He fought for gay rights and women's rights. Now he's retiring after 44 years.

Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU center, holds a press conference on April 5, 2000.
Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU center, holds a press conference on April 5, 2000. Miami Herald file

For 21 years, Howard Simon served as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, making him the longest serving director in the state.

But that streak will soon come to an end, Simon, 74. said Monday, announcing he would retire in November after the 2018 election.

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"It has been a thrill to be part of an organization that has so successfully defended and expanded human rights," he said in a statement.

He added: "It has been especially rewarding to work with so many partners over so many years for legal equality for gay men and lesbians, to protect the right to vote and, most recently, successfully protecting fundamental values of privacy and separation of church and state that were threatened by the current Constitution Revision Commission."

Before his appointment as executive director of the Florida affiliate in 1997, Simon led the fight to defend civil rights and liberties in Michigan, where he served as executive director since 1974.

According to the ACLU, Simon's cumulative 44-year career as a state director is the longest in the organization's 98-year history.

Howard Simon. Miami Herald File

Some of Simon's accomplishments drastically helped change public policy to advance civil rights in Florida.

"The organization challenged school book censorship in Miami-Dade schools in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court," the ACLU said in a statement. "The ACLU of Florida also successfully fought to change the way Floridians cast ballots and how those ballots are recorded following the 2000 election fiasco."

In 2010, gay men and lesbians were allowed to provide permanent, adoptive homes for children after a law was overturned. In 2015, the ACLU sued the state for refusing to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples recognized by other states. That resulted in a court ruling that brought marriage equality statewide.

Under Simon, the organization also challenged the state's stance on women's access to medial care, including the right to an abortion.

"I am grateful to those who have given me this career," Simon said. "It's been aggravating, nerve-wracking, sometimes heartbreaking — but ultimately a rewarding 44 years.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan