Years before Christian Ulvert became an advisor to many of South Florida’s most powerful politicians, he feared coming out as a young gay man would wreck his blossoming career in government.
Ulvert, then 22, was about to begin a 2004 graduate assistantship in the Florida Legislative Democratic Caucus office. Back then, marriage equality and ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy were national and statewide hot-button issues, and Ulvert’s boyfriend at the time suggested he tell his new caucus boss, state Rep. Dan Gelber, he’s gay.
“I remember going in to tell Dan that I needed to share something and that I understood it had an impact, and, if it was his decision, I would gladly step into a different role,” Ulvert recalled.
“I’ll never forget: Dan looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe you came in here and judged me. I believe in you and your work. So get back to work and never allow anybody — never give the authority to someone to control your life and decide anything but your value based on your work.’ It was a good lesson for me, and it kind of liberated me to start coming out more.”
Today, Ulvert owns Edge Communications, a 12-year-old company self-described on its website as “Florida’s Premier Progressive Political Consultants.”
Among his current and former political clients: Gelber, now mayor of Miami Beach; recently elected Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava; Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg; state Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami; state Sen. Perry Thurston, Jr. of Fort Lauderdale; state Rep. Allison Tant of Tallahassee; and Rep. David Richardson (now a Miami Beach commissioner), who in 2012 became Florida’s first openly gay state lawmaker.
Ulvert also handles public affairs consulting for Magic City Casino, United Healthcare and LiUNA Construction Trade Union, among others.
“This business is all about relationship building and being validated,” said Ulvert, who was Miami born into a Nicaraguan family, and raised by a single mother and his grandmother.
Ulvert attended MAST Academy high school on Key Biscayne and eventually became student body president for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, an advisor to the county’s school board. After graduation, Florida State University admitted him on a full scholarship to the school’s Service Scholars program.
“They accept eight to 10 students a year,” Ulvert said. “It's very much like a class. It's a full scholarship program. And we basically immerse ourselves in civic engagement and student service in the Greater Tallahassee area.”
Through the program, Ulvert met Gelber, who later encouraged him to enter FSU’s master’s program in public administration and policy.
After Ulvert received his master’s degree in 2006, Gelber hired him to be his communications director and legislative policy advisor.
Ulvert founded Edge Communications in 2008, the same year Gelber ran for state senate.
Edge’s first political client: Gelber, who won his senate race, and nine years later — also with Ulvert’s help — got elected Beach mayor.
Gelber recalls meeting Ulvert: “He was a young man trying to make his way in a pretty tough world.”
“There are a lot mercenaries in the campaign world. He has an immense number of principles, in addition to a warrior spirit,” Gelber said. “He has good instincts and judgment and he’s very hard working. That’s what makes him so good in his job. But it’s really his principles that make him so important in the community. He takes on causes. He’s not afraid to take on a cause even if it might mean he makes less money or upsets somebody.”
Ulvert describes Gelber’s early support for him as “a pivotal moment in my life,” one that eventually led to “a defining moment in my life” — getting to know his future husband, Carlos Andrade.
They met in 2010, while Ulvert was doing work for Gelber on his laptop at the Barnes & Noble Starbucks on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. “There was no place to sit and [Carlos] basically said, ‘Would you mind sharing a table?’”
Ulvert, 38, and Venezuelan-born Andrade, who turns 41 on Dec. 21, have been together ever since.
Carlos Andrade (left), Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Christian Ulvert. Courtesy photo.
They got engaged in 2011 in New York City’s Central Park. “He said we needed to talk and I thought, ‘Uh oh, he’s going to end this,’” Andrade recalled. “Instead, he said, ‘Please marry me.’”
Ulvert and Andrade, who owns Fiori and Leaves, a company that produces high-end floral arrangements with deliveries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, wed two years later in Washington, D.C., just after the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Edith Windsor, who sued the IRS to recognize her 2007 Canadian marriage to the late Thea Spyer.
In the landmark case, Windsor demanded and won the same unlimited estate tax exemption automatically granted to other widows in opposite-sex marriages.
The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling prompted Ulvert and Andrade’s fast decision to marry, Ulvert said.
“I felt like there's no point of getting married if we were not going to be recognized federally or in our state. It just felt like we could go to another state, sure, but then we come home and it's like nothing happened,” he said. “When the Windsor decision came out, we decided that having federal recognition was an important step.”
The following March, Ulvert and Andrade joined seven other same-sex couples, SAVE LGBT and the ACLU of Florida to sue the state of Florida to recognize their out-of-state marriages.
“I was the chair of SAVE,” Ulvert said. “I had worked for the state and I could not list Carlos as a beneficiary for my state benefits because the state of Florida didn't recognize gay marriage. We were not legally married in the eyes of the state and I could not designate him as a spouse. That gave us a premise to build a case, working with the ACLU, to become plaintiffs.”
U.S District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee ruled Aug. 21, 2014, in favor of Ulvert, Andrade and the other plaintiffs. Less than five months later, after federal appeals courts let the Hinkle ruling stand, it took effect and Florida began marrying same-sex couples and recognizing those legally married elsewhere.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of James Obergefell, who sued the state of Ohio to recognize his Maryland marriage to dying husband John Arthur, and declared marriage equality a constitutional right throughout the nation.
Ulvert said his friend Joe Falk, a longtime SAVE board member and currently the LGBT rights group’s treasurer, persuaded him to step out of his comfort zone — working behind the scenes — to become a plaintiff with Andrade in the federal marriage case.
“Joe said this is going to be one of those moments that you're going to look back and say you didn't just help history, you defined what history was being made.”
Andrade added: “Seeing Christian, the voice behind the scenes to be in front fighting for equality, I was very proud. To see the love of your life doing good things — not just for us, but for couples like us.”
Christian Ulvert (left) with husband Carlos Andrade. Courtesy photo.
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBT issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald.