When Equality Florida representatives met with me this summer and said they wanted to give SFGN their annual award, they indicated that it was because we had given them “years of support.”
My job, this newspaper’s job, is not to give any one, any organization, any public official, guaranteed, unadulterated, unconditional ‘support.’
Our job is to report.
Reporting, as you can see from the awards we have won again this week, means exposing the warts and wounds of our community, even it means revealing that a community leader in Wilton Manors in 2018 may have sexually abused his students in a preparatory school in New Jersey in 1978.
Reporting the news means revealing the facts that even your cherished local community Pride Center carelessly employed a sexual offender to illegally work at their campus. Equal rights mean equal responsibility.
Over the years, we have had some sad stories to report. Good people sometimes do bad things. Bad people always look for a way to enrich themselves at someone else’s expense.
If the story is newsworthy enough, we write about it, good, bad or ugly. Sometimes, it hurts. Other times, it heals. Even a bad review at a local restaurant can set off a reader.
As a newspaper, you learn that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Nothing gives me more pride than doing our annual OUT50 issue, showcasing the good, the great, and the gallant amongst us. It does not always work that way, though. Life intervenes.
At SFGN, we have been fortunate enough to illuminate many nonprofits in our community because they have done their jobs so well, with dignity and distinction. That is why accepting the award from Equality Florida is such an honor.
Few nonprofits in this state have grown with such stature and success as Equality Florida. Few have done so much for so many. They have become a force for social justice and community outreach.Over the past two decades, EqualityFlorida has opened chapters in Gainesville, Key West, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, Pinellas, Jacksonville, and Sarasota.
Advancing the cause of creating a fair and safe environment for all Floridians, EqFL has endured adversity, challenged opponents, and questioned authority. They have met resistance with resolve, difficulty with determination. With your help, they have risen to the challenge, spread their message, and protected your standing. Whether our cause won or lost the midterms, they will be there for you tomorrow as they were yesterday. Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, EqFL has become spokespersons for our community.
On almost every issue of importance to us, from banning conversion therapy programs to supporting marches for unity and pride, they make their voices heard.
When fear grew that a serial killer was targeting Jacksonville’s transgender community in 2018, they alerted law enforcement about the need to protect potential victims.
When Governor Scott refused to extend LGBT protections for state employees in 2017, they censured him.
When the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act went before Congress in 2016, they lobbied our congressional representatives in Florida to support them.
When reproductive rights of women became a campaign issue in the 2014 midterm elections, they stood up on behalf of those women.
When the Lake County School Board threatened to end gay-straight alliance clubs in 2013, they spoke out loudly in opposition.
Equality Florida has also fostered networking, training and development for young activists. They even run an internship program which delivers college credits for students
Of course, there will be critics, saying they could have done better, should have done more. Who amongst us has not found something or someone to criticize at one point or another? At this newspaper, so too do we have voices that question our priorities and push our needle.
The bottom line is we all belong to a community that needs our voices heard. Equality Florida has become that voice. Equality Florida has in fact become the LGBT community’s first responders.
In this state, with so many lawmakers and legislators lined up against us, the Nadine Smith and Stratton Politzer leadership team heading Equality Florida has done us proud.
I am proud to accept their award because I know SFGN will hold Equality Florida to its mission. They have been noble soldiers in the ongoing war for social justice in our lifetime. They have served us well.
Equality Florida continues to do its best against the demons and demagogues populating our legislature. We don’t win every election or prevail in each debate. But they have been there for us, and I hope SFGN has been there for you.
The battle for human rights preceded our lifetime and will go on well beyond it. Never forget that while you may finally be standing on the shore in Dade and Broward, others can be drowning in the ocean in Ocala and Pensacola.
The small plaque we frame in our office is simple testimony to the hundreds of reporters and thousands of words SFGN has published over the past nine years. Our hope is that each week we can showcase and illuminate our community as good people living honorable lives.
This week, we thank Equality Florida for recognizing SFGN for trying to do our job, understanding each week, with every issue, we must rise to the challenge. Tides change. You ride with them, up and down, but you never give up.
Our duty, however, is to report the news, like Jack Webb used to do on the old black and white television show, Dragnet, good or bad, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
One personal note, I might add in closing. Getting out of bed is half the battle. But it’s a whole start.