LGBTQ+ Equality and the Struggle for Racial Justice

with Nadine Smith of Equality Florida

The nationwide movement for LGBTQ+ equality has achieved significant advancements in equal protections and benefits.

Nadine Smith, Co-founder and Executive Director of Equality Florida, reflects on the parallels between the LGBTQ+ rights movement and ongoing campaigns for racial justice.

Posted on:

Aug 03, 2020

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The struggle for equality and civil rights in America has many fronts, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and identity. With recent anti-racism protests across the country, parallels have become apparent between the fight for LGBTQ equality and the struggle for racial justice. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers". I'm Tetiana Anderson. To reflect upon the intersectionality of all of these civil rights movements, I'm joined by Nadine Smith. She is the co-founder and executive director of Equality Florida. Nadine, thanks for being here.

Smith: Thanks for inviting me.

Anderson: Nadine, you talk a lot about the idea of intersectionality, but I would love for you to sort of connect the dots for our viewers and give them a little bit of a deeper dive on why all these things are related.

Smith: I think this Pride Month really illustrated so clearly how connected all the struggles for civil rights and social justice are in America. Pride Month is the commemoration of a night in 1969 when patrons at the Stonewall Inn fought back against police brutality. And here we are,51 years later, and people once again are taking to the streets to fight back against police brutality. And June is also when the Supreme Court issues decisions, and this year, we saw the Bostock decision, in which the Supreme Court recognized that sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. We would not be celebrating that victory had it not been for the sacrifice toward passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And so, every step forward for civil rights, for any group of people, begins to build the bridge for those protections for all people. And so, that is why the LGBT community, which is part of every single community ,we understand that we have to show up and push back against police brutality. We have to show up and fight for reproductive justice because our protections flow from the work to secure those rights to privacy and bodily autonomy. So, for us, this June in particular has spotlighted how connected all of these struggles are and how we have to show up and link arms in dangerous times to speak up against discrimination, and as a Black person, as a woman, as part of the LGBTQ community, I know that my freedom really rests in seeing all of the communities of which I'm a part protected because it makes no difference if you have legal protections, if you have no ability or freedom to access those protections because you fear violence, and for Black people in America, we certainly had the legal right to access the vote long before we had the actual ability to access the vote across the country.
Anderson: And you talk about the sort of strides that have been made. You mentioned marriage equality. We've had the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell". You talked a little bit about the Supreme Court ruling in favor of employment protections for the LGBT community, and these are no doubt wins for the community. But what in your mind is really the sort of full measure of successful inclusion? What does that look like?

Smith: Well, certainly, full protection. Full protection under the law is critical, of course but we also have to change the culture, and so, a lot of the work that we do is about education. It is about pushing back against stereotypes and prejudice. But it's also recognizing that the LGBTQ community is part of every single community, and unless you have the right to exercise those legal protections, unless you have the freedom to actually enjoy them, then they're not really yours. And so we have to show up and fight racism. We have to show up and fight sexism. We have to show up and fight for economic justice because our lives are impacted and very often, we bear the brunt. There's an epidemic of violence against Black trans women. We see young people who are thrown out of their homes, have no safety in the school system. It doesn't matter if they have marriage equality if they're not safe and secure in their day-to-day existence.

Anderson: So, the name is Equality Florida, but that doesn't just mean you work in Florida. You work hyper locally, you work in the state of Florida, you work on the national level. What are some of the things that you're currently working on?

Smith: Well, Florida is really a leader when it comes to passing local ordinances that protect based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We are the third most populous state and 60% of our population is protected by those local ordinances, and at the state level, the South is pretty notorious for being pretty hostile when it comes to civil rights protections generally and LGBT protections specifically, and yet, we have been really successful in blocking a lot of the bad legislation that's been passed in other places, and we've built coalitions to move forward our bill that would secure on discrimination protections in all of the civil rights statutes in Florida. It is one of the most --in fact, the most co-sponsored legislation year after year. And so, now with the Bostock decision, it actually renews our commitment to seeing federal legislation passed that would provide protections for the LGBTQ community beyond employment, inclusive of employment, but beyond employment as well. So, we work at the local, state, and national level, and there's a great deal of work ahead of us. And the current administration has been particularly hostile, so, we've gotta lot of work ahead of us.

Anderson: You mentioned the idea that Florida has sort of been a leader. Florida's, of course, been in the spotlight, specifically about four years ago with the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub. 49 people killed. I remember being a journalist, being there for a week covering that story, and one of the things that came to light as a result of that was the importance of community for the LGBTQ community and the importance of safe spaces. Fast forward to the times we're living in now with coronavirus. Lots of things are shut down across the country. How damaging has that been for a community that really relies on community and safe spaces?

Smith: You know, it really did highlight the importance of safe space and how shattering that experience was, and in the aftermath, we made two promises. One was to raise as much money to support the survivors and the families of those who were killed. But the other was to uproot the hatred at the core of that violent act and so much of the violence that is targeted at our community. And so, we went into our Safe and Healthy Schools program because that's where these ideas take root and they're either nourished or challenged. And so, one of the things that we're seeing in the wake of COVID is particularly young people are being cut off from the resources that we've been able to help them get access to in the school system. And sheltering at home does not always mean sheltering in safety, particularly for young people. So, we're seeing spikes in runaways, for example. So, we've got a lot more work to do. But we're doing our best to provide virtual connections to help people know the importance of staying involved in this work with a huge election coming up, and just to have the community connection, that sense of "You're not alone. "And so, we've done virtual town halls and happy hours and things like that. But we do our best to stay in touch with our membership and to continue to do the education that we know is at the heart of changing hearts and minds, therefore changing laws and therefore changing culture.

Anderson: Speaking of virtual connections, if people want to find out more about what Equality Florida does, where can they go online?

Smith: Come and visit us.

Anderson: Very simple. Nadine Smith, thank you so much for being here.

Smith: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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