Meet the local activist leading the charge for LGBTQ+ rights

For over three decades of marching into the presidential office and debating with governors about policies, Nadine Smith has always been at the forefront of defending the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) population against the latest threats. 

Smith is the Executive Director of Equality Florida, the state’s largest organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She has served at the top post since the organization’s inception in 1997, and she also serves as a legislative lobbyist.  

Smith was also recently recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022. Smith, who resides in St. Petersburg with her wife and son, said she will continue to battle legislators and anti-LGBTQ groups, especially as new laws come into play, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” law and daily attacks on the transgender population. 

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we’ve seen these political dynamics before, racists and scapegoating go hand in hand,” Smith said about the progress the country has made and yet, the incredible distance it still has to climb. 

“Predicting a backlash is not magic, it’s just simply paying attention to the dynamics. Every time there’s progress, we are threatened by others. It’s an ugly reality that Trump’s Republican party is encouraging even more attacks and it requires us to take action,” she said, recalling living through the Anita Bryant movement. 

In 1991, Smith was the first openly queer, Black woman to run for Tampa City Council. 

Nadine was also one of four national co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington. She was part of the historic meeting between then-President Bill Clinton – the first Oval Office meeting between a sitting President and gay community leaders, according to her biography. Additionally, she served on the founding board of the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization.

Most recently, Smith joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kaplan Hecker and Fink LLP, Attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, and families in Florida in filing a lawsuit against the State of Florida over the newly-signed “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

The law bans public school teachers in Florida from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity as it reads, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“As our state faces crumbling infrastructure, a housing and rent crisis with prices that are skyrocketing, the lack of affordable housing, and climate change that is directly impacting us, how did stopping, silencing LGBTQ+ students and teachers become a top priority?” Smith said.  Equality Florida and its peers have plastered “Say Gay” billboards throughout the state. 

Smith also mentioned how Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking aim at drag queens who have hosted events where they would read to kids in a public setting. 

“Children don’t go places, adults take their kids to places. People shouldn’t accept a fundamental lie. There’s nothing dangerous about drag shows and we need to recognize this is simply taking DeSantis’ extremist beliefs that can bang the drums of ignorance and hatred. I watch drag shows, they have been around for a long time and the idea of people in makeup and wild costumes being a danger is absurd. Kids aren’t going to nightclubs, they are being read to,” Smith said. 

While the tensions between conservative parties and the LGBTQ+ population and allies, Smith wants to remind everyone that they have a voice that should be heard. 

“We have to remain vigilant and take nothing for granted,” Smith said. Everybody has political and economic power – you can show up to school board meetings. Get involved, lead committees. Our silence right now is simply not an option.” 

Veronica Brezina

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