It was 2008 and the state was facing a state-wide anti-gay marriage amendment to enshrine discrimination into Florida’s Constitution. Only two years earlier I had experienced the remarkable moment of marrying my wife so that we could start a family and take care of each other for the rest of our lives. At the time it was difficult for me to believe that a majority of Floridians didn’t want certain loving couples to experience life as legally committed partners. We know how that amendment battle ended, but I had no idea how my life would be permanently changed after that campaign.
It’s been five years since that vote in 2008, and much has changed. We’ve toppled a military ban on gay and lesbian service members, defeated Florida’s adoption ban on gay and lesbian families, 12 states embraced marriage equality, elected Florida’s first openly gay state lawmaker, and we re-elected the first President to actively seek equality for people who are LGBT – and in a matter of days we will hear the Supreme Court weigh in on Marriage Equality.
A lot has happened in such little time, and as I write my last letter to you as SAVE’s executive director, I realize that the most change has taken place in me.
I remember interviewing for the position at SAVE and using the words “lifestyle” and “preference” – and at my first house party I said something to the effect of “protecting YOUR rights” as opposed to OUR rights. I’ve come a long way.
In my time with SAVE, I went to my first gay bar, my first gay Pride, my first gay prom, my first trans conference, and even my first circuit party.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be running an LGBT advocacy organization, and quite honestly, I don’t think the community ever thought a straight man would be leading the local movement. This was a great concern of mine, and it was made apparent to me in many direct and indirect ways in my first couple of months on the job. But something happened that ultimately ensured my success, thereby ensuring the success of SAVE – acceptance.
Here I was, this straight guy educating community, political, and religious leaders that acceptance was critical to a strong democracy and paramount to the success of our city, state, and nation. I was voicing the promise of American values that people who are LGBT have the same hopes and dreams that heterosexual people have – the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
Acceptance is a two-way street, and what gave me the confidence to engage with people who were otherwise indifferent to the cause was the acceptance from the very community that I advocated for.
Whether it was Orlando Gonzales seeing something in me during the job search that would translate into a good leader, or Jerry Chasen greeting me at my first gay bar, or Cindy Brown welcoming me to my first Halloween party, or Steve Adkins embracing me as a new edition to the community – they all accepted me, and you all accepted me for who I am.
At the end of the day, our community will inevitably win equality because we are accepting of others. Your willingness to accept, your ability to be open, your actions of inclusiveness towards me is exactly this community’s strength. In the face of adversity, exclusion, and close mindedness – you have accepted someone that is not exactly like you, but shares in values exactly like you.
My last call to action is that you continue to be accepting of those who are different, those that are not exactly like you, those that may not have the same suffering, pain, or adversity…. I ask that as I leave you show the same compassion and acceptance for our trans brothers and sisters as you have shown me, show the same acceptance for our neighbors of a different faith who may be at odds with our community, help those who don’t understand out of ignorance that our love is no different than theirs.
This continues to be about you it has always been about you and your ability to accept, and this organization was created because of you and by you. I was simply a messenger for your acceptance, your respect, and your commitment for equality.
I may be leaving the frontlines of the movement here in Miami, but my heart and passion remain with this fight – as long as another set of hands and a passionate heart are needed – I will be committed to the mission of SAVE, the push towards equality.