On Saturday night, Nov. 19, 2016, the National LGBTQ Task Force honored me with the 2016 Eddy McIntyre Community Service Award at its 20th annual Gala Miami. (The event was originally planned for Oct. 8, but postponed because of Hurricane Matthew.) This is the transcript of my acceptance speech, which I presented to more than 700 attendees at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach:
Readers and friends sometimes ask why I quote people “on the other side” of LGBTQ rights issues.
The answer is always the same: It’s my job.
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These days we live in vacuums, social networking only with people who think the way we do and often unfriending folks we disagree with. We watch only the news channels we enjoy and read only the websites we agree with.
More than ever, journalists today must share opposing points of view — you should know what other people are thinking, even if you disagree with them. That provides you with information that helps in decision making, such as who to vote for.
Earlier this year, Columbia Journalism Review officially declared me “an LGBT pioneer in mainstream journalism.”
Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz was quoted in the article: “Not only does he tell our stories, he gives us access to the broader world and gives the broader world access to us.”
That’s exactly it.
Until the mid 1970s, we were underrepresented in the mainstream media — except when groups of “perverts” got arrested in bars and public parks. The average person didn’t know anyone LGBTQ —or so they thought.
Most of us in this room know about the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, but I say the modern LGBTQ rights movement started eight year later right here in Miami. This is ground zero.
At the end of 1976, newly elected Miami-Dade Commissioner Ruth Shack introduced a county ordinance that banned discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of “affectional or sexual preference.”
On a single Sunday in early 1977, antigay church activists led by singer and Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant collected nearly 12,000 petitions demanding a referendum.
Suddenly, Miami’s gay-rights battle became the leading topic in living rooms across the nation. Network news anchors including Walter Cronkite reported the acrimonious Spring 1977 campaign and Newsweek even ran a cover story, “Battle Over Gay Rights: Anita Bryant vs. The Homosexuals.”
Even the Miami Herald sided with Bryant and recommended the law be repealed. That June, 70 percent of Dade voters sided with Bryant (and the Herald) to “Save Our Children” and repeal the law.
“This is what heterosexuals do fellas,” Bryant’s husband Bob Green said that night on live television as he kissed his wife in victory.
“Tonight, the laws of God and the cultural values of man have been vindicated,” Bryant then said. “The people of Dade County – the normal majority – have said enough, enough, enough.”
Oh, and later that year, the Florida Legislature banned gays and lesbians from adopting.
State Sen. Curtis Peterson announced the Legislature was sending a message to gay men and women: “We’re really tired of you. We wish you’d go back into the closet.”
That mess took 33 years to undo, when in 2010 Martin Gill of North Miami officially became adoptive father to his two foster sons.
And some of you didn’t want to get out of bed on Nov. 9?
Imagine how it felt to LGBTQ people nearly 40 years ago, when there was virtually no infrastructure in place to offer support — or hope — for the future.
Somehow, we got through it. And then, just a few years later, it got even worse. AIDS decimated an entire generation of our friends and families.
But as a community, we survived and together we slowly rebuilt our lives and our community.
In 1992, my husband Ric Katz, Clark Reynolds and other local business people convinced Miami Beach commissioners to pass a citywide ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
And six years later – 21 after Anita Bryant, Miami-Dade County finally restored its own nondiscrimination law.
This time, though, the Herald and other big businesses sided with equality, and in 2002 — with political help from the Task Force — the law narrowly withstood a public vote.
I arrived at the Herald in 1985, only eight years after the Anita Bryant campaign. My first job: monitoring the police scanners. I became a Neighbors reporter in 1987 and in 1988 wrote my first LGBT story, about a Coral Gables police lieutenant accused of having a “homosexual relationship” with a local florist.
Coral Gables Police demoted the lieutenant to sergeant weeks before the investigation was even concluded. And in the end, nothing could be proven.
The next year, the Herald sent me to Key West, where I covered Monroe County, the local gay community and the deadly AIDS crisis — at the time Key West had the highest AIDS rate in the entire nation.
Next, I covered the Broward Sheriff’s Office. In May 1991, I reported on South Florida’s last major gay bar raid, in which 100 armed officers, masked drug agents and the U.S. Border Patrol raided the Copa and Club 21 nightclubs.
Publicity-seeking Sheriff Nick Navarro, his wife Sharron, visiting Russian dignitaries and TV news crews showed up to watch as deputies interrogated and humiliated dozens of men, threatening to tell their families and employers that they were questioned during the gay bar raids.
The turning point for me came in 1997, the summer gay fashion icon Gianni Versace was slain on the steps outside his Ocean Drive mansion.
Realizing we had no one on staff covering South Florida’s growing LGBT community, editors asked me to take the assignment.
I agreed with one condition: My stories needed to run everywhere in the Herald’s circulation area, not just zoned to places like Miami Beach. My editors agreed.
At first, my stories ran in Neighbors, in a column called “Outlooks.” Soon, the column moved to Tropical Life and eventually the stories became integrated throughout the paper:
Here are a few images from some of the stories I’ve covered:
▪ In 1998, faculty advisor Gisela Vega and students launch a new Stonewall Student Union at Florida International University.
▪ Eighteen years later, FIU President Mark Rosenberg rides in the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade.
▪ In 2000, Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz and just-widowed client Frank Gagliano stand outside the Broward Courthouse, speaking out after Gagliano lost all his possessions to his late partner’s family. NBC 6 cameraman Rob Pierce had been killed in a TV helicopter crash – and he left no will. Gagliano had no legal recourse.
▪ Fifteen years later, on Jan. 5, 2015, Schwartz celebrates on the Miami-Dade Courthouse steps with six same-sex couples who had just won the right to marry immediately.
▪ LBT women plan the 2001 Aqua Girl festival to raise money for a newly established women’s health fund.
▪ In 2001, Pridelines youth Josue ‘Josh’ Santiago rehearses for the group’s upcoming LGBT prom.
▪ The same year, Temple Israel of Greater Miami launches Ru’ach, a fellowship for LGBT synagogue members.
▪ In 2002, the Bears of South Florida club has a holiday toy drive for sick children. They gave away teddy bears. A few middle-age male editors at the Herald – who look very much like the men in the bear club – are are less-than-happy with this photo.
▪ Then-U.S. Sen, Hillary Clinton is guest speaker at the 2002 Gay Foundation of South Florida dinner, the event that a few years later evolved into this one.
▪ In 2003, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, tells the Herald that her views are evolving on LGBT issues, thanks to conversations with her children, Amanda and Patty. Two years later, Ros-Lehtinen and her husband, former acting U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, announce their support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the military ban on gay soldiers.
In 2009, Ros-Lehtinen becomes a co-sponsor of ENDA, the 2009 Employee Nondiscrimination Act.
About this time, she learns Amanda has transitioned and in now Rodrigo Lehtinen, an activist working for the Task Force.
▪ Earlier this year, the Lehtinens and SAVE make and introduce a national video for other families with trans children. “Family is everything, “ Ros-Lehtinen says in the video. “Our son is transgender. We loved him as Amanda, and now as Rodrigo. ... At first, we had a lot of questions, but as parents we love and support our children.”
▪ In 2004, the Gay Foundation of South Florida fails and its two signature events, Winter Party and this dinner, are bought by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, now the National LGBTQ Task Force.
▪ Just one year later, the Task Force produces both a successful Winter Party and a Miami Gala, and through the Miami Foundation’s new GLBT Community Projects Fund donates $130,000 to 10 local gay charities.
▪ In 2007, South Florida’s LGBTQ and legal communities were shocked when activist and attorney Eddy McIntyre, 47, hanged himself inside his Miami Shores garage. The Task Force named this community service award for Eddy, and his family and friends used the tragedy to shine a light on a then-unspoken topic: suicide and the LGBT community.
▪ After years without any major gay pride festivities in the Miami area, Cindy Brown and a group of volunteers produced the first Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade in 2009. Expecting perhaps a few thousand attendees, more than 15,000 showed up.
▪ The annual event has grown bigger and bigger each year, and has attracted celebrity grand marshals including Gloria Estefan, Andy Cohen and Chaz Bono. Last April’s parade and three-day festival attracted an estimated 130,000 people.
▪ Our community keeps growing and continues to mature. Now, Miami Herald Media Co. has an LGBTQ magazine called Palette. Earlier this year, I wrote a cover story about how a younger generation of gay men – many who’ve never actually met anyone who died of AIDS – are using PrEP to protect themselves from contracting HIV.
▪ Even our parties have diversified. In January, thousands of LGBTQ people and allies celebrate on Calle Ocho with a brand new Gay8 Festival in Little Havana.
For decades, we’ve done great work in our community and have enriched the lives of so many people.
Now more than ever, we need to protect the progress we’ve made and to look ahead to making South Florida an even better place for LGBTQ people to live, work and vacation in.
It won’t be easy.
It never has been.
Since Nov. 8, we’ve heard constant discussion about Donald Trump’s surprise victory and what that might mean for LGBTQ rights around the nation and the world. But much of the impact, including laws that could give religious exemptions to antigay forces, would be passed at the state level.
Here in Miami-Dade County, Florida Senate District 38 has just been won by perhaps the most anti-LGBT Democrat in the Florida House. Many, if not most of you here tonight, live in Senate District 38, which encompasses all of Miami Beach, Aventura, and the coastal bay neighborhoods from Arsht Center to Hallandale.
This was not the speech I thought I’d give on Oct. 8. But what hasn’t changed is this:
As we sit here in the glamorous Fontainebleau ballroom, enjoying our dinner — some folks even planning to stay overnight — there are abandoned LGBTQ youth in our own community who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight or with whom.
That is the real reason for this fundraising gala and why we each do what we do. Now, more than ever, the people in this room must not forget the mission or slow down for even a moment.
Happy Thanksgiving and thank you very, very much. Good night