Helping People

LGBTQ activist finds her religion roots help her help her community

Lynare Robbins, deputy director at Global Ties Miami, is photographed inside her office building in Coral Gables, Florida, on Monday, October 14, 2019.
Lynare Robbins, deputy director at Global Ties Miami, is photographed inside her office building in Coral Gables, Florida, on Monday, October 14, 2019. Special for the Miami Herald

Lynare Robbins’ father was Catholic and her mother Protestant. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about Protestant work ethic. They’re sticklers for that,” says Robbins, a long-time activist in South Florida’s LGBTQ community, adding that her mom wouldn’t let her sleep in, even on weekends.

“You couldn’t lay in bed all day,” Robbins says. “She would say you’re just you’re wasting your time. You’re not a productive member of society. You’re not doing anything.”

Robbins, who now studies the Jewish tradition of Kabbalah mysticism, believes her strict religious upbringing is why she’s able to work a full-time job and still manage to spend another 20 hours a week — sometimes 40 – volunteering for many of South Florida’s queer-oriented nonprofits, including Outshine Film Festival; Miami Beach Pride; National LGBTQ Task Force; Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau LGBTQ Tourism Advisory Committee; and Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce women’s council.

“I feel like I volunteered with pretty much everyone,” says Robbins, adding there are many benefits to volunteerism: “People volunteer because they want to meet people. They want to expand their social circle and they want to meet civically conscious people. Other people are doing it because they want to see change — social change — and they want more equality.”

Her current project will keep Robbins busy through mid-winter: She is coordinating the human-rights track of the 4Ward Americas symposium to be held Feb. 14 and 15 at Miami Beach Convention Center. The symposium is presented by 4Ward Miami, a nonprofit sponsored in part by the annual Gay8 Festival, next year on Feb. 16 in Little Havana.

“4Ward Miami attempts to coalesce diverse populations in order to heighten civic engagement, social justice, economic prosperity and general community well-being,” according to group co-chairman Damian Pardo, another well-known Miami LGBTQ activist.

Robbins helped run the first 4Ward Americas symposium, held last February at the University of Miami.

“What we did with the last conference, we had speakers from other regions. It was mainly geared for the local community to be able to build connections and learn about some of the issues going on in other regions,” says Robbins, deputy director of Global Ties Miami.

“We’re a nonprofit that works with citizen diplomacy,” she says of Global Ties Miami. “We do a lot of international business leadership programs with visitors who come to us from all over the world for various projects. It could be immigration, women’s empowerment, business.”

The second 4Ward Americas symposium will include tracks in civic engagement track headed by Pardo; health by Miami activist Paul Thomas; business by Steve Adkins, president of the LGBTQ chamber; youth and community by activist Bella Dunbar; and spirituality.

“Many believe there’s a crisis of self-worth that often masks itself by drugs, steroids, excessive promiscuity, and other forms of self-destructive behavior,” Pardo says. “Many LGBT people feel marginalized by organized religion. We hope to offer alternative ways of relating to their spirituality, and to inspire and empower attendees to higher levels of self-acceptance.”

Miami author Christian de la Huerta, who 20 years ago wrote the LGBTQ self-help book, “Coming Out Spiritually,” will lead four hours of symposium spirituality programming.

“As long as we keep rejecting, denying and stuffing at the back end of some closet somewhere any part of who we are — whether it’s our sexuality or our spirituality — there’s no way that we can have a sense of wholeness and a sense of completion, a sense of belonging,” de la Huerta says. “That’s why so many people struggle and that’s why the rate of addictions is so much higher in our community. The rate of suicide among our youth is still significantly higher. Because we’re talking about the fundamental existential questions.”

Robbins, 48, who grew up in Miami and St. Petersburg, spent her young adult years in the U.S. Navy, before and during the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She came out in her 30s. “I went through a rough period of doubting myself, questioning who I was. That was a struggle. It took I would say over a decade to really come to terms with it.”

Now married to Carmen Suero, who owns a Miami Beach dog-walking and pet-care service, Robbins says her story is not unique.

“It happens to so many LGBTQ people,” she says. “Religion is a primary source of that shame and guilt. What do you do with yourself when you grow up thinking that there’s something wrong with you? You feel shamed, you feel guilt.”

For Robbins, “the complexity of spirituality came full circle” when she began to study Kabbalah.

“It provided the missing link from the ‘Protestant work ethic’ emphasized by my mother and the Catholic guilt of being a ‘Good Samaritan’ from my father’s religion,” she says. “Kabbalah provided the purpose of why both matter. I believe in Tikkun Olam (the Jewish concept that acts of kindness can repair the world). Every day we have a choice whether we’re going to be a part of solutions or just add to the problems that exist.”