In the final weeks of Campaign 2020, South Florida’s largest LGBT political groups are pushing hard to make sure gay voters and their allies are registered, and know how to cast their ballots.
“Vote like your life depends upon it,” said Nik Harris, vice president of the Dolphin Democrats political club.
Harris, who is also an LGBT consumer advocate for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said it’s essential that equality voters not sit out this election. “A ‘no’ vote is a vote. That’s the truth. Right now we’re talking about people’s lives.”
Most major LGBT political groups — with the exception of Log Cabin Republicans in Washington, D.C. — maintain that four more years of a Donald Trump presidency would jeopardize the many political gains won by gay people this past decade.
“Once again, Trump is trying to distract from his failure to lead, this time by advertising a list of individuals he hopes to appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David on Sept. 10, a day after the president presented his list of 20 conservative potential justices, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
“And, if the past is prologue, [Trump] may once again nominate people who would deny legal protections for LGBTQ people, take away the health care provided by the Affordable Care Act, undermine the fundamental right to vote, erode core civil rights laws, and fail to value the lives, needs and Constitutional rights of the LGBTQ community,” said David, whose Washington-based group is the nation’s largest gay-rights organization. “We must not let this happen, and it starts by denying Trump a second term.”
Locally, both partisan and nonpartisan rights groups say they are working hard to ensure a high turnout this election by LGBT voters and their allies.
“It’s important not to assume that people are registered to vote. And even if they’re registered, how do we get them out?” said Harris, who recently helped 10 members of a single Broward family become voters.
It began when a Haitian-American worker at Harris’s Fort Lauderdale apartment building overheard a conversation about voter registration.
“She said, ‘I’ve always wanted to know how to vote, but I was too embarrassed [to ask],’” Harris recalled.
Soon after, the woman’s husband, mother, father and other relatives were registered. “They’re all going to be first-time voters,” Harris said.
Florida voter registration for the November general election continues through Monday, Oct. 5. Vote-by-mail requests end Saturday, Oct. 24, and all ballots must be returned to county elections departments by 7 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day. Early voting dates vary throughout Florida, but must run at least eight days, from Saturday, Oct. 24, through Saturday, Oct. 31.
Two LGBT voter drives are scheduled in Palm Beach County, organized by a group of local gay businesses including the Box Gallery of West Palm Beach, Mad Hatter Lounge of Lake Worth Beach and Penny’s at the Duke bar in Lantana, according to gallery owner Rolando Barrero.
In addition to registering voters, the business group is “celebrating” the 37th anniversary of H.G. Roosters bar in West Palm Beach, which has been closed since an accidental fire in May, Barrero said.
Roosters, which won’t reopen until sometime after Election Day, has temporarily converted its website (www.roosterswpb.com) into a voter registration and turnout site.
Barrero said the first voter drive happens Saturday, Sept. 26, at Compass LGBTQ Community Center, 201 N. Dixie Hwy. in Lake Worth. A second voter drive will happen Sunday, Oct. 4, at the parking lot between H.G. Roosters and Box Gallery, 811 Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach.
The Compass drive is nonpartisan. The drive outside Roosters and Box Gallery “will be a major outreach to Hispanic Democrats in the area,” Barrero said. “It’s sponsored by the Palm Beach County Democratic Chapter, part of the state Democratic Party hierarchy.”
Barrero said his group regularly encourages people to vote, but that this year COVID-19 has changed how they do it.
“A lot of us have been making phone calls because of the quarantine. Usually we go out door knocking. This year, because of COVID, everything was stunted,” he said, adding that there is also a big push for vote by mail.
“A lot of people won’t go to the polls because of COVID,” he said. “Our elderly community is one of the biggest voting blocks.”
The Black Lives Matter movement will also be a big factor in driving this year’s LGBT voter turnout, Harris said.
“Ordinarily, we take Black Democrats for granted. And I’m a Democrat — a proud Democrat. We are the most reliable Democratic block. Suddenly Trump has challenged that,” she said. “I don’t think that Dems have ever spent as much money as they are today on Black media. Not that they’re going to vote for Trump, but just stay home. And never have I seen as many Black people in positions of power leading campaigns as I have in this election cycle.”
“We’re building teams to encourage friends and families to vote,” SAVE Executive Director Orlando Gonzales said. “The research is showing that peer-to-peer influence is more effective than general communication. Social media fits into it. SAVE can do a blast and that’s good. And we’re depending on individuals to share the message with their own communities. It goes back to the friends-and-family approach to peer-to-peer outreach.”
Gonzales said that this election cycle, “instead of focusing on the issues, we’re focusing on the candidates we know we can depend upon to get those laws passed.”
SAVE, which has endorsed state and local candidates throughout South Florida, is focused on supporting Miami Democrats Ricky Junquera, a gay House candidate, as well as state Rep. Javier Fernández, an ally running for Senate.
Also endorsed by SAVE: Republicans Vance Aloupis, a state House member seeking re-election, and Demi Busatta Cabrera, another House candidate.
“Florida is a red state and there is no way we can get anything done without bipartisan support,” Gonzales said. “Right now, the total number of Democrats in the House is not enough votes to pass pro-equality laws with just that party’s support. We need to make sure there are Republicans that are able to identify themselves as supportive and help them gain support from their colleagues.”
Equality Florida this year raised more than $1 million to elect LGBT and ally candidates and to defeat politicians who’ve been against gay rights, according to Joe Saunders, the organization’s senior political director.
“Our primary program — which was our largest primary program ever — was in support of Shevrin Jones, [a South Broward House member who hopes to become Florida’s first LGBTQ state senator] and Michele Rayner [of Tampa/St. Petersburg], who we believe will be the first queer black woman to be elected to any office in the state of Florida.”
Equality Florida is also bringing “special attention” to the Fernández and Junquera races, as well as incumbent State House Members Carlos Guillermo Smith (who is also Equality Florida’s Central Florida outreach coordinator) and Jennifer Webb of St. Petersburg, Florida’s first lesbian lawmaker; and State Senate Candidate Patricia Sigman of Seminole County.
Saunders, who in 2012 with David Richardson of Miami Beach became the first out elected members of Florida’s Legislature, described the August 2020 primary as “a moment of accountability for Democratic lawmakers who opposed LGBT rights.”
Equality Florida successfully worked to defeat Democratic House members Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville and Al Jacquet of Palm Beach County, who both were vocally opposed to gay rights.
“We beat the most homophobic members of the Democratic caucus and sent a clear signal that you cannot be both a Democratic lawmaker and anti-LGBTQ,” Saunders said.
Equality Florida is also heavily focused on voter turnout and “winning the country’s largest swing state,” Saunders said. “The way we’re going to do that is to target 566,000 pro-equality voters who won’t cast a ballot unless we push them to. In a state that Andrew Gillum lost by 30,000 votes, our community can be the difference.”
When vote-by-mail ballots drop in early October, Equality Florida will launch “aggressive phone, digital, text and mail programs,” he said. “In a state where [in 2018] the U.S. Senate race was called by 10,000 votes, and the governor’s race was called by 30,000 votes, 566,000 pro-equality voters can change everything.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBT issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald.