West Palm Beach Earns Top Score in LGBTQ Equality

 

Rand Hoch
Rand Hoch

This release, from the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council:

The City of West Palm Beach has earned a perfect score on the 5th annual Human Rights Campaign Foundation Municipal Equality Index (MEI) ranking of cities across the United States.

The MEI examined the LGBTQ-inclusive municipal laws, policies and services in 506 municipalities nationwide. Cities were rated based on nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.

“Our city’s perfect score demonstrates the clear-cut commitment elected officials in West Palm Beach have made to the LGBTQ community over the past 25 years,” said retired judge Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

“Our city’s inclusive laws and policies attract amazing people to live and work in West Palm Beach,” said Mayor Jeri Muoio. “West Palm Beach is a wonderful place for LGBTQ people – and others – to live, study, play, work, raise families and retire.”

Of the 20 Florida municipalities included in the MEI, only five (West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Wilton Manors) scored 100 points. Nationally, 60 cities earned perfect scores.

In 1990, city commissioners established the West Palm Beach Employment Practices Review Commission to recommend improvements to the city’s personnel practices and procedures. Hoch, at the time a labor lawyer who represented the city’s municipal workers unions, served as the commission’s Chairman Pro Tempore. The blue ribbon panel’s final report included recommendations to improve the work environment for the city’s lesbian and gay employees. Within months, those recommendations were unanimously adopted by the city commission.

The following year, West Palm Beach became the first public employer in Florida to enact an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public employment. In 1992, West Palm Beach became the first public employer in Florida to provide domestic partnership benefits for municipal employees

City leaders recognized that while the laws and policies had been put into place to help¬† gay and lesbian municipal employees, action also needed to be taken to address discrimination faced by the city’s lesbian and gay residents. Therefore, in 1991, the city commission voted to prohibit the use of any public facilities or any public funding to any entities which had discriminated against members of a variety of protected classes – including gays and lesbians.

In 1994, the city commission enacted the West Palm Beach Equal Opportunity Ordinance, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in private and public employment, housing and public accommodation. (The ordinance was amended in 2007 to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression.)

Since marriage equality was slow in coming to Florida, during the period when same-sex marriage was prohibited, Mayor Muoio championed laws and policies to ensure that gay and lesbian municipal employees with domestic partners received the same benefits and take home pay as married opposite employees were entitled to receive.

Mayor Muoio also led the effort to enact the West Palm Beach Equal Benefits Ordinance, which required contractors doing business with the city to provide identical benefits to both married employees and employees with domestic partners.

Last year, the city commissioners updated the Equal Opportunity Ordinance by expanding the definition of “public accommodations” to prohibit consumer discrimination (e.g., “shopping while black”). The law also prohibits businesses in the wedding industry from discriminating against lesbian and gay couples.

West Palm spokesman Cohen heads to private sector

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Elliot Cohen is leaving as the city’s communications director, a job where he expanded West Palm’s outreach through TV and social media but exerted a controlling hand in parceling public information to the press while trying to compete with it as an advocate for the administration of Mayor Jeri Muoio.

Cohen came under fire in 2015 after he dumped more than 2,000 pages of police emails on the city website in response to a reporter’s information request, without blanking out names of undercover police or confidential informants. He was eventually¬†cleared by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics but the mayor removed him from most direct contact with the media, a role in which he’d made himself an intermediary between city officials and reporters who wanted to speak with them.

Thursday he said he’d taken a private sector job in South Florida and would leave his West Palm Beach job Aug. 19. “It’s kind of exciting and unusual,” he said, declining to name the company.

“We are going to miss him,” City Administrator Jeff Green said. “He’s done a good job for the city.”

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