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Read the letter from South Florida gay activists and Equality Florida’s response

Here’s the complete letter sent Tuesday, July 27, 2010, by South Florida gay leaders to Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith:

Dear Nadine,

We are writing to again express our displeasure and frustration with Equality Florida’s endorsement process and unilateral engagement in local political races.

As leaders of local lesbian and gay rights organizations, our membership and focus is often at the city or county level. Because of our local focus, we care deeply about who represents us in these offices and believe we have valuable experience, insights and history with many of the candidates or elected officials seeking local office.

Not for the first time, Equality Florida has issued formal endorsements in some local races in our communities without discussion or even notice, even after many of us specifically reached out Equality Florida to express the importance of your attention to certain local campaigns & candidates. In some cases, we learned of Equality Florida’s endorsements from the candidates themselves who, because they had support from Equality Florida, expected our default support. In many cases, our organizations had not even concluded our screening and support process.

In addition, we know in several cases where Equality Florida issued unilateral endorsements in local races, there was no process at all. Not all candidates for these local offices were even invited to seek Equality Florida’s support.

While Equality Florida may not see this as a problem, we have to deal with the consequences. Win or lose on your endorsements, Equality Florida has the luxury of going home. For us, this is home.

Since Equality Florida bills itself as a state organization, we’re not even certain why there is such a focus on local politics in our area. It would be a different matter, of course, if no local organization existed to review these important candidates and races. But this case, each of our local organizations is well established and respected.

In addition, when Equality Florida endorses a local candidate without collaboration or consultation it puts our organization in an impossible position. What are we to do when we reach a different conclusion than Equality Florida? Issuing our own, often more informed, endorsements will inevitably expose disagreements in our community and weaken our common purpose.

We know collaboration is possible. When national gay and lesbian organizations such as Victory Fund or HRC are considering even national endorsements in our area, they reach out to us and seek our opinion. And yet, even on local races, Equality Florida seems to reach out by press release.

To be clear, we fully support collaboration on races and political action where we have common purpose such as state legislative races in our areas. We are certain we have valuable information to share about these opportunities that we believe any thorough process would seek to include.  This year, even in state legislative races, Equality Florida issued endorsements on its own exposing us to the consequences of disappointed, irate or confused candidates and office holders.

We clearly understand that Equality is not required to meet with any local group to give out endorsements, but collectively, we are again asking that Equality Florida actively seek our input on political actions and endorsements which impact us as residents and our organizations and where possible refrain entirely from issuing exclusive endorsements in local races.

With hope that Equality Florida can correct this action over the remainder of the 2010 elections and in the future, we look forward to being a continued partner in the fight for equality.

Sincerely,

C.J. Ortuno
SAVE Dade Action PAC

Herb Sosa
Unity Coalition|Coalicion Unida

Rand Hoch
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance

Ryan Terrell, Founder
Broward County Council of Gay-Straight Alliances

Brandon Young, President
Leon County GSA Council

CC: Equality Florida Board of Directors

Here’s Equality Florida’s complete response from Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer and his description of the group’s endorsement process:

“We work closely with local leaders and organizations across the state and share information. We also work with our members and leadership volunteers in each community.  It is always wise for us to talk with local organizers and for them to talk with us to ensure we know as much as possible about candidates seeking the support of the LGBT community. We have been in communication with organizations included in this letter, and as our PAC Board prepares to make it's final decisions for the primary we will be taking their endorsements and input into consideration.”

“In addition to asking local groups for their insights regarding candidates, we have extended an open offer to share with local groups what we have learned from our candidate questionnaires, from our members across the state, and from our more than 10 years of experience working in Tallahassee which gives us the best vantage point for determining the difference between what candidates promise during campaigns and what they deliver for our community in Tallahassee. As we move into the general election we hope that our local allies will also take advantage of this tremendous resource Equality Florida can provide.”

Our Process:

Equality Florida Action PAC has a statewide advisory board with representatives from across Florida who review hundreds of races each election for possible endorsement based on the following objective criteria.  We send questionnaires to over 1,000 candidates statewide.  We also consult with state and local organizations and allies to get their input on potential endorsements. We review what other endorsements candidates have received from publications, organizations, and individuals.  We research candidate fundraising records and evaluate campaign infrastructures to assess their competitiveness.  Equality Florida has over 133,000 members and supporters across the state, including more than 10,000 in Miami Dade county, and we work closely with our people on the ground to ensure our endorsement decisions are thoroughly vetted and include local knowledge and input.

We make endorsements in local and state races, but we do not make endorsements in federal races.  If no candidate qualifies for an endorsement, we may recommend a candidate we believe is very strong on LGBT issues but who has not met all of our endorsement criteria.  If we do not endorse or recommend a candidate, we may provide comparisons showing where candidates stand on LGBT issues.

We share our endorsements, recommendations, and candidate comparisons with our more than 133,000 members and supporters statewide.  In the 2008 election cycle, over 80% of Equality Florida Action PAC's endorsed candidates were elected.


Our Criteria:

  1. We support qualified openly LGBT candidates who bring a vital perspective and much-needed voice to the political debates that impact our lives.
  1. We support champions of LGBT Equality, gay and straight. A candidate must, at a minimum, take the following positions:
    1. Support a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations
    2. Support an end to Florida’s ban on gay and lesbian adoption
    3. Support safe schools laws that protect LGBT students
    4. Support legal recognition for our relationships including Domestic Partnership and Civil Unions (Preference will be given to candidates who also support marriage equality)
    5. Support a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy

(Note: A candidate’s record will also be considered and a track record of support will be given greater weight than promises of future support.)

  1. We support candidates who are running strong, competitive races. We look at:
    1. Money raised
    2. Endorsements Received
    3. Incumbency
    4. Grassroots / Volunteer Infrastructure

Our Goal:

To highlight the key races throughout Florida where LGBT Champions are running strong campaigns and where your support will make a difference.

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