Buddy Dyer has served as Mayor of Orlando for over a decade, and in that time he has turned Orlando into a world-class city, rebuilding infrastructure and introducing new amenities to the city, such as a state-of-the-art sporting and concert arena and a commuter rail service. He has helped the LGBT community every step of the way as well, recently filing an amicus brief supporting the couples suing for the right to marry in Florida. He even spoke on record recently, hoping that the first same-sex marriages in Florida will happen in Orlando.
I had a chance to talk to Mayor Dyer and I thank him again for talking to me for this exclusive Hotspots interview.
You’ve been a supporter of the LGBT community for as long as you’ve been mayor. Was there ever an “evolution” on this topic for you in terms of LGBT rights?
I’ve been supportive for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember being gay rights really being an issue when I grew up in Kissimmee. I ended up becoming more aware of it when I attended Brown University. I can’t say I was really an outspoken advocate for gay rights then, but in my life I’ve never been in opposition.
I will say that over the past ten years, I have had an evolution regarding the concept of gay marriage. There was a time in my political career where I would have advanced the notion of civil unions over marriage.
What changed your mind?
I think there was a change in society in general. It’s a different discussion today than it was ten years ago. For example, in 2001 we added sexual orientation to our list of protected classes in our anti-discrimination ordinance and there was five, six hours of public testimony. Now the city council will be adding gender identity and I’d be surprised if anybody shows up to speak against it.
You’ve said in explicit terms that you want the first same-sex marriage to happen in Orlando. Why do you feel it’s important to happen here?
Because I feel it’s important to promote diversity, equality and fairness; this would help cement Orlando’s current reputation. I’d also love for Orlando to receive the nationwide recognition that comes with playing host to the first gay marriage in Florida.
Out of all the advancements you’ve helped enact which directly benefited the LGBT community, which one are you most proud of and why?
The domestic partnership registry, because the city was a leader in that area. There are many other jurisdictions around us that have adopted registries using us as a blueprint. We wanted to pass the domestic partnership registry in concert with Orange County, but when it became clear they were going to drag their feet, we went ahead with it.
One person who has done a lot to advance LGBT commerce, travel and tourism to Orlando is Mikael Audebert. What do you think of him and his work?
I think he has done a fantastic job. We welcomed his efforts, and definitely we support him.
You’ve said that you believe Orlando has succeeded in becoming a world-class city. Are there any amenities that Orlando doesn’t have yet that you want to see brought here?
We’re working on just about all of them. We’re opening a new performing arts center this year, we opened a new arena a couple of years ago. There’s construction going on for the new soccer stadium. We built the medical village around Lake Nona, we’re building an industry cluster…I think we have a lot of good things going on here.
What’s the biggest issue impacting Orlando today that you feel needs to be addressed and addressed immediately?
The number of homeless individuals in Central Florida. We have decided to take an approach: looking at our area, there are 900 chronically homeless people and we are moving to place a third of them into permanent housing. It’s the right thing to do as well as the economically right thing to do — every individual who makes the streets of Orlando their home costs us roughly $40,000 a year, and this includes traditional expenses, law enforcement expenses and emergency services. But to build this permanent housing and to use it, it will cost us $510,000 a year.
Which landmark and which restaurant do you feel are Orlando’s best-kept secrets?
There was a place I liked to go to, and I’d have a drink and I’d discuss with people how the city needed to have great sculpted public art. The group See Art Orlando raised funds and comissioned eight pieces of sculpted art that range in size from 20 to 35 feet tall. These eight pieces are distributed across downtown Orlando, and a number of them sit near Lake Eola. As far as that bar is concerned, the area houses a bar, a restaurant and an antique furniture store in an area called Ivanhoe Row.
To read our past interviews with the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg, visit hotspotsmagazine.com.