Recently, the president and I were in Miami. He went to Little Havana to announce his rollback of the Obama administration’s Cuba policy. I went to the annual Champions of Equality fundraising gala for SAVE, South Florida’s oldest and largest LGBT advocacy and political organization.
I attended this year’s event because my friend, David Richardson, the first openly LGBT member elected to the Florida Legislature, intends to run for Florida’s 27th congressional district. SAVE’s leadership recruited David to run for the Florida House five years ago. They trained him to be an effective candidate. They raised money to finance his election. They turned out an army of volunteers to make sure he won. And now they have the opportunity to help lift him into the U.S. Congress.
Whenever there’s a serious, credible LGBT candidate who can make it from the state level to the federal level, it’s more than a local matter. Laws passed in the U.S. Congress affect every single LGBT person in this country, and Florida’s 27th congressional district is especially significant. The Republican vacating the seat, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has been a strong ally on LGBT issues. Flipping the seat to a Democrat is vital under all considerations, but when there’s a real opportunity to elect a Democrat who would be the first openly LGBT member of Congress from the Old Confederacy (and to do it in the Age of Trump!), then we have to seize it.
David is one of the best politicians I know. In Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature, he was able to finally remove from statute the 40-year legal ban on adoptions by LGBT people after it was overturned by the courts, making sure the legislature confirmed the actions of the judiciary. As a freshman legislator, he secured the first-ever budget appropriation specifically earmarked for support of the LGBT community. He filed and got the Florida House to pass its first pro-LGBT bill out of committee, an act that motivated the Department of Health to allow the names of same-sex second parents on their children’s birth certificates. He twice thwarted Florida’s version of an anti-trans bathroom bill that was being peddled by a Republican colleague from Miami who ultimately resigned when his bigotry was exposed. And before Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, visited Orlando in the wake of the Pulse massacre, it was David he called upon to introduce him to the local community and to help him understand the massacre’s devastating impact on LGBT people.
Supporting Florida’s LGBT community in Tallahassee isn’t the only politically difficult task David has assumed as a legislator. He’s right now taking the lead on reforming the state’s prison system. He’s been offered neither the support of a “blue ribbon” commission nor any special appropriation, so he’s undertaking the work under provisions of Florida law that allow legislators to show up for unannounced inspections. His efforts have uncovered deliberately deferred maintenance, officer-on-inmate abuses, denial of medical services, exaggerations of the savings used to justify privatization, and a total lack of oversight of Florida’s private prison industrial complex.
David Richardson’s level of commitment to the conduct of the people’s business is something I want to see from an elected official (but usually don’t). I want every politician to be as resourceful in pursuing public accountability as he is, and I can only imagine the impact he will have as a congressman who applies the same approach to federal education spending or the care of soldiers by the Veteran’s Administration.
I know I should be focused on electing Maryland’s first openly LGBT governor. I should concentrate on Maryland candidates who will go to Annapolis and finish the work for the state’s trans community. I should recruit a candidate who will end HIV criminalization and who will deliver for our LGBT youth. And I’d certainly be all over that if there were still an Equality Maryland that could do for us what SAVE has done for Florida by getting David elected.
But the 2018 mid-term congressional elections are too important, and I want to dedicate my energy to the place where it can accomplish the most good for the LGBT community. I’ve already worked too many cycles where merely passable candidates came just a smidge shy of a win. This time, I’m not going to risk the election of one of the greatest LGBT candidates I’ve ever met.
The morning after the Champions of Equality gala, I read a report in the Miami Herald that said the president was heading back to Maryland for Camp David. “Funny,” I thought. Me too.