Growing up straight in 1970s Miami Beach, Seth Gadinsky didn't give much thought to LGBTQ rights.
His mother, Elaine Gordon — who served in the Florida Legislature from 1972 to 1994 and died at 68 in 2000 — championed gay causes and the doomed Equal Rights Amendment. "The idea of civil rights, that was sort of ingrained in me," Gadinsky said.
Still, he said, "I don’t think I knew one person who appeared to be gay."
"Back then, the only people who were out were the more flamboyant — the interior designers. We had one — Pete. You could tell he was gay. He had all the quote 'stereotypes.'"
More than 40 years later, Gadinsky now knows a lot of LGBTQ people.
The Miami Beach real estate developer and wife Elizabeth "Liebe" are among the best-known straight allies in the nation. They served as marshals in the 2017 Miami Beach Gay Pride parade. And Thursday night, May 10, Miami-based Aqua Foundation for Women will honor Seth and Bacardi USA with Aqua Ally Awards.
"What I think is most special about Seth is the love you feel in his presence. And he’s present so often at so many of our events," said Robin Schwartz, managing director of Aqua Foundation, which serves South Florida's lesbian, bisexual and transgender community through grants, scholarships and initiatives.
"He has donated financially to just about every organization within the LGBT community and many outside the LGBT community in Miami," Schwartz said. "It’s easy to just write a check, but it shows true commitment when you give up your time and energy being at all these events. He’s always there — and with a big smile and open arms. He really is."
Seth and Liebe married in 1985. He's Jewish, she's Protestant.
"We made a deal that we would find a church and a temple we both felt comfortable with. That was our deal for getting married. No conversions. That wasn’t going to happen," Seth said. "We wanted to practice our faith to the way we had been practicing it. We wanted each other to feel comfortable.
"The temple was easy. Beth Sholom (a Reform Miami Beach synagogue) was an easy place to feel comfortable. Churches were a little more difficult. We ended up settling on the Methodist church, St. John’s on the Lake in Miami Beach. Their dogma was acceptable to me. And gay people were going there, as well."
At St. John's, Liebe became friendly with Terry Dewis, a gay neighbor in Miami Beach. Soon, they started Spirit, a group for gays and lesbians to explore their spirituality. Then Liebe got involved with SAVE, Miami-Dade County’s leading gay-rights group.
“I didn’t think I had anything to offer. I thought all men were created equal,” Liebe told the Miami Herald in 2014. “I didn’t realize that discrimination was embedded into the law.”
Seth and Liebe both got involved in the successful 1998 effort to pass a human-rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, where in 1977 singer Anita Bryant led a nationally charged campaign to repeal a similar law.
"When we got started with the process, we were appalled by the homophobia. We had never experienced it," Seth Gadinsky said. "Obviously, we are straight. But through the eyes of Terry and our friends who were at the church, we started to understand, not just the homophobia there, but really start to open up about what it was like being gay 25 years ago."
Gadinsky said that during the campaign to pass the human-rights law — and then successfully defend it at the polls in 2002 — he and Liebe worked up to 80 hours a week on LGBTQ rights.
Since then, he and Liebe have been active with the National LGBTQ Task Force (she previously served as national board co-chairwoman) and the Miami Foundation, which distributes money raised by the Task Force's annual gala and Winter Party.
"I feel really proud of Seth for his engagement and compassion for others and this cause," Liebe says. "But I also feel, personally, really supported. We’re a partnership. It feels so good to be in this partnership together."
Throughout the year, the Gadinskys — parents of grown daughters Naomi and Natasha — attend countless LGBTQ events and fundraisers.
Seth, 58, and Liebe, 57, are major fundraisers in the LGBTQ community, though Seth jokes he has no idea how much they spend.
"Liebe doesn’t tell me everything, not that I wouldn’t approve, but we’ll show up at events — I’ll never forget we went to a SAVE event a few years back and they pinned something on me. I said, 'Liebe, what did that cost us?'"
Gadinsky said he'd "be shocked" if he and Liebe donated "less than $25,000 a year" to LGBTQ causes. "But I don’t know. We support Equality Florida, the Task Force, Pridelines, the film festival, SAVE, Aqua."
As much as the Gadinskys give, Seth says they get back more.
"You’re shoulder to shoulder with people of a like mind, equally passionate, equally giving. And you forge these bonds that are unbreakable. So not only are you doing great work and just work, but you’re doing it and making lifelong friends. … We consider them our chosen family."
If you go
- What: Aqua Ally Awards honoring Seth Gadinsky and Bacardi USA
- Where: Bacardi USA, 2701 S. Le Jeune Rd., Coral Gables
- When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 10
- Tickets: $85, plus $6.79 fee, https://hrld.us/2HPZmzP