It was the fourth annual Leadership Forum at the Museum of Art, and once again the event on Monday evening in Fort Lauderdale featured a distinguished panel of outstanding guests, hosting a calm yet passionate discussion of the issues facing the LGBT community as we enter the winter of 2014.
More significantly, the overflow audience spoke volumes of what the LGBT community represents in South Florida. We gathered again as business owners and professionals, perhaps overlooking and taking too much for granted the remarkable things we have achieved together. None of those victories depended on Rick Scott.
One of the panelists was Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. An advocate for the LGBT community for many years, she has worked for two decades in a congress more repressive than righteous. So too has Equality Florida emerged as a force in Florida with a legislature more right wing than right. As its director, Nadine Smith’s tasks after the last election are no different than they were in 2002 when Jeb Bush was the governor.
The powers that exist have never favored us. Despite that, the LGBT community has been determined, not deterred. We have worked to end discrimination in the military, and we saw that day come. Not only do same sex couples have the right to serve, military commanders are openly gay. We spoke out, came out, and the world is still on its axis.
The gay community makes history every day just by being who we are. We may not get there with legislative enactments in Florida, but we have an army of lawyers to help move the judicial needle for equal rights.
Yes, Florida was the last state to allow gays to adopt. We can thank Anita Bryant for that. But in the audience on Monday at the Museum of Art, there were many gay fathers.
Yes, Florida has banned gay marriages through a constitutional amendment. We can thank Jeb Bush for that. But in the audience on Monday, thanks to Our Fund, there were many married same sex couples.
Even in the days when AIDS was raping and rupturing gay lives, we had national leaders fighting not the virus, but people with the virus. We are a community nurtured in adversity. It has not stopped us. It has not beaten us. From the days of Stonewall, we have been aware that the police and power don’t always protect us. We have to do that ourselves. We were the ones who have demanded an end to bullying. We are the ones that formed GLSEN and PFLAG.
Our Fund’s meeting at the Museum of Art was not just about distinguished panelists lending insight into tomorrow’s LGBT community. This meeting demonstrated how wholesome and worthwhile our lives have become. Yes, our community knows how to party, whether it is on Miami Beach during the Winter Festival or on Wilton Drive for Halloween. But we have become so much more.
The LGBT community is no longer about hedonism and recklessness. It is about hope and responsibility. It is about equality in Florida and dignity in our lives. It is about a Smart Ride for AIDS this weekend, and gay city commissioners being elected to office last week. We have come so far. Ain’t nobody gonna stop us now.
We reaffirm this fundamental principle with each paper we publish every week.
This week, SFGN sponsors its ‘Best Of’ issue, and we salute silly things like the best pick up bars and bistros, and more subtle things like our best local activists. The truth is greater though than the sum of its parts. We are living in a community where we can actually do a 40-page insert celebrating open and out gay establishments and people, organizations and businesses. We do so with a free paper because open and out businesses sponsor us, knowing they get bang for their buck. We thank them and hope you support them.
You are holding in your hands today a paper that is again the largest LGBT weekly in America, yes, larger than the Washington Blade or anywhere else. It isn’t easy, and the budget is tight. Just like most of your businesses, it’s me and one business partner that manage the dollars and the distribution. Like your business, we know that there is still work to be done. Like you, we know we can’t be complacent. We have to work hard every day.
Fortunately, we are living in a community where we gather not in the shadows or the shade, but in the sunshine and at museums. In our own community, we have a museum for AIDS and the Stonewall Library. How remarkable is that? After all, when Art Serve hosted a spring exhibit for marriage equality in Broward County’s main library, it did so in the same building where a gay man had been fired from his job 30 years before when it was discovered he had HIV.
We may have a mayor in Fort Lauderdale who wants to treat the homeless like lepers and gays like second class citizens, but we have a body politic ready to censure and condemn his senselessness. We have a gay city commissioner willing to stand up to his nonsense.
We have organizations like Sun Serve and the Pride Center at Equality Park generating change and fostering respect. We have lawyers in court fighting for equal rights and doctors in hospitals fighting to end disease.
When you can live in a community that can put together the kinds of alliances that Our Fund has, we have much to be thankful for. As we approach Thanksgiving, we all have a lot more to celebrate than condemn. We live in a good time that a lot of you have made better. Be proud. You have won that right.