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Countering A Presumption Of Bigotry

State Rep. Holly Raschein posing next to an aquarium with lionfish
State Rep. Holly Raschein. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Republicans have a problem: They are often presumed to be bigots.

Part of the problem is one of their own making. While many of the candidates in the GOP presidential field have staked slightly more nuanced positions, all of them have still said they believe marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman. Socially liberal Republicans (who do, in fact, exist) have often been drowned out in the past by those who refuse to acknowledge or accept this century’s broader view of what equal protection under the law means in daily life.

But another part of the problem is that in many corners of the media and in the public mind, the very term Republican almost means “intolerant,” to the point that it is considered newsworthy when a member of the GOP behaves contrary to the stereotype.

Hats off to Florida state Rep. Holly Raschein for doing something to change that, by promoting legislation to provide legal protections to gay and transgender Floridians.

Florida is one of 28 states that do not currently offer workers legal protection against employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and is among the 31 that do not offer such protection based on gender identity. (A few of these states do extend protection to job candidates or employees for state employment only.) Local ordinances cover 10 counties and 22 municipalities in Florida, representing about half of the state’s population, but 57 of the state’s counties still offer no such protection.

Raschein, a Republican who represents Monroe County in the state legislature, is co-sponsoring a bill for the 2016 legislative session to extend protections throughout the state. The proposal, called the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list of protected classes covered under Florida’s employment discrimination law.

Speaking to the Miami Herald, Raschein emphasized that there was no conflict between her political identity and her choice to champion this legislation. “I can be just as conservative as I want to be and still believe in eliminating discrimination of LGBT people,” she said. She added that her identities as a conservative, a Baptist and a mother had absolutely no bearing on “doing the right thing.”

I am a Republican, and I wouldn’t mind having my business endorse the proposed Florida legislation, if anyone happened to ask us. At this point it’s hard to imagine why anyone would reject a job candidate because that individual is, or seems to be, gay, bisexual or transgender, unless those traits had some relationship to the actual job. (The Florida bill, like most similar statutes in other states, includes an exception for bona fide occupational requirements. We still won’t get any Jewish priests in Catholic churches and, for the foreseeable future, no openly gay ones either.)

That scenario is hard to picture, but still not impossible. It wasn’t so long ago that we were fighting over whether gay servicemen and women could openly serve in the U.S. armed forces without jeopardizing the security of the nation. And it has taken us until now to even begin the process of lifting the ban on transgender personnel. The type of thinking that created and supported such bans may be less common and less open these days, but it has not gone away entirely. Even though same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, 39 percent of Americans still say they oppose it.

But given the strong correlation between support for LGBT rights and age, it seems inevitable that, sooner than later, the opponents of LGBT civil rights will be as reluctant to openly admit their position as the rare opponent of interracial marriage or women in the military today.

Why should someone have to conceal his or her sexual orientation or gender to get a job as an accountant or to rent an apartment? There is no logical reason, and our laws should reflect as much.

Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, we answered these questions with respect to race and religion a long time ago. We are finally getting around to it with respect to a person’s private sexuality and public identity. If the holdouts who think civil rights protections are a bad thing want to flock to Republican primaries, we can’t stop them, but we certainly should not give them more than their due. Candidates shouldn’t either.

It is still a problem for Republicans that the Miami Herald considers it particularly relevant that the sponsor of the Florida bill is a conservative, Republican, straight, Baptist mom. But that surprise will inevitably be temporary. When enough other Republicans follow her lead, the stereotype will fall away.

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