I read the articles recently in SFGN lamenting Houston’s Human Equal Rights Ordinance repeal by the overwhelming vote of Houston’s electorate. I am the past chair of Americans for Equality, the political action committee formed in 1995 to defend Broward County’s Human Rights Ordinance as it pertains to sexual orientation. The first attempt in 1995 to collect signatures to place the repeal of the amendment adding sexual orientation on the ballot was fought by AFE vigorously, but, in the end, those collecting the signatures were amateur local bigots and their signature gathering efforts were unsuccessful.
In the year 2000, we faced a much more sophisticated, nationally directed and funded signature drive. In 2000 I led a small group of AFE board members and volunteers in stopping the signature gathering. It was a long difficult campaign, but, we were successful in preventing all signature gathering on private property so that the petition drive was limited to gathering signatures on clearly public property, primarily on the Broward County Court premises.
Every national gay rights group, and notably Equality Florida offered us zero help. Zero. Their policy was that the signature petition drives to place the issue of the repeal of our gay rights were going to succeed – had succeeded nationwide where they had occurred- so that we should place our limited resources (no salaries, just community donations and the sweat of our brows) into voter I.D. I suggested that they, Equality Florida in particular, do voter I.D. for us given we were all volunteers, and not paid professional gay rights advocates.
Towards the end of the petition drive, the powerful and well funded right wing brought in paid professional canvassers from places as far away as the Bay Area, where door to door canvassing is a tried and true way to raise money for all kinds of political causes. I myself ran canvasses for progressive non-profits in the Bay Area after graduating from U.C. Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare in the 1980s. I knew what I was up against.
These paid canvassers were getting $16 to $30 dollars a signature at the end – and on the deadline for turning it the signatures it appeared that they produced enough signatures to put our Broward County Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) amendment adding sexual orientation as a protected category to the vote. But, thanks to our relationship with then Supervisor of Elections, Miriam Oliphant, who brought her department to a halt for two weeks while they laboriously checked the petitions, it was discovered that a sufficient number of petitions were fraudulent, and as a result our HRO stands today, with the only changes being to broaden it to bring it in alignment with today’s standards, such as adding transgender protection.
Significantly, no one, yes, nobody from any LGBT rights organization – from Equality Florida to Lambda Legal to nobody, called to congratulate us on our victory here in Broward County. Locally we were recognized and honored by the GLCC (now the Pride Center), the Dolphin Democratic Club, the NAACP, the Community Women’s Foundation (now Aqua Girl). I find it perplexing that in THIS DAY AND AGE, a petition drive has again put our rights to a vote and brought Houston’s LGBT community to its knees. It was preventable. Sadly, no national organization has asked me how we did it here in Broward County. Twice.
– Robin Bodiford