The passing of the Equality Act yesterday was bittersweet for us. While we celebrate that the bill passed and it will now advance to the Senate, we are disappointed that a handful of our South Florida members of Congress collectively voted against the bill to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
We thank Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Congressman Ted Deutch and Congressman Alcee Hastings for voting in favor of the Equality Act and for continuing to be champions for the community.
In a stinging surprise, Congressman Mario Diaz Balart flipped his vote by voting against the Equality Act when in 2019 he voted in favor. It is important to note that the language in the bill was the same this year as it was then. Moreover, former Miami Dade County Mayor, Congressman Carlos Gimenez who previously championed LGBTQ protections at the local level also voted against the bill along with Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar. We condemn these votes. Diaz Balart and Gimenez have effectively ransacked their pro-LGBT record.
Unfortunately, the dissemination of misinformation is the currency of today’s political environment. In our meetings with elected officials and in listening to the debate on the house floor, it was clear that opponents to the bill were concocting a false narrative about the Equality Act’s impact on the Freedom of Religion and woefully overstating its effect on existing constitutional protections.
Understanding Religious Freedom and the Equality Act
It is critically important that we educate and share with everyone how the Equality Act embraces freedom of religion.
Firstly, the freedom of religion is important to all of us. It is one of our nation’s most sacred and fundamental values. That is why it is already fully protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and the Equality Act does nothing to lessen those protections. LGBTQ leaders, activists, and citizens have no desire to undermine existing protections for people of faith under the Constitution or existing laws.
Moreover, The Equality Act does not require clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. No church or clergyperson can ever be compelled to perform a marriage ceremony, and that includes marrying same-sex couples. Churches and clergy should be free to practice and preach as they see fit, and the Equality Act does not change that.
The language of the Equality Act maintains existing religious exemptions currently afforded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, providing reasonable exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations and educational institutions that are not open to the public. These exemptions strike precisely the same balance between religious freedom and equal treatment of all people that currently exists under our federal nondiscrimination laws.
We find that many concerns related to religious exemptions are resolved by the existence of the co-religionist exemption and ministerial exception, and the Equality Act leaves both intact. The ministerial exception allows religious organizations total autonomy regarding whom they hire to teach and spread their religion. This exception applies to employees of religious organizations who perform job functions such as teaching scripture, leading prayers, or religious songs, or otherwise sharing religious doctrine. Houses of worship and religiously affiliated organizations are permitted to make hiring and firing decisions for these positions that align with their church doctrine and are not required to comply with local, state, or federal nondiscrimination laws for those jobs.
For example, a Catholic Church cannot be held liable for refusing to hire female priests. Additionally, a religious school may be able to fire or refuse to hire an LGBTQ teacher if their job description includes teaching the faith. The Supreme Court recently ruled in the Our Lady of Guadalupe case that two religious schools were exempt from discrimination claims (one for age and the other for disability discrimination) because of the ministerial exception, so that exception has been applied quite broadly. The co-religionist exemption further allows religious organizations to prefer or only hire or rent to those who are members of their religion.
Regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), there is a misconception about the impact of the Equality Act on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This stems from extreme messaging to promote misinformation. The Equality Act does not repeal or undermine federal RFRA. Instead, it clarifies how RFRA originally was intended by Congress to be applied. The Equality Act restores original Congressional intent to ensure that RFRA can continue to be used as a shield to protect people of all faiths against government overreach, and not as a sword to discriminate against people of minority faiths and others. In fact, courts have generally ruled that RFRA cannot excuse discrimination against LGBTQ people and others and the Equality Act simply confirms this. Furthermore, the Equality Act expands the rights of people of faith by expanding the places of public accommodation where religious discrimination is prohibited.
Fundamentally, protecting people from discrimination is about the Golden Rule - treating others as we want to be treated. That is why many people of faith support these protections; not despite their religious beliefs, but because of them. LGBTQ people are our friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers. They work hard, support their families, and pay taxes. The Equality Act would ensure that LGBTQ people have the same rights and protections as everyone else - no more, no less.
Yours in service,
Admittedly, it seems a bit late to be sharing details only now regarding our focus for the “new” year at SAVE. The thing is, in my mind and perhaps in yours too, 2020 didn’t quite end on December 31st. Instead, like a bad New Year’s hangover, it lingered on – and was so terribly painful to endure.
Here we were, the morning after, still waiting on Congress to certify the presidential election and still hoping for COVID-19 vaccinations to restore our daily lives. Add to that the insurgence on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and the sluggish vaccine distribution... All I wanted was the right moment to slam the door on 2020 – so that I could finally look to the new year with some sense of optimism.
There’s a saying, “Go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you'll be able to see farther.” Poignant words by Scottish Philosopher Thomas Carlyle – and rather telling today, from my desk here in late February.
So here we are, little by little starting to see a new day, once again filled with hope. Undoubtedly it was the inauguration and transfer of power to the Biden/Harris Administration that helped shift my mental mode from doom-and-gloom to my natural state of sunshine and rainbows, which is always a good place to start.
I have been reflecting with the SAVE staff, board, and volunteers on what we were able to accomplish last year while considering what comes next. Last year at this time, I’d shared with you that our focus for 2020 would be to reignite the Field Program. I reported that in order to make it through the critical election year, our first priority would be to rebuild SAVE’s core competency in canvassing and in connecting with people face-to-face using a solid crew of volunteers. And we did so with resounding success!
Our newest staff member Eddie Kring, Community & Field Organizer, shined bright in making sure we did everything possible to get out the vote here in Miami-Dade, and also for the run-off election in Georgia for those key seats in their state senate in early January (more evidence of how the 2020 “hangover period” played out!).
The Equality Act & Other Public Policy
In 2021, we are poised to see historic advancements for LGBTQ rights with the most pro-LGBTQ administration ever at the nation’s helm and with strong margins of support in the U.S. House of Representatives – though as is always the case in politics, nothing is guaranteed. Passage in the Senate will be razor-thin, and we have already begun working to ensure the Equality Act and the Do No Harm Act become law.
On the local level, while 14 states have already introduced anti-transgender legislation, as of today, Florida is not one of those states. SAVE sees this as an opportunity to drive change by advocating for statewide nondiscrimination protections, expanded hate-crime laws, and policy that helps curb the HIV epidemic.
After the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the Equality Act, we will need to lean on our U.S. Senators to encourage them to vote to pass the historic legislation that has been in the making for more than 45 years. Even if you have to hold your nose, please join in the effort in reaching out to Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Please visit our Action page for their contact information and recommended talking points.
Focus in 2021 by Being Responsive to 2020
Our strategic focus for 2021 will continue to be on fortifying our community engagement and fieldwork. This continuation is because we are not letting our guard down and we want to do all that is necessary to be prepared for the next round of elections in 2022 and 2024.
The Field Program will continue to do community service projects with elected officials, especially with food distributions to address hunger and food insecurity in the midst of the COVID pandemic. And new this year, the Field Program will be redeveloped into a deep canvassing model to combat the misinformation that caused us to lose half a dozen South Florida pro-equality candidates in the 2020 election.
It was said more times than I can count on one hand after the November election, that “we have work to do,” and SAVE is here with the grit and critical thinking necessary to win. By focusing on the field, we return to SAVE’s grassroots organizing efforts that support our strategic imperatives:
- To advocate for policy at all levels of government and business that support the LGBTQ community’s ability to thrive and reduce harm.
- To mobilize the LGBTQ community and pro-equality voters to turn out in service to the community and at the polls for elections.
- To seek out, encourage, and support pro-equality public service leaders who are running for office elected – regardless of party affiliation. This includes legislators, judges, county commissioners, municipal council members, and mayors.
We also are encouraging you to be involved as we will continue to rely on your crucial financial support and volunteer hours. There’s room for everyone at SAVE. So, please let us know if you are interested in volunteering to serve on an endorsement panel or if you wish to be part of our wide-ranging volunteer actions. And of course, to learn more about how exactly your donation dollars support our necessary programs and initiatives.
For more than 28 years, SAVE has dedicated itself to protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) against discrimination. Since our founding in 1993, SAVE has been “home” to civic-minded community members who believe in fighting for equality and fairness for all. They are the champions, heroes, activists, and ordinary people who work hard every day to search for and believe in a fair world – for everyone.
Despite busy schedules, caring and committed members of our volunteer community make time to participate in endorsement panels, call voters or knock on doors to get out the vote, organize myriad events to build awareness of our issues, and engage the broader community in having conversations that effectively change hearts, minds, and, of course, policy.
I am so looking forward to working alongside you in our fight for equality. I know that together we are strong and together we can carry our energy, enthusiasm, and hope into this new year – and well into the future.
There’s another saying, this one by E. Joseph Crossman, an American businessman, that goes, “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep.” Well, it’s time to wake up my friends, because we’ve got a lot of work to do this year.
Please feel free to reach out to me anytime via email, text, or just call me directly to set a time to get together. Rest assured, I will be reaching out to you.
Yours in service,
The Florida Commission on Human Rights (FCHR) has issued a ruling, which was introduced by former SAVE Board Member Monica Cepero, to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination. The FCHR will begin to investigate complaints about sex-based discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations that includes gender identity and sexual orientation. This huge news comes after President Biden issued an Executive Order in January directing the federal government to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation under Title VII. You can read FCHR’s full notice here.
While this is great news and offers immediate pathways for victims of discrimination to lodge complaints, we know that the battle is not over. Unfortunately, Executive Orders can be easily overturned by future administrations. To ensure LGBTQ people are permanently protected from discrimination we need to codify them into Florida law by passing a statewide non-discrimination policy that includes protections for the LGBTQ community. In 2021 and beyond, here at SAVE we will not rest until we achieve full equality. But we need your support to do it. From now until April, all donations made to SAVE through the AIDS Healthcare Foundations Florida AIDS Walk will be DOUBLED. Chip in today to keep the momentum going. Double your gift today at www.save.lgbt/faw.
We are proud to announce five 2020 Freidin Brown, P.A. & SAVE Social Justice Scholarship winners, who were each awarded $5,500 in scholarships. These LGBTQ and allied students in South Florida strive to lead in a field of Social Justice. After receiving a number of extremely impressive applications, five scholarship recipients have been. Each recipient has a proven record of leadership and contributions to the LGBTQ community and has demonstrated a commitment to a field of Social Justice in their professional futures. Meet the winners below.
We appreciate Freidin Brown P.A. for underwriting $25,000 of the scholarship. Additionally, we thank Larry Hyer who provided additional funding to increase the scholarship award for each student.
Brittney R. Davis is a native of the Washington, DC metropolitan area and is a doctoral candidate in the Community Well-Being program at the University of Miami. She is a former high school educator and higher education professional with research interests surrounding educational equity, namely utilizing her agenda to uplift the voices and schooling experiences of minoritized students. She is involved in and indebted to her "Q-mmunity" within and outside of the University of Miami for its continued support, and she works to pay it forward in her efforts to cultivate and engage within spaces for Queer-identified Black folx at the university and in South Florida.
Nathaly M. Gonzalez is a Colombian-Turkish student at the University of Miami studying Psychology and French with minors in Chemistry and Biology as a Plus One Scholar. This is her third year and currently, she is the President of SpectrUM, the longest-running and largest LGBTQ organization at UM; and serves as a member of the Undergraduate Honor Council. Her favorite activities include roller skating and baking.
In her time at the university, she has won the Audley Webster Memorial Essay Contest, presented her research at RCIF, and helped to organize several events pertaining to service and the LGBTQ community. She believes that it is through community and dialogue that we are able to grow together towards making the world a better place and being the change, we wish to see.
Jordan Gary is a second-year student at Miami Law. She is from Southern California and completed her undergraduate education at USC. She currently serves as the LGBT Bar Liaison for UM’s OUTLaw chapter and Vice President of the Black Law Students Association. Jordan is interested in the intersection of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and how law and policy can shape societal and cultural attitudes towards those varying identities.
Jack Lee Jordan
Jack Jordan (they/them) is a disabled, queer, non-binary, Black Puerto Rican born and raised in Miami, Florida. They are currently working toward completing their Undergrad in Social Work with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Jack has been involved in South Florida activism for over ten years since they were in their early teens. Jack’s focus is on queer/ trans liberation, healthy relationships, inclusive and accessible spaces, risk-aware safer sex, and youth empowerment. They hope to bring this lived experience into their career by bringing a sex-positive, queer, afro-centric lens of care to better serve and help marginalized communities that often fall through the cracks of intentional care.
Jake Balducci is a first-year law student at Florida State University. Born and raised in South Florida, Jake is a multi-instrumentalist who graduated magna cum laude from the FSU College of Music. A queer man himself, he aspires to fight injustice in the field of entertainment as a lawyer. He has been involved in student government and numerous student organizations. He currently holds leadership positions in his school’s chapters of the Business Law Society and Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law.