Panelists at this year’s National LGBTQ Leadership Forum made some bold claims like “American democracy is effectively over,” and we’re in the middle of a “rainbow tsunami.”

The 10th annual forum took place Nov. 16 via YouTube and Facebook this year due to COVID-19. The annual event is hosted by Our Fund and Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization. 

The panelists consisted of four members of various LGBT rights organizations. They included Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute; Kasey Suffredini, CEO and National Campaign Manager of Freedom for All Americans; and Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court and Palm Center

The discussion was moderated by Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.

On YouTube, the panelists were able to keep up with comments and questions with the live chat feature. The live video footage of the panelists was displayed on top of a rainbow background.

The panel’s topics included a slew of LGBT-related issues. Some of the questions were asked by the moderator while others were asked by teenagers through pre-recorded videos. 

The questions sparked a vigorous discussion on the panel. 

Here are the highlights from the forum.

‘A Rainbow Tsunami’ 

According to the panelists this year’s election was a huge success for the Democratic Party and the LGBT community. 

“There were just so many [LGBT candidates] running this year,” Parker said. 

Parker noted over 1,000 LGBT candidates ran for office. She referred to the influx of LGBT representation as a “rainbow tsunami” in politics today. 

Parker said when members of the community win elections it inspires not only citizens, but the next generation of LGBT leaders. She also said that it is extremely important that there is LGBT representation in politics because there is an immediate and direct impact when members of the community win.

Parker noted that only three states have yet to elect an LGBT person to their state legislatures. She highlighted some big wins for the community including a non-binary Black Muslim elected to the state legislature in Oklahoma. And it wasn’t just LGBT Democrats that won  — a gay Republican won his race for the Tennessee house. 

“It wasn’t the night I was hoping for, but when we took a deep breath and looked back — our down-ballot candidates did an extraordinary job,” she said. “We had a really great night.”

‘American Democracy is Over’

Panelist Belkin said, “American democracy is effectively over. Even when Democrats win, they aren’t allowed to govern.” 

This statement sparked a discussion about how to restore democracy. He stated senate rules must be changed and aggressive democracy-related bills needed to be passed. He’s hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will tackle these issues. 

David touched on the importance of court reform as well. He said that winning at the ballot box means nothing when you can’t make a change. The Senate must be flipped blue if the LGBT community hopes to make progress.

VirtualFaces

Screenshot via Equality Florida, YouTube.

Individuals Must Be A Part of the Change 

The panelists discussed the importance of donations and activism within the LGBT community in order for there to be sustainable change. They suggested using the media to spread the word. Media can be used to amplify messages members of the panel noted. They stressed the importance of individual responsibility to take action for a common goal. 

They suggested donating, volunteering, and mentoring as some of the ways people could help. Each panelist then took an opportunity to discuss what their own organizations would be doing for the community in the aforementioned areas.

Big Business and LGBT Rights 

Suffredini spoke about how big businesses have been immensely helpful over the years for the LGBT community. Having large companies’ support adds credibility to the cause being presented to the government. He touched on how having business leaders’ support can lead to more support for the movement at a local level as well. Suffredini explained the idea that people are more compelled to show support for a cause when big businesses also back it. He said that he hopes the business support will continue and increase as the years go on.

‘People Not Politics’

A difficult question was presented to the panelists when a young student’s video was shown asking about what the panelists could do to make transgender students more comfortable in their transition in the public school system. 

Parker tackled the question by asking another question: “What can YOU do?” She explained that individuals have to work together to make changes in schools. Organizations can only do so much if the students within the institutions aren’t banding together. Parker suggested that allies and LGBT students make an effort to include everyone.

The forum ended on a reflection of the discussion. Smith described the forum as having a dose of reality within it and that the issues were not looked at with rose-colored glasses. Suffredini said, “At the end of the day, we get movement when we make issues about people, not politics.”


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