Love, Commitment and Equality

 

Equality Florida Co-Founder and CEO Nadine Smith addresses the audience during her talk “Freedom to Read, Freedom to Marry: Where We Stand” at the Gulfport Public Library on May 21.

Equality Florida Co-Founder and CEO Nadine Smith addresses the audience during her talk “Freedom to Read, Freedom to Marry: Where We Stand” at the Gulfport Public Library on May 21.[dropcap]E[/dropcap]rin Bell and Andrea DeFelippo were the first same-sex couple to be married in Pinellas County when the gay marriage ban was lifted in Florida on January 6, 2015. During interviews with the media after their wedding at the Pinellas County Courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg, they told reporters, “Be sure to say we want to thank Equality Florida. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Equality Florida was instrumental in the journey to marriage equality in Florida but the non-profit organization, headed by co-founder and CEO Nadine Smith, is not resting on its laurels. Smith is a former award-winning journalist turned organizer who co-chaired the1993 March on Washington, and was one of four activists who participated in an historic meeting between then-President Bill Clinton  and gay community leaders. Besides waiting for the Supreme Court of the United States to issue a nationwide resolution on same-sex marriage, Smith recognizes there is still work to be done on marriage equality and a wealth of other issues.

“Marriage has been an incredible victory worth every bit of celebration,” said Smith. “We continue to work on other issues such as adoption, discrimination, student safety, voter mobilization, family recognition and banning conversion therapy in addition to continuing to educate about marriage equality.”

This year, Equality Florida was instrumental in blocking HB 7111, a bill that would allow adoption agencies funded by the state of Florida to discriminate and deny adoptions to prospective parents on the basis of religious or moral grounds. The bill’s official status is “temporarily postposed,” which means it likely will not come up again this legislative session as the session has concluded.

Equality Florida also led the grassroots coalition to defeat HB 583, the “Single-Sex Public Facilities” bill, or, “Bathroom Bill,” which would have made it illegal for any transgender citizen to use a single-sex restroom that does not match their gender at birth.

According to Smith, “The most powerful thing people can do is leverage power collectively. Make it impossible for legislators to ignore an issue. Doing so amplifies your voice which increases impact.”

In 2013, Equality Florida launched its Get Engaged program in partnership with Freedom To Marry. Couples were invited to tell their personal stories about what marriage means to them, which were then posted on the Get Engaged media center at getengaged.org, at freedomtomarry.org and on social media.

“There are tools for couples to tell their stories online. In addition, every person has a circle of influence, people who listen to you because they know you and love you, rather than listening to some talking head on television,” said Smith.

People can also take part in the #LoveMustWin campaign by writing letters to the Supreme Court about why marriage matters (Visit eqfl.org/lovemustwin).

Smith lives in St. Petersburg with her wife, Andrea, and their son, Logan. On May 21, she participated in one of a series of lectures hosted at the newly renovated Gulfport Public Library, which now houses an LGBTQ Resource Center. Her talk focused on the personal as well as the political, emphasizing her desire to help create a world in which her son, and others, can grow up in a world free of discrimination.

“So many people want to be on the right side of history and are waiting to get involved,” Smith told the audience. “It is important to focus on the journey ahead to bring full equality and fairness for that person who was just born.”

 

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