do so will only result in high turnover rates and disinterest as disaffected LGBT and other residents leave for other areas with established protections and hospitable climates, culminating in a cycle of transient residents that merely lay their heads here while investing their resources and building their lives elsewhere. Unless we make a case for all of our new families to settle down here, the sense of community that has long been a hallmark of the region will become a thing of the past.
About the Author: Brandon N. Kneeld is a City Commissioner for Davenport and works as a Systems Engineer for Disney. He serves on several local boards. He lives in Davenport with his husband, Akihito, and their infant son, Andrew.