Around 100 well-dressed people met at the 4th floor House of Representatives to attend Monday's training session with Equality Florida (more joined them on Tuesday and Wednesday). They came from all walks of life, from every ethnic background, from every corner of the state. Some drove 8 hours to get there, some only 10 minutes. Most were LGBT, but many were not. Retirees, students, professionals and worker bees - they all came with a desire to change this state and to end discrimination against the LGBT community. Seated in the chairs usually filled with state representatives, the volunteers learned how to discuss their lives with their elected officials. They learned the process by which the bills reach committees or floor votes, or never see the light of day. They learned how to speak knowledgeably, passionately and respectfully about the issues in the very place where those issues are voted up or down. It was Equality Florida's Mallory and Joe who led this crash course, with assists from Brian, and they did it well with passion and humor.
"You see on the walls around you the pictures of the past House leaders - all straight white males," said Joe Saunders with a big smirk. It put a profound emphasis on the difficult mission ahead.
The volunteers were divided into groups and practiced their talking points about the pending legislation for the next hour. The bills before the legislature this session would end workplace and housing discrimination against the LGBT community; end the 33 year old, Anita Bryant-insanity-inspired adoption ban; and create state-recognized domestic partnerships. These are not frivolous issues or frivolous bills. The volunteers, fully prepared, headed into the halls fired up for their important meetings with the elected people who determine your equality in this state.
I attached myself to groups and traveled with them as they were politely received by legislative aides who no doubt dread lobby days. One after the other the volunteers knocked on doors, peaked around cubicle walls, and sought out the power holders to ask for their time and consideration. "I have no legal rights of second parent adoption," explained one of the dads from Punta Gorda. "If something happens to my partner, my child won't be protected." "My grown daughter would tell you that I am a very good father, and this ban needs to go," said the gay Tallahassee minister. "I read the adoption ban language and it's just not right or fair," said the straight advocate from Orlando. They pled their cases to the legislators or their aides for 5 minutes. They did this all day long, door after door, through the confusing maze of hallways that is the capitol.
On Tuesday, Rep. Scott Randolph, Sen. Charlie Justice and Equality Florida were able to get amendments read on the House and Senate floors concerning Florida's cruel adoption ban. It was brilliant, and it was high drama - the first time in 33 years that the ban was addressed from the floor. The amendments were attached and then removed from a bill currently moving forward that would prevent authorities from asking if a prospective (straight) adoptive parent owns a gun. That bill is expected to pass both chambers. The amendments, which called for the end of language which identifies if a prospective parent is gay, was withdrawn due to lack of support. At the very least the hypocrisy of the anti-gay conservative government was laid plain for all to see and hear on Tuesday. You can hear it at Equality Florida's channel on YouTube, or at OneOrlando.org.
I wanted you to know all of this because perhaps you weren't there this week. Maybe you couldn't take a day off from work, or make the long drive, or part with the money needed for the hotel. I wanted you to know that Equality Florida was very much there en masse, working hard for 3 days to make your voice heard in that important building. Will the legislators care? You can still influence that. Equality Florida has a virtual way for you to lobby from the comfort of your couch (www.eqfl.org). Go there and raise your voice to the powers that be. Without your voice, rest assured, there will be no change in this state.