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Florida LGBT rights movement grows more visible

Local, state officials more receptive to advocates’ concerns



SAVE Dade, CJ Ortuno, gay news, Washington Blade
Steve Kornell, St. Petersburg, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade

St. Petersburg (Fla.) Councilman Steve Kornell (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell was at his first candidate debate in 2009 when a woman in the audience asked him to respond to a “rumor” that he was gay. There was an audible gasp in the room, but Kornell did not hesitate to acknowledge his sexual orientation.

Even his opponents applauded him.

“Even though I was completely out, thousands of people didn’t know me at all so they didn’t know that about me,” Kornell, whom voters elected to represent the city’s Pinellas Point neighborhood in 2009, told the Washington Blade during a Feb. 4 interview near his home. “Somebody could have used that as an attack, and my response to that was I’m going to put it right out there.”

Kornell is among the public faces of a statewide LGBT rights movement whose profile has grown significantly over the last 15 years.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said she had difficulty putting together a statewide board of directors when the organization formed in 1997 because people were afraid they would lose their jobs if they were outed. Journalists who wanted to cover Equality Florida events had to stand in the back of the room. They could only film the backs of the heads of those who had given their permission to appear on camera.

“When people stepped forward to the microphone at a county commissioner or a city council meeting to talk about the need for basic discrimination protection, they were literally risking their job,” Smith said. “There are some parts of Florida where that remains true.”

Only a handful of cities and counties included gay-specific protections in their anti-discrimination and anti-bullying ordinances in 1997. That number has grown to dozens of municipalities throughout the state.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 announced Florida would no longer enforce a law that banned gays and lesbians from adopting children in response to a state appellate court that found the 1977 statute unconstitutional. He signed the state’s LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in 2008.

State Reps. Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) and Dave Richardson (D-Miami Beach) last year made history as the first openly gay candidates elected to the state legislature. The Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs on Feb. 19 will debate a bill sponsored by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) that would create a statewide domestic partnership registry.

Saunders and state Sen. Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) on Feb. 7 filed the Florida Competitive Workforce Act that would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the state’s employment non-discrimination law. State Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key West) is the proposal’s primary co-sponsor.

“Florida has changed dramatically over the last 15 years,” Smith said. “The change has accelerated in just the past three or four years.”

In spite of the aforementioned victories, the movement has suffered a series of stinging setbacks over the last decade.

Voters in 2008 approved a state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

The Hillsborough County Commission on Jan. 24 voted 4-3 against a proposed countywide domestic partner registry — commissioners in neighboring Pinellas County that includes St. Petersburg nine days earlier approved an identical registry for unmarried same-sex and heterosexual couples. The Lake County School Board’s move to ban extra-curricular clubs in the district after a group of middle school students in Leesburg tried to form a GSA has sparked outrage among LGBT advocates and their supporters.

Smith noted the board’s announcement coincided with a near unanimous vote in the Tavares City Council on Feb. 6 that created Lake County’s first domestic partner registry.

“It’s not a direct line between here and there,” she said. “It’s a zigzag line and forward motion and push back, but the message we deliver is we’re going to keep coming because we’re fighting for our lives, for our families, for many of us for our children. We’re never going to give up.”

SAVE Dade, CJ Ortuno, gay news, Washington Blade

SAVE Dade Executive Director CJ Ortuno (Photo by; courtesy of CJ Ortuno.)

CJ Ortuño, executive director of SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone) Dade, brings this message to his advocacy.

The Miami Beach resident who is a straight man of Cuban descent told the Blade that a gay man named John introduced his parents. He and his partner lived downstairs, and gave them the dining room table from which Ortuño’s young daughter Amalia eats.

Ortuño said he decided to become involved with the movement during President Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008 — the same year Florida voters approved the constitutional same-sex marriage ban.

“It was me staring at my daughter and saying, ‘I don’t know who she’s going to love when she gets older, but I’ll definitely be damned if I don’t do something,” he said. “I want to change this world and leave it a little better than the way I found it.”

SAVE Dade, which was founded in 1993 in the wake of the Anita Bryant-led movement that successfully repealed Dade County’s gay-inclusive human rights ordinance, continues to work with local municipalities to offer domestic partner benefits to their LGBT employees.

The Coral Gables City Commission last October unanimously approved domestic partner benefits to LGBT employees — more than a year after lesbian police officer Rene Tastet filed a complaint with the city manager’s office after she did not receive bereavement leave to attend her partner’s father’s funeral in North Carolina. The organization is also lobbying the Miami-Dade County Commission to add gender identity and expression to the county’s human rights ordinance.

“I think we can do that this year like our neighbors to the north (Broward County) and south (Monroe County) of us,” Ortuño said.

SAVE Dade also works with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and other members of South Florida’s congressional delegation on immigration reform — and especially the Uniting American Families Act that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for residency in the United States. The organization also advocates for the re-authorization of the Ryan White CARE Act.

“We do the same thing on a statewide level,” he said, noting Miami-Dade has the largest legislative delegation in Tallahassee. “We don’t drive state policy, but we often support or provide resources through our Dade delegation.”

Smith said Equality Florida, which has chapters throughout the state, looks to its local partners to cultivate relationships with lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“They have a constituency that they are accountable to,” she said. “We really look to our local partners to help us reach out and cultivate these relationships. We do so much local work that the partnerships are essential.”

Saunders told the Blade during a Feb. 1 interview in his Orlando office that some of his fellow lawmakers are “still trying to readjust and figure out how to deal with this new community that’s now represented” in light of his and Richardson’s election. Kornell said his presence on the St. Petersburg City Council has had what he described as a positive impact on LGBT-specific issues.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, whom Kornell said made some “less than pro-gay” statements when he was a city councilman, approved his proposal to extend domestic partner benefits to the city’s 1,800 non-unionized employees.

“The mayor went ahead and did it,” Kornell said. “That’s the kind of thing when we have gay people sitting at the table; those kinds of things start to shift. It’s hard to hate somebody when you get to know them.”


The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26



First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member



(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.



Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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