The Agenda

Untold Story After Orlando Shooting Highlights Importance of LGBTQ Elected Officials

As media from around the world descended on Orlando to cover the tragic murder of 49 people at Pulse nightclub, Florida’s only openly LGBTQ state legislator initiated a surprising effort that took months to become public, and is emblematic of the many untold stories of LGBTQ elected officials working behind-the-scenes to advance LGBTQ equality.
After Florida Governor Rick Scott’s post-shooting remarks failed to mention LGBTQ people, openly gay state Representative David Richardson texted Scott’s chief of staff to complain, and urged him to acknowledge the LGBTQ lives lost. The exchange led to Richardson organizing and attending 10 meetings between Scott and the LGBTQ and Latino communities in the days following the attack, despite the governor’s long history of anti-LGBTQ comments and proposals.
“We didn’t talk about specific laws,” said Richardson, “but what he said to me privately and in the presence of his staff is that he’s a grandfather, and if any of his grandchildren happened to be gay, he would want them to be treated with dignity and respect and have their rights.”
Richardson’s previously undisclosed effort – revealed at a Victory Fund and Equality Forum panel at the Democratic National Convention last week – demonstrates the advocacy role of LGBTQ elected officials, and the impact they have on straight colleagues. Participants report Scott showed “genuine concern” for the community during the meetings, and the conversations with Richardson and LGBTQ victims appeared to humanize the community for the socially conservative governor. Richardson’s role as intermediary and Scott’s apparent evolution on LGBTQ equality aligns with recent Victory research showing LGBTQ lawmakers significantly influence the LGBTQ-related votes of straight lawmaker colleagues.
Victory-endorsed LGBTQ candidates also influenced and reinvigorated the gun safety debate in Florida following the attack. Carlos Guillermo Smith, candidate for Florida’s 49th house district which includes Orlando, has made numerous television appearances and given impassioned speeches about the shooting and the moral necessity of an assault weapons ban. Beth Tuura, candidate for Florida’s 47th house district which is home to Pulse, and Bob Poe, candidate for Florida’s 10th congressional district which includes Orlando, also led healing efforts for community members and aim to move forward gun safety legislation.
In a tragic time, LGBTQ elected officials and candidates became critical voices for the community and influential advocates for equality. Whether Scott publicly softens his anti-LGBTQ positions is a continued question, but Richardson’s work to build bridges and make change after such a disastrous event demonstrates the importance of having LGBTQ representation in elected office. 

Spotlight Candidates, State Legislature