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“They’re trying to include conservatives in the equality movement,” Miller said. Clarke pointed out he was one of the first Republicans in Orange County to back same-sex marriage equality in 2014. “I’m proud of my stance,” Clarke said, adding the criticism of him at the time “rolled off me like water off a duck.” Longwood Mayor Ben Paris, 34, said a “new generation” of Republicans is coming to the fore, focused on moving toward equality and away from “the Republican Party of the past.” But the issue of LGBT workforce protections is still controversial within the wider conservative movement. John Stemberger, the head of the Orlando-based Florida Family Council which promotes traditional values, said he opposed the idea. “Laws that create a new protected class for sexual orientation and gender identity are not needed and create an unconstitutional weapon to punish free speech and freedom of religion,” Stemberger said. “Those who support these laws by definition are not conservative, and they are also inconsistent with the Republican Party platform.” Asked about the CRSE and its mission, Gov. Rick Scott ’s office said Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, in accordance with federal law, “and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way.” It was the same statement Scott’s office gave to Equality Florida, a statewide organization that promotes LGBT rights, in 2016 when it pressed the governor to issue an executive order to bar discrimination in state agencies or in companies who contract with the state. The governor never issued the order. Lima said he’s heard from Republicans and conservatives who haven’t yet joined their pledge but “who are glad something like this exists.” “We continue to create a groundswell of support,” Lima said. “When more and more visible Republican leaders are advocating for LGBT rights in the workforce, you’ll see others who may not be sympathetic right now join the fray, steadily but surely.” On the Democratic side, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said Republican support for LGBT rights “makes a huge difference.” Smith pointed to the proposed Florida Competitive Workforce Act of 2017, which would have codified anti-discrimination protections. The measure had 15 state House and three state Senate Republican co-sponsors before it failed in committee. “Young Republican voters overwhelmingly support LGBT equality,” said Smith, the first openly gay Hispanic to serve in Tallahassee, adding he thought it was “dumb politics” that Scott and other Republicans haven’t already signed on.
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