The state's largest gay-rights group will give its highest honor this year to state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) for her determination in trying to pass an anti-discrimination bill that state lawmakers recently killed yet again.
Raschein said she will personally accept the Voice for Equality Award Saturday at the 16th annual Equality Florida Key West Gala, an event she attended last year.
The bill -- this year Raschein's House Bill 45 and the companion Senate Bill 120 -- would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida's civil-rights law. Versions of it have languished in Tallahassee for a decade but Raschein has no plans to give up on it.
"We're talking about a major policy shift here," she said. "The civil-rights movement in the 1960s didn't end overnight. Slavery didn't end overnight."
Raschein was the first Republican in the Florida Legislature to sponsor the bill to protect LGBT people in the workplace, a measure backed by some of the state's largest corporations, such as Disney, Winn-Dixie, Marriott and Well Fargo through a group called Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce.
Equality Florida said in a statement it's honoring Raschein because "she is building a truly bi-partisan coalition to ban discrimination, strengthen Florida's economy and improve Florida's reputation as a welcoming and inclusive state."
In Florida, same-sex marriage was allowed as of January 2015 after state Attorney General Pam Bondi dropped her appeals of court rulings calling Florida's ban unconstitutional. But it remains a state where it is legal to fire someone for being gay, bisexual or transgender.
Some cities, such as Key West, have made LGBT people a protected class just as race, creed, religion and color, but statewide, there remains opposition to expanding civil rights.
The most recent bills aimed to protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.
On Feb. 11, the Senate version died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which killed it with a 5-5 vote. Without the committee's approval, the full Senate couldn't take up the measure, which meant the House version also died.
This past session was the first time in history the bill has been granted a hearing, Raschein pointed out.
"That still is a tremendous step," she said. "We still have work to do."
The gala Saturday, 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Gardens Hotel, 526 Angela St., will also posthumously honor Frank Romano and Joe Liszka, a Key West couple who as activists and businessmen helped guide Equality Florida to its inception in 1997. Kim Romano, executive director of Womankind and Romano's niece, will accept a Voice for Equality award on behalf of the couple.
Admission is free and open to the public, but organizers ask those attending to RSVP via www.eqfl.org. The event doubles as a fundraiser for the group.