January 25, 2009
Orlando - An unprecedented number of leaders of local LGBT and allied organizations met in Orlando, Florida Saturday from every corner of the state in an all day session. The meeting was convened by a statewide federation of local organizations created last month: Organizations United Together ("OUT"). "OUT's first meeting was an unqualified success," declared OUT spokesperson Karen Doering. "The energy, enthusiasm, and excitement about the possibilities of what we can achieve together was inspiring."
The morning portion of the meeting included a networking session where each region of the state networked with other groups from their own region and discussed their local priorities. In the afternoon, participants broke up by interest area, so that political, educational and community-focused groups could network with similar groups and work together to explore how OUT can best assist them in enhancing communication, sharing resources and developing coordinated strategies for the future.
Several statewide projects emerged as priorities from the daylong strategy sessions.
The education-focused groups at the meeting suggested developing a speakers bureau, as well as ways in which the LGBT community can participate in community engagement programs which will garner support from the wider community," said Orlando Gonzales organizing committee member.
Community-focused groups were excited about the possibilities of working with and learning from each other. "I'm already seeing the benefit of OUT," said Shirley Herman, with North Palm Beach County chapter of Florida National Organization for Women. "I made three really important connections with other groups in my community that I didn't even know existed prior to today."
The political organizations at the meeting described the work they were doing in their local communities and began exploring ways in which they could work together to achieve their common goals. At the end of the meeting, several local groups gave presentations on current projects they were working on to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the work local groups are doing across the state. Equality is Gainesville's Business, a local organization developed to fight a charter amendment that would strip protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity from Gainesville's human rights ordinance and prohibit the City from protecting any category of person not protected by state law, gave a powerful presentation that was very well received. "We are grateful for any help we can get from other groups across Florida," said Terry Fleming, a representative of Equality is Gainesville's Business. SAVE Dade Executive Director C.J. Ortuno said that "SAVE Dade, like other groups around the state, has decided to do its part to help Gainesville defeat this discriminatory measure. As Dr. King said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'."
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council discussed a statewide bill it has championed in the Florida legislature for the last two years that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Florida Civil Rights Act. "Our efforts will be strengthened by having local groups in each part of the state supporting these and other LGBT equality bills," said Rand Hoch, President of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "Legislators are more likely to listen to their own constituents."
Cathy James of Tampa Bay Family Pride gave a presentation on legislation that has been introduced in both houses of the Florida legislature - for the first time in 32 years - to fully repeal Florida's ban on gay adoption. "It's great to see our community working together like never before," said James. "I'm excited by the possibilities OUT brings to enhance these connections." Tampa Bay Family Pride and other local parenting groups have been working with Securing Our Children's Rights (SOCR), a statewide organization founded to repeal Florida's adoption ban, to support the legislation.
Meeting participants included openly gay elected officials, including the mayors of North Miami and Wilton Manors. Orlando city commissioner Patty Sheehan gave the opening welcome to the assembly. Close to 100 people, representing local organizations from more than half of the counties in Florida, participated. The diverse groups included political, educational, social, religious, HIV/AIDS and community service organizations from across the state.
OUT plans to work with other state and national groups in advancing full equality and justice for LGBT Floridians.
"We are just getting started" said Lisa Livezey Comingore. "Our task now is to build a strong and permanent network of local groups so this cooperation continues year round, resulting in a stronger, more united community." OUT plans to convene a meeting next month with other state and national LGBT and allied organizations working in Florida to achieve similar objectives. OUT will hold another statewide meeting this summer.
Media contact: Karen Doering, Esq. - (727) 642-6580; firstname.lastname@example.org
PBCHRC - Rand Hoch - (561) 804-9399; email@example.com
SOCR - Cathy James - (727) 424-5717; firstname.lastname@example.org
SAVE Dade - C.J. Ortuno - (786) 351-0656; CJ@savedade.org