In the 2004 election cycle, the LGBT community learned some very hard lessons. Lessons about loyalty and the lack thereof – can you hear me John Kerry? Lessons about blame and scapegoating – scores of anti-gay initiatives that focused on banning same-sex marriage somehow became the reason the Democrats lost. And of course that was our fault.
Hate in the Sunshine State
For a terrific analysis of that history check out Karen Ocamb’s piece posted last week.
One hopeful sign, though, is that activists in our community learned some lessons from the 2004 cycle as well as more recent battles related to so-called “marriage protection amendments” in places like Arizona and North Carolina. One of the major strategic pieces often missing is real coalition building across communities. The dirty secret of many of these amendments and ballot initiatives is that they are so broadly worded that their impact is on much more than same-sex couple, but also seniors, mixed orientation domestic partners and other populations.
One state facing a ballot challenge this year is Florida. I know, I know, poor Florida. It is amazing how we have been going back to Florida again and again related to LGBT issues: from Anita Bryant to Dade County to Susan Stanton to the anti-gay adoption laws, Florida seems to be a state where LGBT activists have no choice but to sleep with one eye open. As we all know too well how general electoral politics, racial injustices and of course the infamous “hanging chads” controversy have give the state a very bad reputation. So for these and so many other reasons, Florida always receives much attention from the media and politicians every election cycle. And we would all do well to pay close attention.
As the Florida LGBT and allied progressive communities have organized in a tremendously diverse coalition – Julian Bond is the latest luminary to join Fairness for All Families, a coalition working against the amendment.
Bond will serve on the Honorary Board of the campaign to defeat the constitutional amendment, slated for the 2008 ballot that could strip away employee benefits while barring the passage of measures to help Florida families. Take a look at this video Bond recorded for FFAF that was recently posted on YouTube:
In Bond’s words: it is divisive. It's harmful. It does not bring people together. It drives them apart." Well said. And a good general description of the anti-gay industry’s general - and often successful - strategy to defeat us.
The religious and political extremists have learned how effectively to drive wedges between progressive and diverse communities – we need to get better at building bridges and coalitions not only to counteract that, but because it is the right thing to do.
In its totality, the Fairness for All Families Campaign is a coalition of more than 200 organizations and community leaders representing seniors, business leaders, consumer groups and social justice organizations working together to oppose the effort to take away benefits and enshrine discrimination in Florida's constitution. I think that is impressive. The LGBT community has the good fortune to have activists like Nadine Smith, a veteran of so many battles in Florida, at the helm of Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT group that is part of this coalition.
Even more impressive is that is it a working coalition, doing the district-by-district outreach and intra-community education necessary to block passage of the amendment and foster real long-term change. Extensive public education and other work seems to be paying off: newspaper editorial boards across the state are actively opposing the amendment and describing the harm to all unmarried Floridians including seniors, public employees and others who rely on domestic partnership benefits to protect their loved ones.
FFAF is taking the time to share – in a nuanced way – how this amendment is merely an anti-gay political ploy in a field of mediocre Republican candidates to get the anti-gay political and religious extremists motivated to vote.
A diverse group of Florida leaders have joined Fairness for All Families. The campaign’s honorary board of directors includes: U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Bentley Lipscomb, and Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze.
There is no telling what will happen if this passes, but FFAF is working toward a positive end. The reality is that is can be defeated by the kind of work Fairness for all Families, Florida Red and Blue and other groups are doing if we all come together to support our brothers and sister in the Orange State. We have beaten back these kind of hateful political ploys in Arizona, North Carolina and of course Massachusetts.
We can do it in Florida. As all eyes turn toward the quirky southern state with diverse population and unique history, this amendment and the issues connected to it will surely rise to the top in the media and for the electorate – it is our community’s opportunity to rise to the challenge and do so with the support of allies old and new. If you want to know more or get involved, go to www.fairnessforallfamilies.org.
You don’t have to live in Florida to care about what happens there – what happens in Florida does not, as the ads say, “stay in Florida.”