We must invest in our communities to effect lasting change and ensure voter

The recent surge in anti-LGBTQ legislation has cast a shadow over the sunshine state. We have seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric surrounding our community, particularly from the governor's office, the state legislature, and the state's educational and medical boards. We must empower pro-equality voters and their allies in the fight against harmful legislation by facilitating new voter registration and ensuring voter turnout.

Hardly four months into the year, the Human Rights Campaign has already tracked 340 anti-LGBTQ bills across the nation. Despite this strong push for legislation that is harmful to the community, the HRC reports that less than 10 percent of anti-LGBTQ bills in 2022 passed, proving that there is no mass support for such laws. Of course, even a single anti-LGBTQ law can have devastating effects, and it is distressing to witness states like Florida setting the trend for an increasing number and intensity of anti-LGBTQ bills. Still, these 2022 findings indicate that we can prevent harmful legislation from being passed by becoming active participants in our communities.

Florida's 2023 legislative session is setting a dangerous precedent nationally. Among the most alarming anti-LGBTQ bills proposed is HB 1223 / SB 1320, sponsored by Representative Anderson and Senator Yarborough. The bill essentially expands Gov. DeSantis's Parental Rights in Education Act, infamously referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law, seeking to extend restrictions on education regarding sexual orientation and gender identity through eighth grade and prohibiting schools from using inclusive pronouns. What's more, HB 1403 / SB 1580, sponsored by Rep. Rudman, will grant healthcare providers and insurers the right to dubiously discriminate and deny critical medical care based on religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. This is essentially legalizing discrimination. Our organization actively monitors legislation and keeps voters well-informed to combat this wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

A recent report projects that the pro-LGBTQ voting bloc will transform the election landscape in the coming decades, accounting for nearly one-in-five (17.8%) voters by 2040. This data is remarkable, considering LGBTQ Americans typically favor candidates who support Democratic-leaning policies. In fact, an HRC poll concluded that LGBTQ voters and their allies overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates during the 2022 midterm elections, dissuaded from voting for candidates whose platforms consisted of attacks against LGBTQ people. We can become a part of this cultural shift by acquiring and retaining the LGBTQ vote and that of their allies, thus maximizing our voting potential.

A growing need for pro-equality voters

The recent changes in Florida election laws are cause for concern. All vote-by-mail requests are now only valid through one general election, and many voters are unaware that they must re-register to receive absentee ballots in upcoming elections. We must educate and register voters to secure the participation of pro-equality voters and contest the recent surge in anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

Voter registration plays a crucial part in strengthening pro-equality legislation. In 2020, for instance, we witnessed a shift between the August Primary and November General elections. Republican voter registration increased by 241,505, while Democratic voter registration only increased by 135,324. These numbers were early warning signs of the rise in anti-LGBTQ voters we are currently witnessing. In recent elections, we have seen the weaponization of churches to target our community and register church-going anti-LGBTQ voters at record numbers.

Last year, there was only a 9% increase in new voters registered as Democrats in Miami-Dade, compared to the 13% increase recorded in 2020. Data shows that when 15% or higher of voters are new voters, we are more likely to effect changes through pro-equality candidates and public policies. We can reach this percentage by helping pro-LGBTQ voters and their allies register as new voters.

However, our work does not end there. Voter turnout is also a vital part of the puzzle. In 2022, Florida saw a statewide voting turnout collapse among Democrats. Out of the 940,898 registered Democratic Hispanic voters, for example, only 34.33% turned out to vote. Among the 1,457,444 registered black Democratic voters, only 41.65% turned out to vote. And finally, of the 2,273,214 registered Democratic white voters, 60.70% voted. Though this number may seem high, every vote counts, and this turnout collapse certainly impacted our state's public policy and local legislation. We must strengthen voter participation and join forces with our fellow constituents to enact lasting change.

Effecting change through community work and canvassing

Voter participation is an ever-present issue as we face mounting anti-LGBTQ legislation in our state. The recent decline in voter turnout reflects a disengaged, apathetic citizenry that is too critical to ignore. Of course, facilitating voter registration is only one part of the solution. Let us rally our electorates through canvassing, fundraising, volunteer work, and activism to ensure we elect the kind of lawmakers that that are more interested in making improvements in the quality of life of citizens rather than causing harm and spending time on cultural wars.

We must invest in our communities to maintain their long-term involvement and encourage pro-LGBTQ voters and their allies to engage in the electoral process. SAVE is tracking ongoing legislation closely to better inform voters and develop strategies to oppose harmful bills. But more importantly, SAVE is gearing up for critical elections in 2023 and 2024 to enact changes in our state's leadership by focusing on voter registration and getting out the vote by engaging voters in meaningful conversations at their door step.

Published in the Orlando Sentinel on April 29th, 2023.