OpEd: Our Fund Hosts Annual ‘State of the State’ Symposium

Our Fund, the LGBT Community Foundation, was back at the NSU Museum of Art on Monday night, hosting their ninth annual Leadership Program, partnering with Equality Florida.

The event presented a panel of advocates addressing issues concerning the state of LGBT equality within the State of Florida.

The panelists were moderated by Nadine Smith, the co-founder and executive director of Equality Florida, who laid out an optimistic view for progressive legislative advances within the state. She warned that the “courts will not save us anymore. The President’s appointments are hurting us. We need legislators on our side.”

“It’s hellacious what’s happening in the White House,” said Michael Adams of SAGE, “but the levers to change are many, and our community has learned how to use them.”

Adams pointed out that the LGBT public and its allies generated 25,000 comments in opposition to anti gay Trump administration policy that would have redacted data collection processes.

Mara Keisling, founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, drew applause from the audience when she  stated “Yeah, the President sucks but we are not flatlining. There are problems they are creating, but we know how to fix them. And we will.”

Brandon Wolf, the current media relations manager for Equality Florida, moved from Portland, Oregon to central Florida in order to work for Disney.

That all changed when he survived the Pulse massacre in June of 2016. Close friends he was with there with did not. His life changed forever.

Today, Wolf is a charismatic LGBT rights and gun control advocate with Equality Florida. In that capacity he addressed the House of Representatives last month on bringing an end to gun violence in America.

“Before Pulse,” he stated, “Politics and advocacy felt like what other people were doing. I was just reaping the rewards of their good works.”

Not any more. He works daily to effect statewide social and legislative change.

“It was at first a most ordinary of nights. But it became extraordinary, and the world that I thought I understood was turned upside down.

“Gun violence and hate crimes were things for people in Washington to worry about, but I now want to be a voice and not a victim.”

“After Pulse,” Wolf explained, “the national media was not talking about undocumented kids who could not come forward, or our Latino brothers and sisters who lost their lives. They were not talking about the lines of people who came together and donated blood, or our safe space that had been invaded. They were talking politics. I want to talk about people.”

Shannon Mintzer, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, summarized a key issue for the future of LGBT groups.

“We need more diverse and inclusive leadership for our national organizations. We have not done very well and need to do a better job of integrating that into our work, recognizing more people of color.”

Nadine Smith echoed the thought “We are increasingly a nation of older white people and younger black people and we are going through a national convulsion. We have to ask what we are doing to change it within ourselves.”

It was a big week in South Florida for Equality Florida, following its 17thAnnual Broward Gala, held at the Westin Hotel on the Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The annual celebration for champions of equality this year honored State Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried and Z cosmetics CEO Zach Dishinger, now 17 years old, who was awarded the ‘Youth Voice for Equality” Award.

“Makeup,” said Dishinger, “can be an empowering form of self expression for everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or ace. My wish is to show people that it’s okay to be themselves.”

Dishinger’s successful entrepreneurial enterprise is devoting a portion of its annual proceeds to the Trevor Project, which works to help reduce LGBT youth suicide.

This article originally appeared in South Florida Gay News on November 13, 2019.