My name is Ryan Hurst and I’m gay. As we celebrate Pride this month I feel compelled to share the story of how Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum helped me to find my place in the community and understand the meaning of pride, and in doing so I hope that you will give Andrew Gillum a chance to earn your vote for governor of Florida.
I was born and raised in South Florida. I came out to my parents my freshman year of high school and was lucky that both of them were supportive of me. I went to a parochial school and, for the most part, the fact that I was gay was never made an issue. That is until my senior year.
My school would do one and three day religious retreats a few times a year. It was during one of these retreats that a teacher I was very close to pulled me aside and told me that if I brought another boy to the school prom that I would not be allowed to graduate. I had no intention of bringing a boy to the prom. I was excited to bring one of my best friends, who was a girl.
Nonetheless, I was shocked by the incident. It was the first time in my life that I felt directly discriminated against and completely powerless.
While I prepared to graduate high school, President Bush called for the passage of a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. It became a hot-button issue that election cycle, and 11 states ultimately passed amendments banning same-sex marriage. I loved my faith and my country, but I wasn’t sure they loved me back.
A couple of years later I was studying at Florida State University when the State of Florida decided to take up its own ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage. I wanted to fight back against Amendment 2, but didn’t know how, until I eventually found a bipartisan organization called Florida Red and Blue organizing to defeat Amendment 2. I looked on their webpage and found that one of their board members was a young Tallahassee City Commissioner named Andrew Gillum.
I made an appointment to go speak with him. I told him my story and asked what I could do to fight back and make a difference.
He did three things that day that made all the difference: he made me feel valued by listening and sincerely caring; he told me to tell my story because it could help others understand how anti-LGBT legislation impacted real people; and he told me I could fight back by learning how to organize my community.
A few days after our meeting, Gillum reached out and told me about a number of programs that could train me to be a community organizer and give me a language to connect with people on my issue based on shared values. He also offered me an internship. He cared about me and made an investment in my future.
Andrew Gillum doesn’t pay lip service to his values, he lives them. In Tallahassee, he expanded domestic partnership benefits to city employees. As mayor, he appointed the City of Tallahassee’s first LGBT Liaison. When the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that same sex couples had the right to marry, and county clerks around Florida announced they would stop issuing marriage licenses, he welcomed people from all over the state to come to Tallahassee and get married in the city.
I have learned many things from Andrew Gillum over the years. I've learned that there's a difference between a politician and a public servant. Public servants like Andrew take courageous stands, even when the political consequences might be steep. Politicians shrink from those moments. Please join me in supporting Andrew Gillum for Governor of Florida.