Florida’s Democratic LGBTA Caucus held its annual summer conference on Saturday at the Bahia Mar Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Votes were cast and decisions made as the primary season advances and the road to Philadelphia is charted. Ron Mills, caucus campaign planning director, said it had been seven years since the caucus had endorsed candidates. Privately, some members told SFGN it was too difficult to get everyone on the same page, harkening back to an old quote from American vaudeville actor Will Rogers who once famously said, “I am not a member of any organized party – I am a Democrat.”
“We need to reach out and diversify our community,” implored Caucus President Terry Fleming during the morning breakfast session.
Fleming asked the group to look around the room and note that there were no members of color – namely blacks.
“We need people of color and transgender people,” Fleming said. “Let’s work hard to make that happen.”
In the wake of yet another clash between police and associates of the Black Lives Matter movement, Fleming, a national Democratic delegate from Gainesville, encouraged members of his group to bridge the gap between the two communities.
“I’m going to make an effort,” Fleming said, urging the caucus to “have conversations with people of color and trans people.”
Several candidates for local office spoke to the group, which staged a gala dinner Saturday night. U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) keynoted the dinner. Maloney, 49, recalled his experience on the floor of the 1992 convention, as a closeted gay man.
“I remember 1992 and standing on the floor of the Democratic Convention in Madison Square Garden and listening to Bill Clinton speak,” Maloney said. “And he said ‘if you don’t belong to someone else’s definition of family then come and be a part of ours.’”
Maloney offered words of advice to the gala audience, “We’re winning,” he said. Earlier in the day, the married father of three explained the amendment process in the U.S. House and dastardly tricks pulled by Congressional Republicans to leave LGBT federal contractors unprotected.
Maloney said he was “sick” of some the behavior of his House colleagues who often say they cannot support LGBT rights publicly. He said their switching of votes during May’s defense spending bill roll call was “shameful.”
Elsewhere at the caucus meetings, Florida Representative David Richardson, the lone openly gay legislator in Tallahassee, spoke of his recent dealings with Governor Rick Scott.
“I know that the Governor doesn’t hate this community, he’s just never engaged with this community,” said Richardson, who met with Scott in Orlando following the massacre at Pulse Nightclub. No press were allowed inside to photograph the meeting, Richardson said, at his request.
“Politics often times get caught up in the decisions that we make, sadly, sadly,” Richardson said.
A two-term representative from Miami Beach, Richardson is the Democrats’ floor leader in Tallahassee. He is known for being able to work behind the scenes and across party lines to produce effective regulations in Florida. Richardson said his meeting with Scott, a Republican, went well and is hoping the Pulse tragedy will serve to “open more hearts and minds.”
Richardson, who introduced Maloney at Saturday night’s gala dinner, also informed the audience of the decision by Florida’s Department of Children and Families to provide protections for LGBTQ youth in foster care. Richardson told a story of attending DCF committee meetings to understand the process and urge department officials to protect gay kids in the system.
“We need people to understand that sometime it is more effective to work quietly rather than stand on a sidewalk with a megaphone,” Richardson said.
Meanwhile, candidates for public office at all levels courted members of the caucus throughout the weekend. Only five candidates – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Orlando Democrats Carlos Guillermo Smith, Bob Poe and Beth Tuura – received official endorsements.
There was much discussion over Wasserman Schultz, who for the first time in her tenure is facing primary opposition. LGBTA Caucus member David Jones of Polk County voiced complaints with how the Democratic Presidential primaries were managed.
Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick disagreed with Jones and urged the caucus to stick with Wasserman Schultz.
“You can’t abandon someone who has been on your side, year after year,” said Resnick. “It sends a bad message.”
Wasserman Schultz was scheduled to address the Fort Lauderdale Beach gala, but was unable to. Her opponent, university professor Tim Canova attended Saturday’s events along with U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), Broward Mayor Marty Kiar, Robby Mook, campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis and Florida Senate hopefuls Gary Farmer, Jim Waldman and Kevin Burns.
The tragedy in Orlando, where 49 people were murdered at a gay Latin nightclub, was still fresh on the minds of many.
“A lot of people are trying to figure it out,” said Marissa Salas, LGBTA Caucus Vice President and Orlando resident. “We need to give people their space and let them take the stage. The police are all hurting. We have to understand that community better and reach out. We are not seeing the best of the best anymore and that includes the police department.”