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Top Miami-area mayors to lunch Thursday with gay activists, business people

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, SROTHAUS@MIAMIHERALD.COM

423Four of the most powerful mayors in Miami-Dade County will meet Thursday for lunch with the state’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political and business activists.

“It’s the first of what we hope will be an annual interchange between elected officials, community advocacy leaders and the business community, the LGBTA community, A being allies,” said Steve Adkins, president of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing a gay “State of Our Community” luncheon sponsored by Shutts & Bowen law firm.

The mayors — Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade County, Tomás Regalado of Miami, Matti Herrera Bower of Miami Beach and Jim Cason of Coral Gables — will discuss local and national issues with Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of statewide Equality Florida, and C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, the county’s leading gay-rights group. The public is also welcome, with space for up to 200 people.

“In speaking to the mayors, and this audience in particular, one thing we want to emphasize is how corporate America has come to realize how important quality of life in a community is to attracting top talent,” Pollitzer said. “Strong nondiscrimination policies are something prospective employees look at when they’re making decisions where they want to live and work. We are partnering with local allies across the state to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances, including sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Many Florida jurisdictions already have gay-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. “Ten million people in Florida live in a community that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Pollitzer said. “Half the state include gender identity, as well, including most metropolitan areas.”

Miami-Dade County’s antidiscrimination law does not include gender identity. Similar laws in Monroe, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Volusia and Leon counties do, Pollitzer said.

“Most sexual orientation discrimination is based on gender expression, not sexual orientation alone,” he said, citing subtle reasons given for firing workers who don’t conform to traditional gender roles: “We have gay employees, but he didn’t just fit in, and this person wasn’t feminine enough.”

Other issues Ortuño plans to address:

  • Stronger anti-bullying policies in Miami-Dade County schools.
  • Hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples and their families throughout South Florida.
  • Relationships recognition in the form of domestic partnerships.

“There’s a lot at stake,” Ortuño said, adding that gay activists must remain vigilant about keeping recent political gains, including repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and a state appeals court overturn of Florida’s ban on gay parents adopting.

“When we have immediate wins, they’re susceptible to being overturned,” Ortuño said. “If we get the right people elected, they’ll carry the torch for us.”

Many of South Florida’s elected officials strongly support the local gay community.

“Human rights is not limited to human rights in Cuba or Haiti. Human rights should cover everyone,” Miami’s Regalado said.

“The gay and lesbian community has tremendous clout in politics, but they also are victims of bullying,” he said, adding that schools and police must better address and enforce current anti-bullying laws.

Regalado, who voted for Miami’s nondiscrimination ordinance in 2008, said he is kept keenly aware of gay issues by his longtime city office manager, Eric Duran, a gay man.

The mayor was a local broadcast journalist in 1977 when singer Anita Bryant famously led a repeal of the county’s first gay-rights ordinance.

“It was to me like we were on another planet,” Regalado recalled. “People in the Cuban community said, ‘Why [are we discussing] this? Everyone has one in the family, but we just don’t talk about it.’ They seemed amazed by the whole debate.”

Thirty-five years later, the world has changed, he said: “This is not a taboo issue that you can’t discuss. People are comfortable talking about the issues of the gay and lesbian community.”

IF YOU GO

What: The gay “State of Our Community” luncheon sponsored by Shutts & Bowen

When: Begins 11:30 a.m. Thursday

Where: Hilton Miami Downtown, 1601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

Tickets: $35 (Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce members), $45 nonmembers. Valet and self parking.

The chamber will hold its fourth annual LGBT Explore / EXPO from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Moore Building, 191 NE 40th St. in Miami’s Design District. A reception follows at Alberto Linero Gallery, 2294 NW Second Ave. Free.

Luncheon reservations or more information: mdglcc@bellsouth.net, 305-673-4440 or 786-586-4286.

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