Civil liberties, serving the hungry and homeless, and religious freedom are among his causes
(March 11, 2015) Pick any Naples-area organization working to improve people’s lives. Doug Ball is probably in it. And spreading good cheer along the way.
Ball will receive Equality Florida’s highest honor, the Voice For Equality Award, at a brunch reception Saturday, March 21, at the Naples Grande Beach Resort. The award recognizes his years of volunteer leadership in multiple organizations on behalf of civil liberties and social justice.
Like many other Floridians, Ball and his husband Frank Dowd were looking for a warmer climate when Doug retired in 2001 from his job as a lawyer with the IRS in Washington D.C. But neither was looking to slow down. Frank, a librarian, began a new job at Edison Junior College (recently renamed Florida SouthWestern State College). And Doug relished this new opportunity to join advocacy groups that he couldn’t when he was a federal employee.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, PFLAG, religious groups, organizations that serve the hungry and homeless -- all these began to benefit from Ball’s talent and gregarious personality.
And Equality Florida, of course.
Living in one of the most conservative counties in Florida “is not very encouraging at times,” Doug says. Neither Naples nor Collier County has a human rights ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. Lately, he and other local members of Equality Florida have focused on raising awareness and support for various statewide measures as well as, eventually, local ones.
Equality Florida’s main statewide priorities this year are to defeat a legislative bill that would make it a crime for some transgender people to use public restrooms, and to continue building bipartisan support for the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. That bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the state’s non-discrimination law. A coalition that includes the support of more than 200 businesses, known as Florida Competes, is helping to push for the bill.
Doug and Frank don’t regret for a minute moving to Naples. But they acknowledge that it was a bit of a culture shock. Together since June 17, 1982, they’d both been completely out and open in Washington among family, friends and colleagues at work. Each had pictures of the other on his desk. And they enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city itself.
In Naples, in terms of LGBT visibility and acceptance, “it was like we’d gone back several decades just by moving a thousand miles,” Doug says.
But they were undeterred. “I think you just have to respond to that kind of thing. I don’t think you can stop fighting for what you think is right.”
Doug and Frank have been active in both St. Monica’s Episcopal Church and New Day Metropolitan Community Church in Naples. Doug attends services Saturday evening at one church and Sunday morning at the other. He also is active in Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The couple married in Toronto in 2007.
Doug doesn’t seem fazed by the uphill struggle of some of his causes.
“These are some of the best years of my life,” he says. “Now I’m retired and can afford to spend time working for what I believe in.”
Says Stratton Pollitzer, Equality Florida’s deputy director: “I can think of no one more deserving, who has given of himself so tirelessly, and who has been there time and time again for our community.”
This is the third annual reception in which Equality Florida is honoring a local leader. Previous award winners were Thom Croce, who started the Gay Straight Alliance at Naples High School, and Gabrielle Gilmore, a longtime leader in PFLAG.
The event will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m, March 21, in the Orchid Ballroom of the Naples Grande Beach Resort, 475 Seagate Drive in Naples.
Tickets, at $100, are available at 813-870-3735 or eqfl.org/naplesreception. All net proceeds benefit Equality Florida Institute, a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization.
Equality Florida Institute is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. www.eqfl.org