Standing together as a community

The GLBT Democratic Caucus of Florida held its 2009 Summer Conference in Key West, attracting approximately 100 political activists to discuss the future of politics in the state—and how the GLBT community can progress amidst the influence of conservative lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“We have seen big change in Washington,” said Dan Gelber, Florida State Senator from Miami Beach, and candidate for Florida Attorney General. “But we have not had that change in Florida.”

The meeting, held July 18 at the rooftop conference center of the Crowne Plaza – La Concha Hotel, included executive leaders from each of the 13 Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus chapters; top leaders of political organizations, including Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida; and many straight allies, including Gelber and incoming Fla. House Democratic Leader Rep. Ron Saunders.

The meeting also hosted high-profile national political figures, including openly-gay U.S. Congressional Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO), who spoke via conference calls with updates on federal issues.

A surprise call came in from Cleve Jones, who addressed the crowd with his goals for the upcoming March on Washington, D.C. in October to raise national awareness for GLBT rights. He encouraged individuals to participate regardless of their individual political convictions, and not just pay attention only to the issues that pertain to them, a practice that proves to be detrimental to the community as a whole.

“If we truly believe we are equal,” Jones said, “then it is time to act like it.”

Kevin Burns, former Mayor of North Miami, addressed the group with a rousing speech about his campaign for U.S. Senate. Burns, who made Florida history by being re-elected to the office of North Miami Mayor as an openly-gay candidate, said he is running for office to correct several key issues, including reinstating the ban on assault weapons, and fighting proposals for petroleum drilling off Florida’s coasts.

He is also especially concerned with Florida’s ban on gay adoption—despite recent individual victories for gay parents in state courts, the ban is still in effect, and is the only such ban in the country.

Burns and his partner, who have been together for 27 years, adopted a daughter through agencies in Vermont, circumventing Florida’s ban on recognizing both fathers as legal parents. Burns said he is frustrated by lawmakers in Tallahassee who refuse to address the issue, in essence saying “gays are not fit to be parents,” and cited his own family as proof that gay families thrive.

“Even though raising a child is very challenging,” he said, “I think I can handle it.”

He stressed, however, the need to move past gay issues and not allow GLBT propaganda to limit what candidates address.

“I was with the gruffest group of labor unions in Central Florida,” he said. “They were only concerned with unemployment and labor issues. The couldn’t care less about the gay issue.”

The “gay issue” is still a major point of conflict with Florida’s state government. Despite progressive shifts nationwide, Florida’s conservative Republican government continues to stall the progression of pro-GLBT legislation.

Sally Phillips, VP of FL GKBT Democratic Caucus and Board member of The Victory Fund, also stressed the need for GLBT lawmakers in office.

“Any state that passed equality legislation had an openly gay legislator on the committee,” Phillips said. “Until we get an openly gay legislator inTallahassee, we won’t see equality legislation—if we do, it will break the mould…I just don’t believe it’s going to happen.”

Florida GLBT politics have experienced progress in the past year, however. Cathy James and Terry Flemming, of O.U.T. (Organizations United Together) pointed out that Florida Democratic Senators Mandy Dawson and Nan Rich and Representative Mary Brandenburg introduced a set of bills that would repeal the ban on gay adoption, which received significant support from Democratic lawmakers.

But support from the Democratic Party is not guaranteed; 18 Democrats in Tallahassee did not sign on to the gay adoption bills, despite the widespread support of the GLBT community for the party.

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith said Democrats could influence policy by facing down conservative state politics, and challenged the party to risk taking a stronger stance in Tallahassee.

“When Democrats don’t sign up, it gives moderate Republicans a place to hide,” Smith said.

To see the full South Florida Blade article here.

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