Change agent Nadine Smith has been fighting for LGBT equality for over three decades. She founded Equality Florida, the state's leading LGBT education and advocacy organization in 1997. While she started out as a journalist, Smith burst onto the activist scene as the first openly gay African American to run for Tampa City Council in 1991. She has not slowed down since. Equality Florida has grown to encompass cities throughout the state of Florida and Smith continues the fight for equality locally and nationally.
Years in St. Pete
more than 20 years.
Organizations involved in
Equality Florida was actually founded in the Tampa Bay area and is headquartered in St. Petersburg. That has been my full time job for more than two decades now.
What gets you out of bed every day?
Usually my seven year old jumping on me and demanding a snuggle party. But the work helps me put my feet on the ground and I get to work with an amazing team of people. We can measure the difference we’ve made from the founding of Equality Florida til today and that inspired me to keep going.
Why St. Pete?
I’ve lived in Tampa, I’ve lived in Clearwater, and I’ve lived in St. Pete. I choose to stay here because I think it has the features of a small town, you get to know people, you can run into the mayor as you have breakfast. But it also has a varied social scene – arts, culture, people who even in retirement can bring their skills and expertise to the area. We have a place where people are just getting started out of university and its physically beautiful. It feels like a city on the brink of even better things.
What is one habit that you keep?
I’ll interrupt any meeting and any circumstance to answer the phone if my wife calls.
Who are some people that influence you?
My family – and there were activists in my family. My grandparents were part of the first integrated farming cooperative in Mississippi. My grandfather was part of organizing sharecroppers to stand up to racism. But beyond that, in terms of historical figures, Ida B. Wells is a real hero. She’s someone whose name a lot of people don’t know. But she led the anti-lynching crusades, she was a journalist, she was an activist. She was fearless and if she wasn’t fearless she did it anyway. She made a tremendous difference under circumstances that were very dangerous to speak out on.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
The night before writing the three things that I want to accomplish the next day. I stick to that list, and it seems very very simple but its the most effective time management tool I have ever had.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
I wish I had anticipated just how much of a convulsion the demographic shift in America would create. That has paved the way for the Trump administration to appeal so nakedly to fear. We’ve talked about demographic shift as if it is simply inevitable – which it is. But I think we underestimated, collectively, how much fear and anti-immigrant backlash it would embolden. How much racist rhetoric it would disinhibit people from engaging in. I think it poses a significant threat to our democracy that is going to require is to do more than simply think that we can wait it out.
I watch the students from Parkland and other places organizing with a sense of urgency that is a critical part of the successes they’ve had. I think there is an emerging demographic that is impatient for change. There is a demographer out of North Carolina who says we are increasingly a national of older white people and younger brown people and that we have to deal with that reality. But I also think we are a nation of young people who are disappointed with the generation ahead of them. For the failure to take on issues like gun violence, like discrimination. We see millennials who the workforce is saying they will choose the quality of place over what the job pays because they want to live in places where they can be their full selves. And I think what is next is for organizations and communities and corporations to recognize that that shift has already occurred.