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A Complete Guide To LGBT Rights In Florida

lgbt rights in florida

Florida is known around the world not only for its balmy climate and beautiful beaches but also as a haven for the LGBTQ community. In fact, according to a Gallup poll, 4.6 percent of adults living in Florida are LGBTQ+. 

But is life for LGBTQ Floridians as sunshiny as the Sunshine State? Beyond the epic nightlife and laid-back culture, is Florida a good place to live if you’re LGBTQ? Here, we take a quick look at the state of LGBT rights in the state, from same-sex marriage laws to nondiscrimination protections.

The Earliest Florida LGBT Laws

Strange as it may sound, same-sex sexual activity wasn’t legal in the state of Florida until as recently as the 21st century. Florida’s sodomy laws criminalized oral sex and anal sex among married and unmarried couples who had the same sexual orientation. It also, strangely enough, was applicable to unmarried heterosexual couples.

In 2003, the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas abolished all state sodomy laws in the name of liberty and privacy. 

This decision reversed a 1986 ruling (Bowers v. Hardwick) that once declared Georgia’s criminal sodomy law as constitutional. Upon delivering the 2003 decision, Justice Kennedy declared that Bowers was “not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today”. It marked a huge win for equal rights and nondiscrimination in the US. 

Same-Sex Marriage In Florida

The road to marriage equality in the US has been long and winding. Massachusetts paved the way and become the first US state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003, but Florida didn’t follow suit until 11 years later. 

The 70s was a fraught time for equality all across the country. In Florida, then-Governor Reubin Askew signed bills banning marriages and adoptions for couples of the same sexual orientation in 1977. In a report by Boca Raton News, it was stated that “known homosexuality” could be considered as a reason for barring people from adopting.

Even then, the fight for marriage equality in the country raged on, and queer people from all over America entered marriages and civil unions and fought to be recognized at the state and federal levels. 

Fast-forward to 2008, when the constitutionality of said civil unions and marriages among same-sex couples was put into question in the state of Florida. Upon the passing of the Florida Amendment 2, marriage and civil unions between same-sex couples were considered unconstitutional by the Florida government. 

In the 2000s, following Massachusetts’ declaration ending their ban on same-sex marriages, more and more state governments began striking down their bans. Finally, by 2014, Florida followed suit, becoming the 25th state to do so. Judge Robert L. Hinkle declared Florida’s ban unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection and due process clauses in the 14th Amendment. When Judge Hinkle announced the decision, he called the “arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage…an obvious pretext for discrimination”. 

And in a seminal moment in US history, former President Barack Obama declared the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional discrimination in 2011. By 2015, in the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality became officially recognized in all 50 states.

Right To Change Legal Gender For LGBT In Florida

For some transgender and nonbinary people, whose assigned gender at birth does not match their personal gender identity, the ability to change one’s legal name and gender identification is an important step in their journey towards gender affirmation. Identity document laws cover driver’s license policies, birth certificate laws, and legal name change laws.

Updated name and gender markers are not only helpful for self-identification, but they also help trans and non-binary people navigate public spaces with ease and a reduced risk of violence and discrimination. 

In Florida, trans and nonbinary people can amend the sex markers on their birth certificate if they can provide “original, certified, or notarized supporting documentary evidence”. According to Trans Equality, the Bureau of Vital Statistics accepts a “standard passport gender change letter” as evidence. 

The requirements for amending a birth certificate include:

  • An application form
  • An affidavit of amendment of a certificate of live birth signed before a notary
  • A physician’s letter that confirms that the applicant has received sufficient clinical treatment for gender affirmation
  • A fee of $20

As for legal name changes, Florida-based applicants are required to submit a petition to the court, along with fingerprints and criminal history records. Make sure to learn what requirements you need to submit to change your name and gender marker in your driver’s license

Unfortunately, trans and nonbinary Floridians do not have the option to select “X” as the gender marker on either their driver’s license or their birth certificate. 

Florida’s LGBT Adoption Rights

Much like the fight for marriage equality, the fight for gay and lesbian adoption rights was rife with challenges. In 1977, the state of Florida issued an adoption ban on homosexuals, stating that same-sex couples were considered handicapped or physically disabled and thus not capable of raising children.

By 2010, the law was repealed when a gay Miami-Dade County resident petitioned for his right to adopt to the Third District Court of Appeals. The 1977 ban was ruled unconstitutional and that the law had “no rational basis”. However, the ban wasn’t lifted until 2015. Today, adoption agencies are barred from discriminating against potential parents based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As of 2021, LGBTQ people are legally allowed to adopt children in all 50 US states. However, there are still varying restrictions for LGBTQ couples based on their marital status. Each state has its own eligibility requirements, and not all have laws protecting prospective parents from experiencing discrimination throughout the adoption process.

Parental rights for gays and lesbians in Florida today are rather complicated. While LGBTQ people are allowed to adopt children, non-related spouses are not given legal rights to children born from previous relationships or sperm/egg donors. Instead, non-biological parents seeking to adopt their partner’s child may only apply as step-parents.

Florida’s LGBT Non-Discrimination Protections

In a study conducted by the General Social Survey, it was found that 16 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents had experienced losing a job due to discrimination based on their sexual orientation. In another survey, this time conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, it was also found that 16 percent of transgender respondents have also faced job loss due to gender identity-based discrimination.

Aside from this, respondents also noted incidences of denied promotions, workplace harassment, inadequate healthcare coverage, and inaccessible bathrooms – all connected to the respondents’ gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision on June 15, 2020, stating that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. And by February 3, 2021, the Florida Commission on Human Relations announced that it would be implementing the decision as state law. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, this move would protect over 772,000 LGBTQ Floridians when it comes to housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and public accommodations discrimination. 

Before the ruling, LGBTQ people seeking housing in Florida were not protected from discrimination under the Florida Fair Housing Act. As of today, the Florida Fair Housing Act only prohibits discrimination in housing transactions on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

Meanwhile, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act seeks to enhance non-discrimination protections in employment. Under the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, discrimination in employment, such as discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity against those seeking employment and those who are currently employed, would be made illegal. Unfortunately, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act has languished in the legislative houses since 2009, so this is not something that LGBTQ Floridians can rely on at the moment. 

County Laws And City-Wide Non-Discrimination Protections

According to the Movement Enhancement Project or MAP, only 60 percent of the Florida LGBT population is fully protected by nondiscrimination protections. Only 12 out of 67 counties and 28 out of 282 cities have issued an ordinance that criminalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those 12 counties also provide full protections against gender identity-based discrimination, but only 26 cities do so. In the absence of state law, these nondiscrimination protections help LGBTQ people in Florida against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Some of the more well-known cities and counties that have fully inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity protections (meaning protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations) include:

  • Broward County
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Gulfport
  • Hillsborough County
  • Key West
  • Leon County
  • Miami Beach
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Monroe County
  • Orange County
  • Orlando
  • Osceola County
  • Palm Beach County
  • Pinellas County
  • Sarasota
  • St. Petersburg
  • Tampa
  • Volusia County
  • West Palm Beach

Conversion Therapy Ban

The Human Rights Campaign defines conversion therapy as a “range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression”. While these practices were once the norm, especially among religious and psychiatric institutions, the majority of mainstream medical organizations and mental health care institutions have since rejected them. 

In a statement, the American Psychiatric Association reiterated its stance on conversion therapy, stating that the association “does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated”.

Not all US states have laws regulating this practice, and thus LGBTQ youth in these places are vulnerable to abuse and at risk for a spate of mental health issues. 

In Florida, only three out of 67 counties and 19 cities have ordinances prohibiting conversion therapy for minors. However, as of November 2020, a federal appeals court ruling was issued to strike down conversion therapy bans in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. This means that Florida municipalities cannot enforce bans on therapies as of this moment. 

Transgender Sports Ban

While Florida has made strides in protecting its LGBTQ population from experiencing housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and public housing discrimination, the state is lagging in efforts to protect its transgender community – particularly trans youth.

There has been an ongoing trend in recent years to ban transgender people, particularly women and girls, from taking part in sporting events at school. This Republican-led campaign has unfortunately reached the state of Florida when, in June 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law.

Florida joins the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, which all have similar laws banning trans girls from joining women’s sports at school.

The good news is that the US Department of Education recently announced that it would be upholding the Title IX interpretation in Bostock v. Clayton County where the Supreme Court recognizes discrimination against someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity as discrimination based on sex. According to Equality Florida, this pronouncement is “welcome news for the LGBTQ community and specifically our transgender youth, who have borne the brunt of legislative attacks and lies”.

HIV Discrimination Protections

Unfortunately, along with 25 other states in the country, Florida still upholds its outdated law that criminalizes people who do not disclose their HIV status. According to The Appeal, having “consensual sex, donating blood or organs, or engaging in sex work” without disclosing your HIV status can all be considered a third-degree felony.

Hate Crime Law

According to Equality Florida, hate crimes based on sexual orientation “account for 22 percent of all hate crimes” coming in second to race and overpassing religion as the second-highest category.

Florida’s hate crime laws currently provide penalties for crimes based on the victim’s race, ethnicity, skin color, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, place of origin, housing status, and age. However, recent legislation could expand the protections against discrimination of a person’s gender identity as well. The bill is still undergoing committee hearings at the moment.

The Bottom Line

Despite being one of the most popular holiday destinations for LGBTQ travelers, Florida still has a lot of work to do to protect its residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

Still, much of Florida is welcoming and accepting of the queer community. Hopefully, soon, this acceptance translates to the law, so LGBTQ residents and visitors can live to their full potential in the Sunshine State.

Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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