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Equality Florida was more than a little pleased by the primary election results in Florida Aug. 18.  

The group had pushed hard for its slate of pro-equality candidates and spent considerable effort organizing volunteers and mobilizing voters. 

Through its political action committee (PAC), EqFL said staff and volunteers sent more than 100,000 messages, phone calls and texts to voters in high profile districts in the final four days of the primary alone. 

“We are still beaming over here,” Brandon Wolf, EqFL’s development officer and media relations manager, said in an email to SFGN. “It was a huge night for equality in Florida. Black LGBTQ candidates rising; homophobes falling.” 

EqFL described it as a “rainbow tsunami” — and the results back up the assertion. 

Of the 67 EqFL PAC-endorsed primary candidates, more than 80% were victorious. Other milestones were reached as well.  

“In a total repudiation of anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, infamous homophobe Rep. Mike Hill lost his primary in Pensacola as did Rep. Kimberly Daniels in Jacksonville and Rep. Al Jacquet in Broward,” EqFL said in a statement. 

In addition, Shevrin Jones will become the first Black gay man elected to the Florida Senate, and Michele Rayner, by winning her Florida House race, became the first Black queer woman ever elected in the state. 

“Historic primary wins by Black LGBTQ candidates move us closer to cementing a seat at the table for those who need it most,” Nadine Smith, EqFL’s executive director, said in a statement. “In an era of racist rhetoric and unfettered bigotry from Donald Trump, these victories serve as a beacon of hope for everyone who values equality and justice.” 

All eyes on Nov. 3 

EqFL has moved quickly to its next phase of outreach, as Florida voters will start to receive mail-in ballots in September and begin early voting in October.  

The Election Day crunch time has the organization in a full-court press mode. 

Through its voter mobilization program, EqFL has set a goal to engage with 500,000 pro-equality voters across Florida through Nov. 3.  

“In a state whose elections are decided on a razor-thin margin, pro-equality voters have the opportunity to determine the direction of Florida — and the nation — for generations to come,” an EqFL statement read.  

Grassroots organizing efforts continue, and in the time of COVID-19, its virtual “Days of Action” events as well. 

Days of Action are online meet-ups with volunteers and pro-equality voters. A variety of topics are discussed, including, for example, mail-in ballot information. 

“We know that people’s ability to vote by mail is being assaulted at a federal level,” Wolf told SFGN by phone. “And just being based on the pandemic, it disproportionally affects black and brown people.”

Days of action

Virtual “Day of Action” events enlisted support for candidate Michele Rayner. Images courtesy EqFL. 

Days of Action also includes get-out-the-vote efforts for candidates that are endorsed by EqFL — those that will champion LGBT issues. 

Volunteers fill shifts to make phone calls and send out text messages. 

Wolf said the events, including virtual town halls and its “Equality Live!” telethon in April that reached 25,000 viewers serve as a new and effective method of reaching people during the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

One of the messages to volunteers is to let voters know that pro-equality candidates are not fringe candidates.  

Wolf said EqFL surveys consistently show that 65% to 70% of Floridians support pro-equality candidates and what they stand for. 

‘We’ve come a long way,’ but… 

Wolf is known in part for his political activism after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. He was one of more than 300 people inside the venue. Two of his closest friends who were also inside, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero, were killed. 

He’s been in his role at EqFL for about a year and a half. 

“When people ask me what I do for a living I say that I ensure that LGBTQ stories are told,” Wolf said. “I’m honored to hear people’s stories and share bits and pieces of their lives. To be able to take those stories, digest them and take them to a broader audience.” 

He said it’s easy to forget all the positive change that has happened in the LGBT community because of the country’s current political climate. 

“It’s important for us to stay rooted in our history and how far this community has come,” Wolf said. “Think about in the decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the fear of coming out, then the terrifying public health crises of HIV and AIDS — all the struggle this community has faced. To now be treated with basic dignity and respect, in that context you can’t help but be excited.” 

He said, for example, candidates now talk openly about passing the federal Equality Act and many up and down the ticket talk about transgender rights. 

“We’re ensuring our voices are at the table. We’ve come a long way in the past 30, 40, 50 years, but the work doesn’t end on Election Day,” Wolf said. “It doesn’t mean we sit on our hands and rest on our laurels. We have to challenge our elected officials. But we can get excited about the pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot.” 

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