Mourn the Pulse shooting victims. Volunteer with LGBT groups. Vote. Go to city meetings. Run for office.
That is what more than 20 activists, pro-LGBT volunteers, pastors and mayors told a crowd of more than 150 gathered in the plaza next to the Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach on Sunday.
Compass Community Center, The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), and other groups held an Equality Rally from 1-3 p.m. in solidarity with the pro-LGBT rights Equality Marches happening in Washington, D.C. and across the U.S. The purpose of Equality March was to mobilize LGBT people and their allies to stand for their rights, expand those rights and fight discrimination.
The rally also took place about one year after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and 58 injured.
Compass CEO Tony Plakas choked up remembering what happened last June.
“One year ago we were on top of the world,” he said. As other speakers mentioned, it had been one year since gay marriage became the law of the land, the LGBT community had allies in the White House, and anti-discrimination was expanding to LGBT government workers in South Florida. “And then the next day one person tore us apart,” Plakas continued. “Everybody wanted to rise above. But I wanted to be pissed off.”
While the Pulse shooting hung in people’s minds, speakers told rally goers to do more than just go to protests and marches -- to vote, get involved in local politics, and run for office if they want to change how government and society treats them.
Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon urged attendees to get to the ballot box by reminding them of when abortion was illegal and when a wife needed her husband’s consent to get birth control pills.
Then there was marriage equality, she said, “There are people in our country today who are slowly picking apart that decision to see what little caveat they can get to send out to the legislature to put an impediment to being able to do that.” Gannon did not mention specific groups, but added, “That’s really why your presence is important, why you need to vote, why you need to talk to your city commissions, your state legislatures.”
PBCHRC President Rand Hoch reminded the audience why Palm Beach County is so LGBT-friendly. “And the reason for that is that you register to vote and you get out there and interact with elected officials,” he said.
Hoch also drew boos by mentioning President Donald Trump and Governor Rick Scott. “I’d like to take a few minutes to read for you from the gay pride proclamation issued by our president Donald Trump, but there was none,” he said, drawing boos from the crowd, “I would like to read to you from Governor Scott’s proclamation announcing Gay Pride Month,” he paused, “but there was none.”
Mayors Jeri Muoio and Pam Triolo, of West Palm and Lake Worth, spoke about how their cities protect LGBT rights. Muoio mentioned how LGBT workers’ partners get the same benefits as straight workers’ partners. Companies contracting with the city must also provide equal benefits to their workers. “People who work here, who live here, who play here are assured of equal protection,” Muoio said.
Perhaps the loudest, most vocal speaker to demand young people vote was 80-year-old Connie Kurtz, who along with her wife Ruthie Berman were the subjects of the 2002 documentary “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.”
“I have friends who registered to vote and did not vote!” she yelled. “You must vote, and you must become candidates, and you have to understand you have to carry the banner. Your age demands it of you. You cannot continue putting the burden on someone else.”
Although speakers urged listeners to vote, turnout remains low. In March, local elections across Palm Beach County brought out less than 20 percent of registered voters. Many who cast ballots in cities like Boca Raton and Lake Worth came from neighborhoods of older, wealthier Republicans, data from the county Supervisor of Elections show.
Other Equality Rally speakers and attendees included West Palm commissioners Cory Neering, Shanon Materio and Keith James; Lake Worth commissioners Andy Amoroso, Omari Hardy, Scott Maxwell, and Herman Robinson; CJ Riehl, a trans male who began volunteering with Planned Parenthood after they helped him get hormonal medication; Meredith Ockman, Vice President of Florida National Organization for Women; Maria Torres-Lopez, an organizer with Women’s March West Palm Beach; and Pastor Lea Brown of LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches.