In a county that Republicans swept decisively last election cycle, a group of Florida Democrats prepared to organize an opposition movement.
“Polk County is where Mufasa told Simba not to come,” said David Jones invoking words from “The Lion King” to a room full of community activists Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Lakeland. “The gay marriage ban started right here at the First Baptist Church.”
Jones is a member of the Rainbow Ridge Democrats, an LGBT political group based in Polk County. He was one of several speakers during the winter meeting of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.
The caucus has been around a while under various names, said Michael Albetta, a district director representing Broward County. Albetta said what started as Triangle Democrats in Key West grew to become a statewide movement known as the GLBT Caucus. Sally Phillips of Hillsborough County took control in 2011 and the caucus later became the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus with the “A” standing for allies.
“We couldn’t do it without our allies,” said Phillips.
Terry Fleming of Alachua County was re-elected Caucus President at Saturday’s meeting. Chartered by the Florida Democratic Party, the caucus serves to educate, advocate, support and elect.
“We don’t care where you are on the Kinsey scale as long as you believe in equal rights,” said Jones.
In this I-4 corridor community the caucus heard reports from around the state, a presentation from civil rights group Floridians for a Fair Democracy followed by a speech from Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.
Smith, claiming the title as Florida’s first queer Latinx legislator, represents district 49 in Tallahassee. The lawmaker’s speech primarily focused on guns.
“Florida is the gunshine state,” Smith said. “It’s really sad. We — unfortunately because of how permissive our state laws are when it comes to access to firearms — we are at the top of and the bottom of a lot of really terrible lists.”
Smith said Florida ranks last among all 50 U.S. states in funding for mental health services. Citing a recent report from the Tampa Bay Times, Smith said a child is shot every 17 hours in Florida.
Attempting to reverse those trends, Smith has filed house bill 6033 which targets the Firearm Owners Privacy Act (FOPA), a 2011 piece of legislation commonly referred to as “Docs vs. Glocks.”
“That law is so stupid,” Smith said. “God forbid a doctor should ask a patient, “Are you a firearm owner? Do you have your firearm safely secured unloaded and locked in a private place in the home? Because if they (Docs) do ask that question under Florida law they can be sued and also lose their license to practice medicine. How stupid is that? It’s stupid and extreme.”
With many constituents of district 49 still healing from the Pulse Nightclub massacre, Smith is partnering with Senator Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale to repeal the “Docs vs. Glocks” law.
Representatives, Smith said, are allowed to file six bills each session.
Meeting in Lakeland was a risky move for the caucus. Polk County, despite having more registered Democrats (151, 056) than Republicans (147,456) went for Donald Trump in last fall’s U.S. Presidential election. Trump carried the county with 157,418 votes (55 percent) to 117,422 (41 percent) for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.