Bilerico Contributor, Out Elected official, and my husband Anthony Niedwiecki gets sworn in as Vice-Mayor Of Oakland Park, FL this evening. He was elected in a landslide victory last year, all the while running as an out and proud LGBT activist. As the top vote getter in the three open seats of last election cycle, Anthony became a commissioner last year, gets sworn in as Vice Mayor tonight and becomes Mayor of the city in 2011 (it's a rotating mayorship based on votes).
It's been a busy year here on the municipal level in the Oakland Park/Greater Fort Lauderdale area. I am proud of Anthony, and other local electeds, that have pushed a strong equality agenda and made a real impact for our community here.
While many may think of South Florida as a progressive, gay paradise, the truth is slightly different. Florida is ranked among the lowest on every equality scale. We were home to Anita Bryant and many nationally active mega-churches. In recent years, a raging bigot named Jim Naugle was Mayor of Fort Lauderdale for over a decade- repeatedly bashing the LGBT community by calling them everything from "unhappy" to disease carrying sexual deviants (although he has now been replaced).
That's why the extreme change that Anthony has brought about in the last year in our city is nothing short of amazing. That never could have happened without the entire national LGBT community rallying around him with time, money, and support. I'm not only proud as a husband, but as an activist that has been fighting for equality here in Florida for years...
Anthony's push for equality started before the election, while he was running. While most politicians may have played it "safe" (the old "I'm not a gay politician, I'm politician who happens to be gay" line), we took a different road. During the campaign, we got married in California, which was covered by all of the state papers. Anthony not only worked and talked about his campaign, but also the campaign against the horrendous Amendment 2, often weaving it into his stump speeches or attending debates (he is also a law professor) to sway voters. As a foster parent, he lobbied against the adoption ban. We even made our family values a campaign strength, proudly featuring our relationship and our foster son.
And that was just during the campaign.
Since being elected to office in the city last year, one of Anthony's top priorities was to make Oakland Park a shining example of inclusion and respect for all people, including the LGBT community. Anthony and the Commission have reached out to those underrepresented communities during our census count, making sure all of our voices are heard and counted. They celebrated gay pride in our city for the first time with a proclamation celebrating the contributions of the LGBT community.
Most importantly, Anthony pushed for expanded protections for our transgender brothers and sisters by adding "gender identity and expression" to the city's non-discrimination policies and vendor contracts. Anthony also made sure that the city reviewed all of its policies and ordinances to be sure that the language included and recognized LGBT families and relationships as well.
Oakland Park even became one of a handful of cities around the country that passed a resolution against the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military that asked President Obama and Congress to move swiftly to overturn the ban. He eventually used his position on the County's human Right's Board to get the County to pass a resolution as well.
All of these actions have paved the way for Oakland Park to become one of the leading cities in promoting equal rights in South Florida and in the country. That leadership was rewarded by Pridefest South Florida, the largest Pride Event in the state, which moved from its longtime home in Fort Lauderdale to relocate to downtown Oakland Park this year. The event was a huge success, bringing in thousands of dollars that go back to the local LGBT community in the form of grants and community support.
It's been an amazing to see the difference one person can make. Our community talks about boycotts and back-stabbing politicians a lot, but it's important to recognize and thank those among us that step forward, face the rough fight and homophobia in campaigns, and deliver real, tangible equality to our community once elected. So support the LGBT people running for office around you or run for office yourself! I does make a difference.
I am so proud of my husband, of our city, and of our community. Equality moves forward, pushed by fighters in every level of government.
What a difference a year makes!