In 2014, Mary Meeks’ remarkable activism has directly impacted LGBT equality in Florida

Orlando – If you have exercised any of your existing rights to equality as an LGBT in Central Florida, chances are Mary Meeks had a hand in it.

Meeks, an Orlando attorney and LGBT activist, has been involved in the fight for equality since the early 2000s, when Orlando passed Chapter 57, the city’s human rights ordinance. Since then, Meeks has been a key player in the fight for an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, Orlando and Orange County’s domestic partner registries, and is a member of the legal team working to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Florida.

Dubbed by some as Mary “Not So Meek,” Meeks has a reputation for stubbornness when it comes to politicians who drag their feet on LGBT equality. She made headlines in 2013 for going toe-to-toe with Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs, as Jacobs took more than a year to implement a domestic partner registry, a process the city of Orlando managed to complete in a matter of months.

“That’s the misconception, that I yell at politicians,” Meeks says. “Everything I’ve ever done, whether it was dealing with Teresa Jacobs or before her, [former Orange County mayor] Rich Crotty, we always in the beginning utilized the kinder, gentler approach. Ask nicely behind closed doors. If you do all those things repeatedly and get rejected, you have to make a decision to either elevate the activism or walk way. If that is what makes me controversial— not willing to walk away—then I’ll take that.”

She said when politicians do respond to a private, discussion-based strategy, it doesn’t make headlines.

“Those that say no and take steps that are harmful to the community, I will not put up with that,” Meeks adds. “I will campaign, use the media to make sure they do the right thing. What’s your alternative? Tuck your tail and walk away? No, I’m not going to do that.”

As for any enemies she’s made along the way with her bulldog approach, Meeks says she tries not to think about them.

“I know what I believe in, I know what I care about, I feel completely confident about anything I’ve ever done and said in pursuit of that activism,” she says. “People have other opinions, you have to let it roll off your back and also let it not get in your way.”

It’s tough to argue with Meeks’ results. As a member of the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee, Meeks has helped solidify more than fifteen protections for LGBTs in the past 14 years, ranging from employee personnel policies to a fair housing ordinance to the aforementioned domestic partner registries. She’s been honored for her work by Equality Florida, the Metropolitan Business Association, PFLAG and Joy MCC. Her background is primarily legal—she studied law at Campbell University in North Carolina and has been practicing in Florida since 1988.

Right now, her most high-profile case is the lawsuit filed back in January on behalf of Equality Florida Institute Inc. and six gay couples in Miami-Dade. The lawsuit claims that the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Oh, and all the attorneys working on that lawsuit are doing it for free.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” Meeks says. “You have all these legal talents, all the time and effort, and nobody’s getting paid for any of it.”

One of the reasons Meeks is so driven is that her wife, Vicky Nantz, is equally dedicated to LGBT causes.

“We definitely do believe in and care about all the same things,” Meeks says. “It is nice to have a partner that not only feels the same way but feels the same level of commitment to contributing to our society in some way.”

Her relationship means that beyond professional pride, Meeks is personally excited to see gay marriage recognized in Florida. She and Nantz got married in Boston four years ago and should the stay be lifted at the end of the day Jan. 5, it means that their marriage—along with any other Florida couples legally married in other states—will be fully legal and recognized in Florida.

“I imagine that will be a very cool moment,” she says.

Still, her work isn’t done. Meeks and the legal team are working on a response to an appeal in their lawsuit, while keeping an eye on all the political maneuvers statewide and at the federal level.

Meeks does want to emphasize that community members and allies don’t need a law degree or any special skills to be an activist for equality.

“Your voice matters,” she says. “In every one of these campaigns, there’s no way that I, by myself, lawyer or not, am going to convince Teresa Jacobs or Rick Crotty to do something they don’t want to do. It was the voices of all in the community. Emails, phone calls, waving the signs. I felt that way, too, that my one email doesn’t matter but I found out that they do. You can always do the simplest thing—use your voice, it does matter. Just be yourself. That’s what changes people’s hearts and minds.”

More in News

See More