Our Fund, a foundation connecting the LGBT community, hosted the third annual “National LGBT Leadership Forum and Reception” Monday, November 11, 2013 at the Horvitz Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.
Moderator Lee Rubin directed four very optimistic panelists in commentary about the forum’s theme: “Strategy after Supreme Decision – Steps towards full equality after DOMA.” The panelists were Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal since 1992, Rea Carey, Executive director of The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force since 2008, Paul M. Smith, law partner in Jenner & Block, Washington, DC and chair of the firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice, and Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida since its inception in 1997.
Rubin began the evening with a question directed to Nadine Smith about the increase in numbers of athletes who are coming out and the parallel phenomenon of straight athlete allies. How are they changing our culture? Smith replied that “out” athletes and straight allies are emblematic of the times in which we live. They are among the many who see LGBT rights as “the defining issue of our generation.”
When asked by Rubin to talk about what has really changed for the LGBT community in the past year, given all that has happened with the fall of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act,) Rea Carey said, “In some ways, it’s ‘A lot and nothing.’ We are in celebration mode but we are also in morning-after mode, wondering what the impact of our victories will really mean for us. We need to educate ourselves about the particulars of our victories. I am concerned that some people will think that we are finished fighting for equality. A lot of people around the country are wondering ‘What’s next?’”
Rubin noted that 37 percent of all Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage in legal. He asked Cathcart and Paul Smith how they will approach those states that have constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage. Cathcart replied, “Most of the activity will be in the courts. There are 39 cases in 21 states going on right now. Some of them are good and some of them are less strategic than others.”
Rubin asked Carey and Nadine Smith about the timeline for marriage equality in Florida. Smith said, “We see that our best path to marriage equality in Florida is through the courts. That is a more effective route than through the legislature.” She received applause when she said, “We have learned that this initiative must be a conversation about love stories. Personal stories about same-sex couples and families are the way to win rights. Surprisingly, Florida leads the deep south in pro-marriage equality opinion.”
Carey echoed Smith when asked what she is seeing in other states. “It’s the coming out that changed everything.” Smith continued, “The next wave after we win equality will be the struggle to win personal happiness. They are two different things. Just because you have the right to marry doesn’t mean you can safely place your wedding picture on your desk at work.”
When asked about the fact that other gay destination states like New York are eating Florida’s lunch in terms of gay tourism dollars not coming into Florida’s economy, Smith confirmed that the statistics – $296 million into New York’s coffers because of marriage equality versus zero into Florida – will be a big part of the strategy to bring marriage equality to Florida. Local businesses understand the benefits, but packaging honeymoon specials for couples that have to get married elsewhere is not enough.
When asked what she thinks the impact of Charlie Crist (who has announced his candidacy for governor of Florida and has changed his position on marriage equality) will be on Florida public opinion about marriage equality in the coming year, Smith said, “The premise that people can change their minds is not only acceptable but key to the process of obtaining equality. Charlie Crist may be good for our cause, and I am glad for his support.” Tony Adams