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The Fight in Florida: Where do we go from here?

There is no doubt about it- Nov 4th was a bittersweet and historic day.

Barack Obama shattered a glass ceiling by becoming the first African-American elected to the office of the Presidency.  But for many in the LGBT community, it was also a day of tremendous setbacks and the installation of a new and more confining ceiling of bigotry.  

Anti-gay amendments and propositions passed in numerous states- including here in Florida, where Amendment 2 (the so-called “Marriage Protection” Amendment) passed with a supermajority of 62%.  So that leaves many of us here in Florida wondering:

Where do we go from here?

Looking Back and Learning from our Mistakes

Obviously we are all upset and depressed.  Emotions are running high and the finger pointing has begun.  And while no one person, group, or demographic deserves all the “blame”, we do need to take a serious look as a community at what happened in the campaign and how we can learn from those mistakes.

Giving up the Minority Vote

One of the contributing factors to the passage of Amendment 2 that is already be talked about is the heavy turnout of the African-American and Latino Community and their overwhelming statistical support for Amendment 2.  It is important to realize that this vote is not the lone cause of Amendment 2 passing, but it is a realistic factor that needs to be looked at and addressed.  I do not think we need to “blame” anyone, but we need to look at strategy and outreach.

I think the failure on this rests squarely on our community’s shoulders, and that of the campaigns waged against Amendment 2.  We did not, as a whole and as a strategy, reach out and actively engage these communities.  Instead, we gave them over to the religious right, whose case for the Amendment was the only one they ever heard in their churches.  Where we did engage on an individual level (like Bilerico contributor and Law Professor Anthony Niedwiecki, who went to numerous town hall meetings and debates sponsored by the Urban League), our side was listened to and we changed hearts and minds.  By not doing this as a statewide campaign strategy, we let the other side win.

Divided and Conquered

We also allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered.  There where at least two separate campaigns – with different websites, branding, messages, and plans – going on simultaneously in Florida.  This was a waste of time, money, and energy.  How much more could we have done if we weren’t wasting money doing the same polling, focus groups, mailers, and websites?

Meanwhile, our opponents had one group, one message, and one plan.  And they won.

Community and Ally Apathy

We also failed to really get our own community up in arms about this amendment.  There were many dedicated activists working themselves into the ground, but many in the LGBT community where either too embittered by the history of anti-gay legislation in Florida or distracted by other causes and political races to throw their full weight behind Amendment 2.

We also failed to call in any political capital our community had earned with leaders and allies in the state.  It seems many in our movement are so used to taking whatever scraps are thrown from politicians that they will not reach out, twist some arms, and demand the people we supported support us.

I think Florida failed to really communicate with the national LGBT community and groups.  With the fight for marriage in California getting much of the attention, our state was left behind in funding and support.  I’m not sure we managed to stress how important the Florida battle was (we lost not just the right to marry- which we never had here- but perhaps even basic domestic partnerships rights).  

Where We Stand

So where do we stand right now in Florida?

Currently what has happened is that the ban on same-sex marriage has been written into the constitution.  Domestic partnerships registries and benefits still stand- for now.  There is sure to be a long legal fight ahead, led by the very same dishonest people behind the “Yes on 2” who said it wouldn’t affect domestic partnerships.  We have to be ready and able to fight this push that will surely come.

Also, I hope that the people from Florida Red & Blue continue their lawsuit against the illegal campaign tactics of Yes2Marriage and John Stemberger.  They need to be punished- and kept busy- which might delay or derail their future activities.

Plus, everyone needs to know how this battle was won- by lies, deceit, and illegal activities.

Moving Florida Forward

Where do we go from here?

One of the first things I think we should do is mirror what is happening in California.  We need to be protesting.  We need to be in the streets and letting people know what has happened.  This isn’t the time to sit quietly by and shrug our shoulders at another loss for the LGBT community in our state.  We need our statewide leaders and organizations to step up and galvanize our community and our allies.

And these protests need to extend to the groups (like the Florida Republican Party, the Catholic League, the Baptist League, and many other groups) that gave money and support to Amendment 2.  We need to hold politicians accountable- like Governor Crist and others- and make sure there are consequences for their support of hate and bigotry.

We also need to be having conversations like this- figuring out where we went wrong and how we overcome it.  Not in closed door meetings with the same leaders that ran these campaigns, but with the entire community.

I also think we need to be proactive.  We cannot wait for the religious right to take this to court and try to take away more of our rights.  We need to be shaping the argument now.  

Perhaps it is time for a push for an expanded, statewide domestic partnership registry.  Instead of having to fight back and go through the courts to define Amendment 2, let’s work to get our own progressive bill on the ballot and passed.  If there is overwhelming support for civil unions or domestic partnerships, like emails from the No on 2 Campaign say, then we need to act on it and secure our rights.

One thing is clear- we cannot keep sitting idly by while more of our rights are taken away.  We had our time to mourn this loss, but now it’s time to shake it off and move forward.

We need to regroup, get tough, and keep fighting.

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