Politics Unusual: Hotspots Exclusive Interview with Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith

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Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith has fought for the rights of LGBT Floridians for decades, and has served in her current capacity as head of our state’s LGBT rights organization for the past 17 years. In that time, Florida has grown from a state with very few protections for gay people (and next to none for transgender people) into a state with dozens upon dozens of human rights ordinances and safe schools initiatives, stretching all the way from Pensacola down to Key West.

This year the winds of change blew in very strongly, and just in the past month there have been three fundamental court decisions affirming our right to marry in the Sunshine State. I was honored to speak to Nadine Smith about the verdicts from these court cases, today’s political climate, and also what Equality Florida is advancing right now in addition to marriage equality.

How do you feel now that there are multiple court rulings that have been decided in our favor?

The rulings have been incredible. These rulings state very clearly that the ban that Florida had was unconstitutional, that it violated due process and equal protection. The language used in these rulings was powerful and compelling. We continue to be optimistic that marriage equality is coming to Florida.

I read now that there’s a motion filed to consolidate the Monroe County court case and the Miami-Dade County court case into one case; can you tell me about that?

We hope and fully expect that those cases will be consolidated. That request has been filed and we’re waiting for the court to rule on that motion. It’s our hope that the Florida Supreme Court takes this matter up as quickly as possible. Every day that marriage equality is delayed, harm is inflicted on couples and their children here in Florida, because they are being denied the protections and the dignity that marriage equality provides.

People keep asking, “What does this mean for us?” How long do you think it will take before the Florida Supreme Court is ready to hear these cases?

We’re hopeful that the case will move forward swiftly, and that we can end the year with greater clarity as far as Florida’s path toward marriage equality is concerned.  It’s hard to predict how long the process will take. We hope by the end of the year, we will know how quickly it will take before this issue will be ultimately solved.

One thing I notice with the marriage equality court cases nationwide is that many attorneys general continue to make arguments that have been struck down in state after state. Why are they continuing to use arguments that have already been refuted?

They’re putting ideology ahead of the law. Unfortunately, Florida also has an attorney general who has abdicated her responsibility to protect our federally-established constitutional rights, for political purposes. But I think the Attorney General of North Carolina said it best: “There are no more arguments left to be made to support these discriminatory marriage bans.” And on that basis, he has determined, as many other attorneys general have, that the bans are indefensible and no more time and resources will be wasted in defending the indefensible.

You traveled to Washington, D.C. recently as a guest of the President as he signed an executive order banning hiring and workplace discrimination against LGBT people by federal contractors. Tell us about being present for such a historic moment.

I literally had a front-row seat to history. I could have leaned forward and touched the pen! [laughs] It was an incredible moment and a terrific honor to be there at the signing ceremony.

With strides being made all across the state with regard to human rights ordinances and non-discrimination laws, what is Equality Florida’s next move?

Even in a state where we continue to win at the local level — for example, Orlando just added gender identity to their human rights ordinance, and Hillsborough County is poised to do the same — it’s still a patchwork quilt. I grew up in the Panhandle of Florida and we’re seeing change even up there, but we shouldn’t have to consult a map to figure out if we’re in a city or county where we’re protected completely, partially or not at all.

While marriage has been grabbing the headlines, we’ve been working on passing a statewide non-discrimination bill so people can not only marry but they won’t lose their jobs as a result of their wedding announcement being printed in the newspaper. We’re going to continue to push municipalities to do the right thing, but fundamentally, the state needs to step up and establish a statewide non-discrimination law that includes gender identity and expression.

It’s long overdue, too, considering so many straight people think it’s already illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and other areas because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

75% of straight people think these laws already exist because it’s common sense, and it shocks these people that they don’t. A state law is needed so much because usually the people who need protections the most live in places that are least likely to adopt such measures.

There are many ways to become involved with Equality Florida. Visit eqfl.org to find out all the ways you can help and how you can keep abreast with the latest news by signing up for the organization’s mailing list. Keep track of Equality Florida on social media as well by “liking” them on facebook at facebook.com/equalityfl and following them on twitter @equalityfl.