TALLAHASSEE — It was a rare first-person discussion for the Florida House: two openly gay lawmakers discussing the problems they experienced as teens.
The Florida House briefly showed its new, more diverse membership Tuesday when two freshmen openly gay House members supported an amendment to an otherwise non-controversial foster-care bill to prohibit foster parents from interfering in the “natural development of the child’s sexual orientation.”
The amendment was offered by Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, to a bill that otherwise gives caregivers more legal authority to allow the children to participate in after-school activities, along with placing new requirements on the state to protect the mental and emotional well-being of the child when deciding whether to re-unite them with their parents.
Richardson is one of the first two openly gay members of the Florida House. His amendment would have required caregivers to support a child’s emotional and development growth without interfering in their sexual orientation — a move welcomed by the LGBT community in attendance in the Capitol today for a separate domestic partnership bill that a Senate committee delayed voting on.
“I got elected to represent and support all the people in my community including the LGBT community,” said Richardson, who went on to detail how when he was a teen his father “struggled with my sexuality.”
“I ran for office for the 15-year-old kid that doesn’t have a voice,” he went on, “so we can make sure every gay kid in this state knows they are as important in the foster care system as anyone else.”
The 15-minute debate is the first time an openly gay House member has pushed “equality” amendments on the floor.
Rep. Joe Saunders, an Orlando Democrat and the other openly gay House member, also spoke for the amendment.
“You have to let people develop in the way they’re supposed to,” Saunders said.
Republicans, though, argued the effort was an unrelated “political issue” interjected into an otherwise non-controversial bill. It was defeated on a voice-vote. But the moment was noteworthy, nonetheless, for the shifting influence it represented.