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St. Petersburg’s longtime LGBTQ+ leader steps down

Mark Parker

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Jim Nixon, director of the St. Pete Services Center, helped the city achieve national acclaim during his seven-year tenure as LGBTQ+ Liaison. Photos: City of St. Petersburg.

Jim Nixon, St. Petersburg’s LGBTQ+ liaison, has stepped down from the role after helping the city earn national acclaim for its inclusivity efforts over the past seven years.

Nixon will continue serving as director of the St. Pete Service Center. The department manages the city’s SeeClickFix platform and helps facilitate solutions for myriad municipal issues.

Nixon told the Catalyst that his role has increased alongside demand for assistance. In addition to the expanded workload, he believes it is time to pass the baton to a new generation of LGBTQ leaders.

“I was a veteran in the Navy who was discharged for being gay, I’ve lost partners to HIV,” Nixon said. “It’s not something that is going to change overnight – that I’m not out there fighting in the trenches for inclusivity.

“But as I get older … I have to look to our younger community to step up and take some of these challenges head-on.”

Eric Vaughan, 36, is the city’s new LGBT+ Liaison. He began serving as a communications and community engagement coordinator in the Mayor’s Office in May 2023.

Vaughan was the associate director of LGBTQ Programs and Policy for New York City’s Department of Education before returning to St. Petersburg. He acknowledged that Nixon’s success has left “big shoes to fill.”

“Jim (Nixon) really has made a name for himself, within both the city and the LBGTQ world, both near and far,” Vaughn added. “He’s tackled a lot of projects; he’s tackled a lot of things in his time.”

Eric Vaughan, communications and community engagement coordinator, will serves as the new LGBTQ+ Liaison.

Nixon managed St. Petersburg’s Human Rights Council Municipal Equality Index efforts. The comprehensive assessment measures a city’s inclusivity according to non-discrimination laws, enforcement, community services and leadership.

St. Petersburg has garnered national acclaim for earning a perfect Index score throughout Nixon’s seven-year tenure. He noted that achieving that lofty goal required continuous assessments and navigating Florida’s “ever-changing political environment.”

“This year alone, there were certain score points that the city wouldn’t have been allocated because of policies within the state,” Nixon explained. “So, we have to look at the policies of the city overall, to make sure we’re that beacon …”

That is just one of many achievements he reflects on with pride. The city adding LGBTQ companies to its Small Business Enterprise program in 2019 also made the list.

Nixon credited Councilmember Gina Driscoll for leading efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s anti-bullying policy. He noted St. Petersburg officials incorporated genderless single-use restrooms as state lawmakers sought to outlaw the practice.

Nixon helped inaugurate annual city and Sunshine Skyway Bridge lighting events commemorating Pride Month in June. He also noted the importance of the municipally sponsored mural celebrating St. Petersburg’s parade – one of the nation’s largest – commissioned during the pandemic.

“Those are all things that I feel like the role has really helped me to establish our city as a city that is welcoming to all,” Nixon said. “LGBTQ issues are livability issues.”

He noted that business owners consider an area’s inclusivity when deciding where to relocate. Nixon also helped Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and the city’s marketing department highlight St. Petersburg as an LGBTQ-inclusive destination.

Nixon, the city’s second LGBTQ+ liaison, believes he has successfully implemented a strategic plan presented to former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration. Nixon said Mayor Ken Welch has built upon his predecessor’s inclusive policies.

Vaughan expressed his excitement to work under a progressive administration that wants to ensure LGBTQ residents “feel safe and valued.” He also realizes everyone must work together to ensure the city remains a national leader in fostering inclusivity.

“St. Pete feels like this wonderful bubble of acceptance,” Vaughan said. “And we’re just fortunate we have the support of our mayor … he’s never shied away from this position.”

Vaughn noted his experience working with youth and believes that factored into his appointment. He plans to ensure younger LGBTQ community members feel accepted and “seen.”

Welch credited Vaughan’s strong local and national connections within the LBTQ+ community. “I am confident that he will build on Jim Nixon’s efforts to foster an environment of acceptance and support across St. Petersburg,” Welch said in a prepared statement.

“Together, we reaffirm our commitment to creating a city where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can thrive.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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