Alex Penelas was a champion of LGBT rights before the term existed. He didn’t simply vote for a piece of legislation or show up at events. He didn’t “evolve” on issues like the Clintons or President Obama.  

He owned it from day one. I’ve been mesmerized by the enthusiasm and the number of texts, calls and emails I have received supporting Alex’s return to office, especially from younger folks wanting to learn more. As people learn more about him, they are immediately attracted to his courage and leadership. 

In the ‘90s, Alex gave SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone) the green light to move forward on the Miami-Dade County Human Rights Ordinance (which would protect the community from discrimination).  

He let us know he would not veto the legislation and would provide support for passage. Because of his encouragement and support, SAVE began lobbying the Miami-Dade County Commission. Years later, he continued his support when the ordinance was introduced again in 1997 for first reading, and during its reintroduction and passage the following year.  

His own brother, Luis Penelas, was an active SAVE DADE volunteer. Alex not only encouraged commissioners to vote in favor, but he signed the legislation immediately overturning 22 years of fear and discrimination shepherded by Anita Bryant.  

Due to his support of the Human Rights Ordinance, Alex faced a recall effort led by the Christian conservative group, the American Family Association. Not only did he fend off the recall, but he also sat side by side with SAVE Dade volunteers to raise money to help defend the ordinance from conservative groups hoping to repeal it over the next several years. 

From the ‘90s to the early 2000s, Alex supported the HIV/AIDS Planning Council and funded HIV/AIDS direct services, education, prevention and awareness. He often stood by the LGBT community when people with AIDS were being stigmatized and discriminated against. Every year he would test for HIV publicly and in media to raise awareness and help eliminate stigma.  

Alex stood with us side by side. He received the same kind of hate we did. He had people spit at him and excoriate him. He demonstrated the courage and leadership of an extraordinary leader. The same person he is today.  

As a progressive, Alex supports tackling economic inequality, addressing climate change and facing systemic discrimination. He is an extraordinary bridge builder and is able to bring many different community groups to the table to accomplish goals and move Miami forward. 

Some of the goals he accomplished in office in addition to LGBT issues include: helped create the homeless trust (which became a national model), passed the half-penny tax for transportation, passed a statewide referendum for universal pre-K and limit classroom size, closed gun show loopholes and introduced countywide gun safety legislation, reformed the Public Health Trust, introduced inclusive language in government Spanish and Creole, adopted inclusive and diverse appointments in his administration, introduced single-member districts, introduced fair cost of living adjustments and merit-based raises, introduced one of the first living wage ordinances in Florida, funded the independent police review panel every year while in office with increases (something today’s sitting commissioners, currently running for Mayor, have not done). 

Based on his record, courage, leadership and commitment, there is one clear choice for the Mayor of Miami-Dade County — Alex Penelas. 

Damian Pardo is the current chair of 4Ward Miami (Gay8 Festival), founder of SAVE, Past President of Health Crisis Network (today Care Resources) and an activist holding numerous, community volunteer positions over the last 30 years.