Democratic gubernatorial candidate sought to portray himself Monday as a champion of LGBT rights — and Republican as a foe of LGBT equality.
As mayor of Tallahassee, Gillum said he has “stood up for the LGBTQ community and demanded equal rights when others refused. As governor, I will continue this fight to ensure that Florida is a welcoming place for all people, where everyone receives the rights and respect they deserve.”
Gillum spoke about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community at a news conference in Miami, where three major national, state and South Florida LGBT groups — the , Equality Florida and SAVE — endorsed Gillum’s candidacy.
“It’s not so common that you have an inspiring pro-equality candidate on one side and the most vehemently anti-LGBTQ person on the other side,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in an interview in . “We know who DeSantis is. He has shown us by his hateful votes, time and time again.”
Griffin said his organization would work to mobilize “equality voters” across the state for the Nov. 6 election.
The mobilization effort started immediately, with volunteers gathering Monday evening for an HRC-sponsored phone banking operation in Fort Lauderdale.
That isn’t an accident. “The path to victory for equality runs right though South Florida,” said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, the LGBT-rights organization based in Miami-Dade County.
Mobilizing the base
Gillum touted the promises of support as “a trifecta of an endorsements.” Actually, the endorsements from the LGBT organizations aren’t big or surprising on their own, said Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University, who said gay rights groups would be expected to support the Democratic nominee.
But, he said, in an election like the DeSantis-Gillum contest, where polling shows the vast majority of voters have made up their minds, the result is likely to hinge on which side most effectively mobilizes its voters to actually go to the polls and vote.
“As we see this shaping up to be a base election, Gillum needs every Democrat to come out and support the ticket. It might not be a surprising endorsement, but it does show that you can’t take anything for granted, and you have to make sure that your voters are aware of the decisions facing them,” Foreman said.
Both candidates are tailoring much of their campaigning to generate excitement among particular constituencies:
— Gillum appealed to LGBT voters on Monday. On Friday and Saturday, he targeted Puerto Rican voters. Also on Friday, he pitched his candidacy to people who support action to curb the proliferation of guns.
— DeSantis visited a small business and a Chamber of Commerce office on Monday and attacked Gillum as anti-Israel. On Friday, he visited on Orthodox Jewish school.
“None of this is surprising. But that’s what needs to be done at this point: Shore up the base,” Foreman said.
With gays and lesbians securing the right to marry with a 2015 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the biggest LGBT legislative is the idea of banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Currently state law doesn’t prohibit firing someone because they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or perceived that way. (Discrimination is illegal under local laws in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and several other Florida counties. Many states have similar laws.)
Legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to state law that already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap and marital status is consistently introduced in Tallahassee — and consistently fizzles.
“The issue still hanging out there is rights in the workplace,” Foreman said. “That’s really the last policy issue, and it’s a significant one, and it’s one where the governor can have an impact.”
DeSantis, after meeting Monday with business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, didn’t directly answer whether he thinks same-sex marriage is settled law and whether he would favor barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I don‘t want any discrimination in Florida. I want people to be able to live their life — whether you are gay but also whether you are religious. I think you should be able to do that. I don‘t want them discriminated against as well. We‘ve got a big, diverse state and that is just the way it is,” DeSantis said.
Griffin said the DeSantis’s comment reflects “code words” to people opposed to LGBT equality.
“That is how purveyors of hate today attempt to hide who they really are, and it’s outrageous because it is an abuse and a misuse of religion,” Griffin said. “It’s a slick attempt to hide his animus toward LGBTQ people.”
Gillum says he’s long supported LGBT rights. As a Tallahassee city commissioner, he pushed to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees. As mayor, when some counties refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Gillum invited couples to get married in his city. And he condemned anti-LGBT violence after the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.
DeSantis scored zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecard for the 2015-2016 session of Congress. He received 30 out of 100 on the HRC scorecard for the 2013-2014 congressional session. Until this month, DeSantis was serving his third term as a congressman from northeast Florida. He resigned four months before the end of his term to focus on campaigning for governor.
“Here’s the thing with DeSantis. We don’t have to just look at the things he says. The best way to judge somebody is look at what they’ve done in their careers. Vote after vote he has fought to take away the rights of LGBTQ people,” Griffin said.
LGBT voters are an important Democratic constituency. The Pew Research Center reports gay and lesbian voters were “” of dating back to before his 2016 election victory.
But, said Erwin Nieto of Wellington, it’s not monolithic.
The 44-year-old who works in the equestrian business, is a strong Trump supporter who sometimes supporter of President Donald Trump — and DeSantis, who Trump endorsed for the Republican nomination for governor.
The LGBT groups’ support for Gillum “doesn’t make any difference to me. There’s more gay people who are voting for Trump and voting for Republicans than ever before,” Nieto said.
He said Trump’s support for DeSantis is more important to him than the candidate’s record on LGBT issues. “I’ll give him a chance to evolve,” he said. “Everybody deserves a chance to evolve.”
Robert Lopardo, of Fort Lauderdale, who is HRC’s South Florida co-chairman, said Florida doesn’t need to wait for a governor to evolve. “I don’t think an LGBT person should vote for a candidate who is not going to support equal rights for all the citizens of Florida,” he said.
, or Twitter