[Editor’s Note: CL asked the 2015 St. Pete Pride Parade Grand Marshals — Larry Biddle, Ashley Brundage, Nick Janovsky and Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas (represented by its president, Susan McGrath) — to talk about the experiences that have inspired their work with the community. The interviews, conducted via email, were condensed and edited for publication.]
STONEWALL DEMOCRATS of PINELLAS: Winning elections
The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas was formed in 2004 by a small group of Democrats dedicated to advancing equality for all people, regardless of sexual identity, gender expression or gender identity.
The group works tirelessly to get equality-minded candidates elected to office and equality-minded legislation passed. Their efforts have contributed to many victories, including helping to elect the first openly gay city council member in St. Petersburg’s history.
What are some of the key moments in the history of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas? What are some of the group's more memorable experiences working with the local LGBT community? Why do these moments stand out?
Susan McGrath, president, Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas: Much has been achieved for LGBT equality in the short 10 years the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas have been working to support pro-equality candidates and bring awareness to issues faced by the community.
On a national level, we’ve seen a sitting president repeal Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and come out in full support of marriage equality.
On a local level, we’ve seen the people of St. Petersburg make a strong statement by electing three of eight openly LGBT members to the city council. Steve Kornell, Darden Rice and Amy Foster all faced attacks for being gay, but voters were clearly more concerned with job performance and ability than sexual orientation.
At the county level, in 2008 when the Human Rights Ordinance was passed, there was not support to include gender identity and gender expression protections. The Stonewall Democrats never forgot that transgender brothers and sisters were left behind. When candidates sought the endorsement, we had the conversation with them about how important it is. When endorsed candidates, Charlie Justice and Janet Long were elected, the votes were there. It was a victory for transgender people and all that care about equality.
What are some occasions in LGBT history that have inspired the Stonewall Democrats' community involvement?
In addition to the victories mentioned previously, Michael Smith ran for Largo commissioner against an openly anti-equality sitting commissioner that had led the fight against Susan Stanton, when she transitioned as city manager. Again, despite being attacked for being gay, Michael won that race with an eight-point lead.
Additionally, when Mayor Rick Kriseman was elected, it was a tremendous shift in recognition of the LGBT community in St. Petersburg. For the first time, a sitting mayor walked in the St. Pete Pride Parade. Mayor Kriseman put policy in place that raised the city’s municipal equality index from the sixties to 100. He also expressed historic support by raising the rainbow flag over city hall.
As the fight for equality moves forward, what are some changes the organization hopes to see in the near future? What about beyond that?
The Stonewall Democrats will continue to support candidates that support equality. While we will see marriage equality, there are no statewide protections for employment, housing and accommodations. There is still much work to be done for the rights of transgender individuals and creating safe, positive environments for youth.
Elections have consequences and the LGBT community gets that, voting at twice the ratio as the general public. We can have cities, a state and a country where all are treated equally, but only when we all show up.