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David Richardson, Florida's first openly gay legislator, to be honored Friday by SAVE Dade

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Forensic accountant David Richardson, Florida’s first openly gay state lawmaker, planned to take things slowly when he got to Tallahassee this year for his legislative debut.

Then, the first time Richardson addressed the House, he discussed life as a gay man.

“The first time I spoke on the floor was when I filed an amendment to a foster care bill,” said Richardson, 56. “There I was making my first argument about why a gay foster kid should be protected in our state foster care system.”

“I am that child,” the freshman lawmaker told colleagues in an emotional statement later posted to YouTube.

His suggestion “failed on voice vote, after the Republican bill sponsor announced it was an ‘unfriendly’ amendment,” said Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat. “However, it was a success in just having the issue debated on the House floor.”

Richardson and two straight, gay-friendly politicians, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, will be honored Friday by SAVE Dade, the county’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group.

SAVE Dade strongly supported Richardson in his first political campaign last summer. Voters elected him without Republican opposition in August. Joe Saunders, a gay man from Central Florida, was elected to the House in November’s general election.

“David’s major accomplishment is breaking the lavender ceiling in the state of Florida,” said C.J. Ortuño, SAVE Dade’s executive director. “We always knew his election, albeit exciting and history making, was only the beginning. The real work is the work he’s putting in day in and day out as a lawmaker.”

Richardson said his biggest achievement this session was not gay related: He filed a House bill to require an inspector general for Citizens Property Insurance.

“In the end, the language of my bill was rolled into an omnibus Citizens Property Insurance bill and that’s the bill that was passed by both the Senate and the House,” he said. “My bill was heard and passed unanimously by the House of Representatives.”

SAVE Dade “knew we were not sending a gay-rights activist to Tallahassee,” Ortuño said. “We were sending a businessman who happened to be gay.”

Ortuño also spoke highly of honorees Garcia and Sosa.

“Joe has been a longtime supporter, way before he was an elected official,” Ortuño said. “As a Cuban-American leader, he alone made a tremendous amount of progress within that community, a community that traditionally has been at odds with our issues.”

Garcia, former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, lobbied in favor of a countywide gay-rights ordinance, passed in 1998 and upheld in a public vote four years later. “He did Spanish radio for us and he had conversations in our community on behalf of us. He was a messenger in our community at a time when there weren't too many straight Cuban-American allies speaking up,” Ortuño said.

Sosa, a Republican who holds a nonpartisan commission seat, also has been a dependable ally, Ortuño said.

“As a county commissioner, she has a pro-equality voting record and voted in favor of the domestic partner ordinance and registry. She also, as the chairwoman, will be one of the sponsors of the trans-inclusive human-rights ordinance we are working on.”

Sosa is an example of someone who has personally “evolved” on gay rights, Ortuño said. “There are some folks who know her who would say that where she is, she might not have been 30 years or so.”

IF YOU GO

SAVE Dade’s Champions of Equality reception is 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Miami Downtown hotel, 1601 Biscayne Blvd. Tickets $100. www.savedade.org/champions.

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