During the second repeal referendum on the Broward County Human Rights Ordinance (1999 to October, 2001, I was chair of Americans for Equality, the political action committee that successfully defeated the repeal effort, preserving freedom from discrimination for gays and lesbians in housing, workplace and places of public accomodation in Broward County: without these protections Wilton Drive could never have evolved. In the 1990s, gay bars were being raided and few had windows that opened onto the street due to fear of violence, it was not uncommon for the entrance to be in the rear of the building. The following is a transcript of the speech I gave at a Pride event in 1999.
I am proud to be here with you all tonight commemorating the Stonewall rebellion and remembering those we have lost to AIDS. Tonight is always particularly poignant for me as I lost my gay brother, Peter Bodiford, to AIDS in June of 1991. The prejudice he suffered both because he was a gay man and because he had AIDS and his courage during the brief two years between his diagnosis and his death pushed me out the closet forever and always, and galvanized me to fight for gay civil rights.
We were teenagers during the Stonewall rebellion. Two weeks after I was kicked out of my mother’s house for being gay, Peter, then 14, told me he was gay too. When we came out in 1972, we could be arrested for wearing gender inappropriate clothing - that included button fly jeans for women - and gay bar raids were not uncommon. But, we went anyway, because that was the only place to meet other gays in a somewhat normal social environment.
Today, after Ellen, after gay civil unions in Vermont, all that seems a lifetime ago. Young gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered people may still suffer harassment at school, but they do know there is a gay community. And the Bars are just one of many, many options - most of us feel that we are relatively safe, and relatively free to lead a normal life.
In fact, over the past several years we in Broward have had many victories. In 1995 we were successful in adding sexual orientation as a protected category in the County’s human rights ordinance, we have built a Gay and Lesbian Community Center, we have not one, but two, gay pride celebrations every year, and we have a Domestic Partnership Ordinance where we can register our committed relationships with the County!
These are huge accomplishments for our community, and we deserve to be proud. However, there exist those who would send us back to the closet, back to the parks and tearooms, those who feel ferociously that our very existence threatens thier way of life. If you read your email like I do you can’t ignore the warning signs that we are in a crisis for the gay rights movement.
In five of the six places where equal rights for gays were placed before the voters last year (1998) , the antigay forces won. Referendums banning marriage equality for same-sex couples passed easily in California, Nebraska and Nevada. In Ferndale, Michigan, voters repealed a local ordinance barring discrimination against gays. And in Maine, a law protecting gays against discrimination in jobs, housing and credit, went down to defeat at the hands of a well-funded referendum campaign by the Christian right.
Across the nation, the right-wing crusade to roll back gay civil rights gains and block further advances is gathering momentum. This year and next, there are at least thirteen antigay referendums in the works around the country. We've already lost the first one: Royal Oak, Michigan, outside Detroit -- now the gayest suburb in the state -- repealed an antidiscrimination ordinance for gays by a crushing margin of 2 to 1. These and other anti-gay campaigns were backed by the American Family Association (AFA), which boasts a $17 million annual budget. And here at home, the Christian right under the name Take Back Miami-Dade collected 51,000 signatures to place the 1998 gay rights ordinance on the ballot. Only SAVE DADE’s legal challenge to the validity of the signatures has staved off an election on the the repeal of Miami-Dade’s protections. Now it's up to the courts to decide whether the measure will be on the ballot this fall.
Here in Fort Lauderdale, a group deceptively called "Equal Rights Not Special Rights" has been formed to repeal the Broward County Human rights ordinance that makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon their sexual orientation. This group is highly sophisticated, well funded and highly motivated. Its very name, is deceptively designed to lull the public into believing it stands for equal rights. Nothing could be further from the truth!
If this petition drive is successful, it will be perfectly legal to fire us, deny us housing and refuse us access to public accommodations, just because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. The petitions are being circulated by paid petition gatherers and clearly and unequivocably aim at abolishing any civil rights for gays and lesbians here in Broward County. Yet, the groups website, as well as its petition gatherers, masquerade as the savior of the Boy Scouts, out to help save them from "being discriminated against" for their policy against gays. This group should have more honestly dubbed itself "Cowards Hiding Behind the Boy Scouts." The good news is, that I believe this effort here in Broward can be defeated. A recent survey of frequent Broward County voters showed that 85% believe discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong. The survey also showed that the majority of Broward voters would not sign the petitions if they knew that the true intent of of the signature campaign was to legalize discrimination against gays.
Americans for Equality: Empower Broward, is the political action committee formed to fight to keep Broward free of discrimination, and to defeat this signature petition effort. Your help is needed in the fight to defeat those who seek to turn back the clock, to drive us back into the closet, and legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation. Americans for Equality has launched an eduation campiagn called Decline to Sign to educate the public about the true intent of the signature petitions, and to encourage voters not to sign the petitions. If we are to be successful we need you! We need you to volunteer time, and contribute money for campaign materials and advertising.
I cannot urge you strongly enough, don’t be complacent. Our right to be free from discrimination, to know we can come out at work, not be afraid to hold our lover’s hand in our own front yard, to live an honest and open life, a life like everyone else, is under attack. Let us rise to up as a community and send a message to the American Family Association, the Christian Right, the Coral Ridge Ministries and especially to the cowardly bigots at who are behind this petition referendum, GAY RIGHTS ARE EQUAL RIGHTS! GAY RIGHTS ARE EQUAL RIGHTS! (Lead crowd in chant.)
(Subsequently, and ironically, just after our nation suffered the devastating attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, Take Back Broward turned in over 60,000 signed petitions - enough to force a vote on gay rights in Broward County. I marveled at the show put on by right wing bigots who showed up at the Miriam Oliphant’s office, then Supervisor of Elections, to oversee (with us) the validation process of the petitions. Weren’t we ALL Americans? How and why did they hate us so much. A seeming miracle occurred: Miriam, a long time gay ally, granted our request to individually examine each and every petition turned in (rather than a spot check), and our opposition was over 9,000 petitions short, due to falsification of petitions by petition canvassers! We had won, there was no election: Broward’s human rights ordinance protections for gays and lesbians was secure. At the time, and to the present day, AFE’s 1996 campaign and it’s 2001 campaign to halt a petition referendum on gay rights in the U.S., were the first and the only to succeed. Ominously, as recently as 2015, LGBT protections in the Houston Texas, ordinance were repealed by a petition referendum forcing the ordinance to a vote. )