Robin Bodiford is a local girl, born in Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. Soon after college and disgusted with the Anita Bryant debacle, she packed up her girlfriend and her two dogs, and left Florida with her gay brother and his boyfriend. She didn’t tell her parents that they were headed to California.
“What’s the first thing I did in Los Angeles? I made my brother’s boyfriend drive me to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to find Judy Garland’s spot on the sidewalk and put my hands and feet in her prints. I have a letter she wrote to me, thanking me for a get-well card I sent her after she had tried to kill herself. I always said I’m a gay man trapped in a lesbian’s body.”
Her brother died of AIDS in 1991. She was his primary care giver, and their parents had moved to California to help. After his passing, all three returned to Florida.
“When I moved back, I got involved in gay rights. I was mad as hell and I had this feeling that no one can push me around and that I had nothing left to lose. This was at a time when most lawyers were very closeted. Wilton Manors was becoming a stronger gay community, but even on the Drive, everything was behind closed doors. I was used to the big open gay pride parades in L.A. where you could get people to turn out in the thousands at the drop of a hat. Here, I think it is the more transient nature of the residents that makes them less inclined to become involved.”
In her queer activism, she was her own woman, choosing her battles and holding strong opinions about strategy.
“I did not agree with the whole ‘Flush Mayor Naugle’ thing. I thought that idea was bad. It put us on the national stage, but it ended up giving Naugle a national platform he otherwise would not have had. Before that, he was just a local homophobe. I do think the fight was cathartic for our community. I think Naugle’s now back to being nobody. His being on Wiki got me on Wiki where they quoted an article I wrote. Naugle said ‘I don’t hate gay people, I am friends with Robin Bodiford.’ I wrote a rebuttal.”
In 1993, Suzanne Gunzburger tapped her to run the campaign to amend the human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation as a protected class. For this battle, she joined forces with Attorney Dean Trantalis, and with Attorney Alan Terl who died of AIDS in 1997.
“Alan was very well acquainted with how things worked in Broward County. When it finally came time to go before the commission, there were hundreds who were pro the amendment, and hundreds con. I spoke instead of Alan because he had gotten picked up at Dania beach for pulling out his dick. We figured he ought to lie low. The amendment passed. At the time there were 7 county commissioners. The only one who voted against us was John Rodstrom who is still a commissioner. Later, through redistricting, he ended up with a larger gay constituency and tried to make himself seem more gay-friendly, but he never honored his promise to support same-sex domestic partnerships.
“Things got more sophisticated when this came up for a vote a few years later. Groups like Calvary Chapel hired professional canvassers to pass petitions. Much of what they did was deceptive. If Miriam Oliphant had just spot-checked rather than shut down her office to examine the petitions, all that garbage would not have come to light. This was just after 9/11 when I felt so strongly American, but I had to sit across from some rabid homophobic nut case while the petitions were counted. Miriam found fraud and we won.
As an activist lady lawyer, Robin acquired flair from a master. She says, “I learned from Gloria Allred how to hog the camera. How to smile. How to keep talking.”
Limited space does not permit the presentation of much of what Attorney Robin Bodiford shared during this brief interview about the early days of queer activism in Broward county. Look for more of her recollections in future issues of SFGN. Should you feel inclined to offer a word of thanks to a true local equality hero who has earned the right to hog a camera and keep talking, call her office.