Florida Democrats and LGBT Rights

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As regular readers know, this reporter is an active member of the Democratic Party. Though I have been critical of Democratic politicians in the past (and will continue to do so) under our country’s two party system we progressives have no choice but to belong to the party of the New Deal and the Great Society.

This is true in the case of the progressive cause that is closest to my heart, the movement for LGBT rights and equality. While I respect and appreciate the work that my Log Cabin Republican friends are doing to make their party more LGBT-friendly, the fact remains that the GOP is currently controlled by social conservatives and tea party activists who oppose LGBT rights, South Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to the contrary.

In the state of Florida, there are several groups that work on behalf of LGBT people within the Democratic Party. On a state level, we have the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus (http://floridaglbtdemocrats.org), led by Michael Rajner and other LGBT and/or AIDS activists.

According to its mission statement, “the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus represents the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the Florida Democratic Party. It is Aa voice that seeks to instill awareness of the freedoms of a democratic society, educate future leaders, support the community at large, and maintain an ongoing rapport and increasing visibility with political entities.”

There are also Democratic clubs on the local level. Here in Broward County, which has Florida’s largest number of Democrats, the Dolphin Democrats (http://www.dolphindems.org) represents our interests. The mission of the Dolphin Club is “to foster good will between gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) members of the Democratic Party and the community at large.” (Full disclosure: I am a Board member of the Dolphin Dems.)

We who live in Broward are fortunate to live in a County that welcomes us and respects our rights. And we are lucky to have an active Democratic Party that helps us achieve and maintain those rights. Unfortunately, this good fortune does not extend to the state level. While many parts of the Sunshine State, like Broward County, are LGBT friendly, our state government is very conservative and LGBT un-friendly. For over a decade all three branches of the State government have been controlled by conservative Republicans who are extreme – even by Republican standards. Though most of the GOP’s success can be attributed to our state’s innate conservatism, the fact remains that Republicans are better political players than Democrats are to our Party’s regret.

For years political pundits have criticized Florida’s Democratic Party for not getting our act together. They quote the late Will Rogers, who famously said that “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.”

Critics like Michael Putney and Buddy Nevins argue that we don’t unite like Republicans, don’t have a common theme like Republicans, and can’t raise money like Republicans. (In short, we are not Republicans.) Even worse, our critics say, we Dems do not have a farm team: a set of ambitious young politicians who start at the bottom and move up the ranks the way the GOP’s Marco Rubio did. If the best we can do is recycle a Republican like Charlie Crist, we are in big trouble.

Much of the Florida GOP’s success can be attributed to gerrymandering which, in spite of the passage of the Fair Districts Amendment in 2010, continues to flourish. And Republicans outvote Democrats, especially in non-presidential elections. So the first thing we need to do is energize our base, especially youth and minorities, who only vote when Barack Obama is on the ballot.

Fortunately, the recent government shutdown has created a backlash against the GOP and the tea party that controls it. (Though the disastrous debut of the Affordable Care Act Web site might lead public opinion in the other direction.) Another hopeful sign is Democrat Amanda Murphy’s victory in a special election for the State Legislature (District 36). Though Murphy (who won with LGBT support) only received 300 more votes than her opponent and poses no challenge to the GOP’s vast majority in Tallahassee, her victory is a step in the right direction.

What Florida Democrats need to do besides bringing out the vote and raising LOTS of money is to encourage young Democrats to run for office. (Charlie Crist and Bill Nelson are not going to be around forever, and Bob Graham is retired.) Here again, there is hope in the horizon.

Here in Broward County we have two young, gay Democrats, both active members of our Dolphin Club, who are running for the State Legislature and who I believe will help shape the future of our Party. They are Scott Herman (a former Republican!) who is running for District 93 and John Paul Alvarez (District 100). If they are elected, they will join Democratic State Representatives David Richardson (District 113) and Joe Saunders (District 49) to form a small but vocal gay caucus. Along with Dolphin Christopher Warnig, who is running for the Broward County Commission, they will be part of a Florida Democratic Revival.


Greg Kabel

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