Leaders of several LGBT organizations recently came together to discuss the “State of Our Community,” the seventh annual business luncheon hosted by the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC).

The annual networking luncheon and expo is an opportunity for elected officials of several municipalities to meet with prominent members of the LGBT community to share their plans for 2018 and how those plans would impact LGBT people living in South Florida.

Steve Adkins, president and CEO of the MDGLCC, said the goal of the forum — which took place Feb. 8 at the Courtyard by Marriott Miami Airport — is to “continue the ongoing dialogue of cooperation as we all attack the many challenges before us.”

“The better we understand one another, the more quickly we can accomplish our mutual goals,” Adkins said. “While national politics has rewritten the ideology of what it means to be conservative or progressive, what it means to be a positive contributor to making our community a better place has not: involvement.”

Adkins said the MDGLCC has set forth as one of its 2018 goals to establish its first-ever advocacy council, which would work to establish policies and collaborations in alignment with the group’s community objectives.

“The Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce believes in equality for all,” Adkins said. “To that end, the MDGLCC will take political positions on issues relating to commerce, equal rights and tourism. We will not endorse candidates or take positions which are divisive to our community.”

Adkins said the MDGLCC supports the following: the passage of a trans-inclusive employment non-discrimination (ENDA) policy; gender pay equality in the workplace; diversity and inclusion for LGBT-owned businesses; and implementation of pro-business, LGBT-inclusive policies at the federal, state and local levels of government.

Damian Pardo, a financial advisor at the Pardo Group at Morgan Stanley in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, was one of the speakers at the MDGLCC event. He said while the get together was called the “State of Our Community,” it begged the question “whose community?”

“The LGBTQ community? The Miami Beach community? The Hispanic community? Wilton Manors? It’s important because it frames the way we act and the way we live,” said Pardo, who was also the head organizer of this year’s Gay8 festival in Little Havana. “We tend to choose our office locations, where we eat, our homes, how we socialize...in our bubbles of comfort.”

Pardo said while “we live in one of the most diverse communities in the country,” it is also “one of the most segregated.”

“That means we are vulnerable to propaganda when used as a political tool,” Pardo said. “If you don’t know an immigrant, you believe they are criminals. If you don’t know a Hispanic person, you believe they don’t want to learn English.”

Three years ago, Pardo started Gay8 — a Pride event for every community in South Florida but hosted by the gay community — to bring diverse groups and areas together for one fun day as a way to cross communities.

“LGBTQ people understand diversity better than most,” Pardo said. “After all, we are represented in every single community group and we understand you need to work together to get things done.”

While producing Gay8, Pardo and fellow producer Joe Cardona, who is a straight man, met with City of Miami Police many times. Pardo said the officers could not tell which one of them was “the gay.”

“Someone finally asked and so they learned Joe was straight and I was the ‘gay one,’” Pardo said.

Pardo said “our current political system is our fault.”

“Had we done a better job of crossing borders in our community, people couldn’t have been so easily exploited for political favor,” he said. “Sadly, while we have gained progressive political victories, many can be easily reversed, and you can’t legislate the way people feel...We will never win fighting money and power with just money and power. We can only win by changing hearts and minds and doing the hard and uncomfortable work of leaving our bubble — meeting people where they are at, not where we want them to be.”

Leaders in high positions of elected office also spoke at the MDGLCC networking event, including Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and openly gay State Rep. David Richardson, who is running for Congress.

Richardson appeared via Skype and said in Tallahassee there’s a focus on LGBT related bills, including efforts to get a gay marriage ban out of statute and to separate an anti-discrimination bill regarding housing and employment protections for LGBT individuals. Richardson proposes to have one bill on housing protections and another on employment that is LGBT inclusive, but he says that “isn’t going anywhere” with the Republican leadership in Tallahassee.

“The bill regarding anti-discrimination against the LGBT community that has been filed for the last 10 years or so is not moving. It’s not being heard,” Richardson said. “I also can’t get anyone here in the Republican leadership to hear the bill to get the gay marriage ban out of statute, even though there’s a law in the books that says every year we clean up the statutes and delete the ones that are no longer applicable.”

City of Miami Mayor Francis thanked the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce for inviting him to be a part of an important conversation in the LGBT community.

“Miami has long prided itself as being a uniquely diverse and inclusive city, one that welcomes and embraces people of all backgrounds,” Francis said. “To maintain this, I am focused on continuing to support organizations like the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who are central to this element of inclusiveness that makes our city so special.”

Francis said he is “well aware of the vital role the LGBT community plays in the welfare, identity and future of [his] city.”

“That is why one of my goals is to form an LGBT Advisory Board, where the voices of the LGBT community can not only continue to be heard, but positioned in a way that can shape the manner in which we make decisions that are crucial to shaping our city’s future,” Francis said. “I also fully intend to build upon the partnerships I’ve formed with organizations like SAVE, led by Tony Lima, who I have had the pleasure of collaborating with to promote and advocate for the interests of LGBT equality.”

Although Francis said he is encouraged by his city’s progress and the future of the LGBT community in Miami, he said “we still face some challenges.”

“We must build more bridges between our religious/spiritual communities and the LGBT community,” Francis said. “I am a firm believer in equality, tolerance and compassion. Religious identity should not preclude anyone from standing up for LGBT rights. If anything, it should embolden people to do so.”

Francis said the good news is that, through conversations like these and by continuing to work together, “we can not only overcome these hurdles, but create a stronger and more unified community than ever before.”

“Let’s make sure that the entire world knows what Miami truly stands for: tolerance, diversity and inclusivity,” Francis said.