Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Chorus of Gay Voices Made Themselves Heard in City Elections

Gay Voices Were Heard in City Elections

By Norm Kent

Some people in the gay community may be disappointed that Fort Lauderdale did not elect a gay mayor, but there is more still to be proud about. In the media, some have suggested gays failed. Not so.

First of all, two credible gay candidates marshaled nearly 40% of the vote in a city where our outgoing mayor spent the last two years demeaning our credibility.

Second, the incoming mayor is now, and has been an ongoing friend of the gay community. In fact, Jack Seiler once served as the Mayor of Wilton Manors and was an early supporter of the Express Gay News that I founded, the precursor to the very South Florida Blade you are reading today.

Third, the elections in Fort Lauderdale enticed many gay candidates to launch campaigns, and Coleman Prewitt is in a runoff for one open commission seat. The candidate he opposes, Romney Rogers, is a long time resident with entrenched establishment ties, and loves his city, but he has never loved or supported the gay community. However, you do not hear him bashing it openly, either.

More significantly, starting with the ‘Flush Naugle’ rallies last year, the gay community of Fort Lauderdale has sent a message to all future candidates in this growing metropolis. We have declared ourselves to be part and parcel of the process that is governance. We will not sit silently by while people in power accost or abuse who we are.

We have sent a political message that we are a strong and mobilizing force who can deliver votes to our supporters. More importantly than that, we have reminded our neighbors that we are partners in our community, and we own businesses, raise families, and care about the health and safety of our streets and schools. We are no longer scapegoats to be accused. We will not be indifferently ignored. We are the shared participants in a greater good.

There was a time, and it was not that long ago, when a human rights rally in South Florida would gather a dozen activists. Now a parade in Wilton Manors pulls together a hundred organizations with thousands of activists. We take for granted how much we have achieved. We are not unlike a tag from an old Virginia Slims television commercial promoting a popular cigarette for women, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ And courageous leaders like Dean Trantalis helped bring us there.

It may be that gay mayoral candidates lost a race in the city of Fort Lauderdale. But never again will a mayoral candidate demean the gay community without subjecting himself to public approbation and putting his political career at risk.

If I were to start listing all the gay and lesbian leaders in Broward alone, now running for office and serving the community on a commission or in some capacity, this column would run too many words, and I would leave too many out. Suffice it to say, we are making a difference.

You have to remember there was a time when being gay would disqualify you from public office. Today, it may offer you a political base. I would say this to those who are gay and seek office though. Sell us something other than your sexuality. Come to us with a history of involvement and activism, courage and commitment. The straight community may care about who you are sleeping with. We don’t.

The message the gay community sends to Fort Lauderdale today is not that we are on the outside looking in, fighting for rights we do not have. Our collective voice has affirmatively established us as partners in the future. We have a place at the table. It did not come easy, was not turned over willingly, and cost us dearly. Finally, maybe after all these years, people are beginning to see us for who we are and what we achieve in our neighborhoods, instead of just who and what we do in our bedrooms.

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