When Jessica Fernandez became president of the Miami Young Republicans more than four years ago, the first person to reach out to her and offer a helping hand was Mimi Planas. As the former president of the Miami chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest Republican organization representing LGBTQ conservatives and allies, Planas wanted to share her knowledge and leadership experience with Fernandez.
“She became a mentor to me,” Fernandez said. And as the two became closer, Fernandez became aware of workplace discrimination too many LGBTQ people in Miami faced after employers found out about their sexual orientation.
“It was shocking to me. I always thought this kind of discrimination didn’t really happen in Miami, but I was fooling myself,” she admitted.
After learning that her friends and people she cared about had suffered — and being a Cuban-American and hearing stories of the human rights abuses in Cuba — it was hard to hear that this was happening in her own community.
“I couldn’t sit by idly while people I love were suffering and being discriminated to their face,” she said.
Last July, Fernandez launched SAVE’s Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality, an initiative designed to gather and mobilize conservative leaders in the state to support LGBTQ equality initiatives. So far she’s gotten close to 300 top-level conservatives to sign a petition that says they’re both center-right and also supporters of LGBTQ equality in the workplace.
“As the conservative movement continues, it needs to include people representing all Americans and Floridians, including the LGBTQ community, which many people who are conservatives are part of,” she said.
Some of the people who have supported this initiative include Miami Commissioner and mayoral candidate Francis Suarez, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno A. Barreiro, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Fernandez also wants to engage business leaders in Florida, too.
“We’re focusing on leveraging relationships and connections with the business community to drive the conversation and push this not just at the legislative level but the executive level as well.”
To this end, Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality showcased an economic study demonstrating a $3.5 billion boost to the Florida economy if the legislature passes workplace equality legislation. They’ve also hosted local events, as well as events in Tallahassee, aimed at educating lawmakers and cultivating conservative allies for the LGBTQ community.
“These can be my friends, family, and people I care about and they shouldn’t be kicked out because a landlord found out you’re gay. That’s not acceptable in civil society,” Fernandez said.
Why is this important?
LGBTQ rights is not a red or blue issue, it’s a human issue. This sends a clear message that equality is a conservative value, that equality is a nonpartisan issue.
Where South Florida stands
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine all support workplace equality legislation, but at the statewide level there’s still no law protecting the employment rights of LGBTQ workers. In Miami-Dade and Broward County, there are local protections for LGBTQ workers, however.
What cities are doing best
South Florida cities have been leaders in LGBTQ rights, but there is always room for improvement, says Fernandez.
How can we do better?
Urging local conservative leaders to sign on to this movement, while also petitioning state leaders for statewide legislation on LGBTQ rights.
How do I get involved?
To support LGBTQ rights, contact your representatives and state legislators. Attend Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality events and sign the petition. Make a phone call to the governor and lieutenant governor and express your support for equality. “For so long conservatives haven’t had this as an issue that is important to them but if constituents share that with them, it may be,” Fernandez said. To join CRSE, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.