On Saturday, January 23rd, the Organizations United Together (O.U.T.) Federation held its 2nd Annual Winter Leadership Conference at the Orlando Marriott hotel. The conference was held in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
The O.U.T. Federation, a Florida nonprofit corporation, is comprised of local GLBT organizations and allied groups which promote equality and justice for GLBT Floridians.
Its executive director, Ted Howard, likens O.U.T. to the U.N. Security Council. “It’s a place at the table for GLBT organizations of all stripes,” he says. “There are too many instances where limited resources and talented leaders are not being utilized properly or working unintentionally at cross-purposes with people who should be their natural allies,” Howard observed.
Howard said that O.U.T. encourages local groups to share resources and information in pursuit of their collective aims. The organization doesn’t engage in lobbying or electoral activity but instead devotes its resources to education and training on matters of relevance to GLBT communities and their leaders.
The organization allows any local GLBT or allied group to apply for membership. Groups that seek O.U.T. Federation membership agree to embrace and support equality for GLBT Floridians and to operate autonomously.
Participants at O.U.T.’s Leadership Conference were encouraged to attend working groups that targeted a variety of subjects, including business, faith, community, youth, health, arts, candidates and elections, and local ballot initiatives.
Also during the conference, a Q&A on civil rights was conducted by state Senator Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) and state Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton), sponsors of GLBT anti-discrimination bills in the Florida legislature.
In a letter to Gelber, a Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general, Wilton Manors resident Richard Rogowski, who attended the Leadership Conference, wrote: “I am fighting for the right of gay people to adopt.” Added Rogowski: “This is a question of equal rights. Period.”
One of the highlights of the O.U.T Federation conference was a training held by the ACLU of Florida and GLAAD that focused upon Florida’s ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians. The session, conducted by Los Angeles-based trainer Dannie Tillman of GLAAD, concentrated on imparting communication skills that will achieve the overall aim of parity in state adoption laws.
“What we’re looking to do,” says Howard, “is to build a conversation with everyone: friends, neighbors, family, the business community, religious leaders.”
States including Utah and Mississippi (and, as of last November, Arkansas) effectively ban gays and lesbians from adopting with laws prohibiting adoption by unmarried couples, but Florida is the only state that prohibits by law gay men and lesbians, both individuals and couples, from adopting children.
In 1977, state lawmakers passed the legislation following a campaign led by entertainer Anita Bryant to repeal a gay rights ordinance adopted by Miami-Dade (at the time known as Dade) County.
O.U.T. conference attendees of the ACLU/GLAAD training session learned techniques for preparing and delivering short presentations on gay adoption, conducting media interviews, and generally winning hearts and minds in this often volatile area of public policy.
The O.U.T. Winter Leadership Conference occurred at a timely moment in Florida GLBT history. Any day now, a court ruling is expected in the case of Martin Gill.
Gill, a 48-year-old North Miami flight attendant, and his partner have been fighting to adopt two foster children they’ve been raising since 2004. A Miami-Dade circuit court judge found in 2008 that Florida’s gay adoption ban is unconstitutional and ordered the state to permit the adoption.
The ruling, which said that state law possessed “no rational basis” for preventing gays and lesbians from adopting, was appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the case in August 2009. A ruling could occur at any time.
O.U.T.’s Howard says his organization and allied groups are ready for the outcome, whichever way it falls. “The training sessions are preparing for next steps,” he says. “Regardless of the [appeals court] decision, there will already be a groundswell of education in place.”