South Florida Panel Discussion Celebrates LGBT Elections Victories, Outlines Challenges
Imagine that for 32 consecutive birthdays, you ask for a puppy and all you get is a creepy lizard. But on the 33rd birthday, you open the box to find not one, but four cute puppies - four times what you were looking for. That was Rea Carey's metaphor of the 2012 national elections, a metaphor for which she invited modification but instead got applause.
"We don't want this year to be an anomaly," Carey, the executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said to a crowd of invite-only attendees at Monday, Nov. 12's panel discussion. "We are not finished - we are no where near finished with LGBT equality."
The roundtable was the brainchild and product of Our Fund, an organization that collects donations and allocates them to agencies and events in South Florida. The roundtable took place at the Horvitz Auditorium next to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale - the hall was packed. In its 18 months of life, Our Fund has already raised over $1.3 million.
The four panelists who attended came of their own volition, paying their own way and giving their own time. The conversation started with each panelist summarizing a bit of what they felt was of note this past election, as it relates to their respective organizations.
"We are officially a blue state right now. For us, it's been a watershed moment," said Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida. "The writing on the wall in terms of where our state sits is sending a signal to moderates who've been flying a tea party flag that it's time to step up. Being right on LGBT issues is a winning proposition."
Smith said there were three main elements that determined the progressive voice in the Florida elections, which landed the first and second ever openly LGBT in the state legislature: A shift of demographics within the state, the unprecedented rise of allies and a slew of businesses openly showing their support for the cause.
Fellow panelist Chuck Wolfe is the president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which endorsed 180 openly LGBT candidates across the country, 121 have been elected into the office they were seeking. While he congratulated Florida on its wins, he said some concerns remain.
"Most of these wins are happening coastally, not in the center of the country. I don't think we're there yet," Wolfe said. "We had these wins because Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket. The real test is where are in 2014 and who are the turnout voters then. Until we have a consistent level of turnout, we won't be at that point."
On the judicial end, Leslie Gabel-Brett, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, said victories in court often lead to a citizenry that questions its own institutions of law.
"The backlash [of winning court cases] is people questioning the legitimacy of courts and judges, saying they have no right to make decisions like that," she said. "We have a lot of work to do - to protect the judges and the courts to let them do their jobs."
However, Gabel-Brett added that her and colleagues have begun to call this time "Gay Day at the Court."
Out of six LGBT-centered issues sitting on the Supreme Court's shelf and awaiting to be picked up, four are challenging DOMA (two from Lambda, one from GLAAD and one from the ACLU); there's the Prop 8 case in California which if picked up will settle the case and if not will return the decision on gay marriage to the appeals court which has already ruled in favor; and a lawsuit against Arizona on behalf of two lesbian state employees whose rights were taken away.
Events like the recent elections make it clear to judges, Gabel-Brett said, that being supportive of LGBTs is being "on the right side of history."
Chuck Wolfe reminded attendees that the president has, to-date, appointed 250 LGBT federal employees, "Those people will be in their positions for years to come influencing policy."
In conclusion, Gabel-Brett said that the work is far from over, and it can only work if the various agencies work together.
"There are so many states where we have basic protections to gain," she said. "We must keep having all the gears working together."