Florida LGBTQ, ally delegates back Biden at virtual convention

The Democratic Party is the longest continually-running political party in the U.S., one that today promises to fight for a better, fairer and brighter future for every American.

From school boards to the Oval Office, its leadership works to elect ambassadors of equality during every election cycle throughout the nation. Its efforts are officially governed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), likewise the longest continually-running committee of its type. It was formed in 1848 during the Democratic National Convention, presidential nominating ceremonies they’ve held every four years since 1832.

Nearly 170 years after the committee began administering the conventions in 1852, the in-person gatherings serve as a culmination of the months-long presidential primary process they facilitate, which in 2016 welcomed an estimated 50,000 people to Philadelphia.

Delegates from all 57 U.S. states and territories, including 248 from Florida, vote to officially nominate the Democratic candidate for president and work together to update the party’s platform; the ideas and beliefs which govern it as a whole.

“Democrats are the party of inclusion,” the party’s 2016 platform reads. “We know that diversity is not our problem – it is our promise. As Democrats, we respect differences of perspective and belief, and pledge to work together to move this country forward, even when we disagree. We do not merely seek common ground – we strive to reach higher ground.”

Doing so in 2020, which ahead of the virtual Democratic National Convention Aug. 17-20 has seen more than 158,000 Americans die after contracting COVID-19, meant first ensuring the safety of all participants. That initially meant postponing the gathering, originally scheduled for July.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese shared in April. “During this critical time, when the scope and scale of the pandemic and its impact remain unknown, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of health care professionals and emergency responders.”

By late June, the DNC decided it would move forward in its unprecedented virtual manner. While still anchored in Wisconsin, the 2020 Democratic National Convention would be a “Convention across America,” working to engage and unite more Americans than ever before. That changed Aug. 5, when they opted to protect public health and refrain from traveling to the state.

Broadcasts and curated content from satellite locations nationwide will culminate in the nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden for president, who secured the 1,991 delegates required to receive it in June. Supporters will virtually join together to adopt the 2020 Democratic Party platform and begin the process for Biden to face Donald Trump in the presidential election Nov. 3.

“Vice President Biden intends to proudly accept his party’s nomination … and take the next step forward towards making Donald Trump a one-term president,” Biden for President Campaign Manager Jen O’Malley Dillon shared June 24. “This will be a convention for all Americans who wish to join our mission to win the battle for the soul of this nation and build a fairer, more united country for us all.”

“From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first,” DNC Chair Tom Perez shared Aug. 5.

“We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives,” he continued. “That’s the kind of steady and responsible leadership America deserves. And that’s the leadership Joe Biden will bring to the White House.”

Florida’s 248 Democratic delegates certainly believe so, the majority of which ran campaigns within their congressional districts to formally back Biden. Similarly, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters also campaigned to represent the presidential primary’s second-place finisher, influencing the 2020 platform in an effort to unify the party during this year’s convention.

The winners, 143 District-Level Delegates and 13 District-Level Alternates, were announced after an online election May 14-16. The state’s 47 At-Large Delegates and five At-Large Alternates, as well as 29 Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) delegates, were selected by the party and campaigns May 30. Per Democrat guidelines, at least 15% of those who were elected or chosen openly identify as LGBTQ.

“We are thrilled at the LGBTQ+ representation in the Florida delegation for our next president, Joe Biden at the convention,” Biden for President National LGBTQ+ Vote Director Reggie Greer tells Watermark. “LGBTQ+ and equality voters in Florida trust Joe Biden, know Joe Biden as a strong ally and will be a critical voting bloc to making sure Donald Trump is a one-term president.”

Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Campaign Manager Susan McGrath (L) and President Stephen Gaskill attend the organization’s July 2019 conference. Photo by Kimberly DeFalco, courtesy Gaskill.

The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus concurs. The organization has 21 statewide chapters, including in Hillsborough, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, and represents the interests of LGBTQ Floridians as an arm of the state’s Democratic Party.

“The number of LGBTQ delegates elected, coupled with the interest shown by other LGBTQ candidates who ran, demonstrates that our community is organized and energized like never before,” they shared May 22. “LGBTQ voters are a key constituency that will help deliver the White House for Joe Biden and elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2020.”

While they won’t be leaving Florida to do it, a total of 14 caucus members will virtually join this year’s convention as Biden delegates. That includes Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus President Stephen Gaskill, who’s previously attended conventions but never in the capacity as a delegate.

“It’s exciting to be on the other side of it and to be a voting member that gets to help set the platform and the rules,” he says. “We’re just in uncharted territory with how it’s all going to play out.”

The virtual process won’t be the sole difference at this year’s convention. Gaskill says that Democrats coalesced around Biden as the presumptive nominee, one of 27 candidates, much earlier than they had in previous election cycles. He expects that will lead to less division while developing the party’s platform.

“It’s not a surprise that the 2020 primary election was crazy; that’s just where we are now in politics,” Gaskill reflects. “We had more than two dozen candidates, most of whom were viable, and so many of them dropped out and backed Biden. I don’t think it played out how people expected, but for the most part Democrats got behind him as the best choice to defeat Donald Trump in November.

“We were all pretty much heading in the same direction,” he adds. “I’m sure there are distinctions that will play out between the Biden and Sanders camps, but for the most part I expect they will be minor. Joe Biden is a clear contrast to Donald Trump.”

Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Cus Legislative Director Nathan Bruemmer (R) and a colleague attend the first 2020 Democratic debate last year. Photo courtesy Bruemmer.

That contrast is why Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Legislative Director Nathan Bruemmer ran to represent Tampa Bay’s District 13. In addition to his work with the caucus, he’s also the vice president of St Pete Pride, where he founded its annual TransPride March, and a board member of Equality Florida.

He says he’s been appalled by the Trump administration’s targeting of the LGBTQ community and wanted to make a difference however he could.

“I have been a public servant in one way or another for my entire life,” Bruemmer says. “I hoped my beautiful and diverse community would want me to represent them and I am so honored that they did. The hatred, bigotry, homophobia and transphobia touted by this federal administration are likely the impetus for many LGBTQ Democrats in Florida to participate as delegates.”

Bruemmer had debated running to become a delegate for some time, having noticed very few transgender Americans had done so. The word transgender wasn’t even included in the Democratic Party’s platform until 2016, he notes.

“Marginalized communities often don’t have representation in positions of power or leadership,” Bruemmer says. “Many problems we face as a nation have disparate impacts on marginalized communities. When we discuss issues or policies, even benign ones, and no one is at the table to represent – consideration to the needs or potential impacts of a policy can be overlooked, assumed, or even worse, you may even end up harming the very folks you are hoping to help. Representation at every level matters!”

He expects that the party’s principles will reflect that this year. “I’ve been working with the transgender delegates to provide feedback for the 2020 platform,” Bruemmer says. “It’s been really enlightening to be a part of the process.”

LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Treasurer Beth McMillen agrees, calling her new delegate role a bucket list item. She was elected to represent Central Florida’s District 8, where she also serves as vice chair for the Space Coast LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

“I’ve always been very interested in civil rights and I have so many friends and family members who identify as LGBTQ,” she says. “This was the year to step up. I just want to do everything I can to make their lives better.”

LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Treasurer Beth McMillen (R), President Stephen Gaskill (3rd from L) and the Space Coast caucus members at Space Coast Pride 2019. Photo courtesy McMillen.

McMillen says that means actively working to defeat Trump, who opposes the Equality Act. Once signed into law, it would amend existing federal civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education and more nationwide.

While the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed the bill May 20, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has yet to advance it. Since then, Trump has advised the Equality Act is “filled with poison pills,” whereas Biden has called it a top legislative priority, noting he will seek to enact it within his first 100 days as president.

“Unlike the current administration, Biden stands for the people as opposed to himself,” McMillen says. “He cares about people; he has empathy, which the current president does not have in any measure.”

It’s just one of the many reasons she says the forthcoming election is critical. “We’ve been fighting so hard, for so long, and so much progress has been made. We can’t watch it be swept away.”

“If Trump wins another term, and has no worries about going through another re-election, he will either push for a third term or there will be no holds barred,” McMillen continues. “We’ve seen what he’s done so far – if he gets elected again, this is it. We have to vote like Biden is behind.”

That may be harder to do than ever before, LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Campaign Director Susan McGrath adds, which makes it even more critical. McGrath is also the president of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, the immediate past president of the Pinellas County Democrat Party and joins Bruemmer on the St Pete Pride board and as a District 13 delegate.

“This is a very scary time for us,” she says. “We’re in a pandemic and our focus is on the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones, compounded with the unemployment and financial crisis that the country is dealing with. We cannot miss the opportunity to exercise our right to vote – because if we don’t have that right, we don’t have our voice. We have to do everything possible to make sure it’s heard.”

She believes that’s why the party easily met its at least 15% LGBTQ delegate threshold. “Our community is very engaged,” McGrath says. “I think people who have to fight for protections that everyone else already has realize how crucial this is. We pay attention.”

McGrath points toward the platform of each major political party to highlight another reason the LGBTQ community is so involved this year. While the Democratic platform seeks to empower all communities and constituencies in need of protection, she says, the Republican platform does the opposite.

As the two pertain to the LGBTQ community, the Republican Party opted to renew its 2016 platform. It calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, supports the discredited practice of conversion therapy and attacks transgender protections.

It’s a stark contrast to the forthcoming 2020 Democratic platform, a draft form of which was released July 21. It promises to protect transgender health care, pass the Equality Act and undo the Trump administration’s other anti-LGBTQ policies.

McGrath says that’s why it’s natural for members of the LGBTQ community to gravitate toward the Democratic Party, as well as participate in the delegate and convention process.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect because we all have work to do, but it makes me very proud to be a Democrat and to know that’s where my party stands,” she explains. “It’s one of the things I love about our conventions, you hear so much about the critical work being done in our movement.”

LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Diversity and Inclusion Director Vivian Rodriguez at the 2016 DNC. Photo courtesy Rodriguez.

It’s a movement hungry for the LGBTQ-inclusive policies and protections of the Obama-Biden administration, LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Diversity and Inclusion Director Vivian Rodriguez says. In addition to having been elected to represent Central Florida’s District 9 as a delegate, she serves as the outreach director for Congressman Darren Soto, the executive director for the Gay Officers Action League of Central Florida and more.

Rodriguez cites Biden’s experience and passion for the civil rights movements of all disenfranchised communities as some of the top reasons she’s eager to nominate him. As one example of the former vice president’s commitment to the LGBTQ community, she points to his early support of marriage equality.

In 2012, Biden historically became the highest-ranking American official to publicly support same-sex marriage without consulting the White House. Rodriguez notes that “many others thought that the time was not right to advocate for this civil liberty.”

It isn’t strictly Biden’s record that excites Rodriguez about voting for him, however, it’s also his promise to protect the LGBTQ community at large. “Joe Biden supports our LGBTQ youth from discrimination, harassment and bullying, he will protect approximately 75,000 LGBTQ Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program and he’ll work towards legal options for their families to remain together,” Rodriguez shares.

“He will reverse the transgender military ban for our LGBTQ military heroes who risk their lives serving this great country, support affordable health care for millions of Americans in great need and will protect the LGBTQ community from an increase of hate crimes attributing to violent assaults leading to death – especially against our trans women of color,” she continues. “It is up to us – all Americans – to unite and save this country from another four-year Trump presidency.”

Tampa Bay District 14 delegate Michael Womack felt a similar call to action. “It’s time to stop the nonsense, restore dignity to the Oval Office and deal with the real issues that Americans and LGBTQ people are facing,” he says.

Equality Florida Communications Manager Michael Womack (L) and Dr. Jill Biden at the opening of Biden for President’s campaign office. Photo courtesy Womack.

“At the same time this president – who is enabled by the Republican Party – is going on Twitter rants, golfing and pushing conspiracy theories, the coronavirus has claimed more than 150,000 American lives,” he continues. “It’s a failure in leadership.”

Womack works to combat that failure throughout Florida however he can. He does so as both the public relations officer for the Hillsborough County Young Democrats and the communications manager for Equality Florida. At least in part, the 25-year-old activist was inspired to add delegate to his resume because of his age.

“It’s important to me that young LGBTQ people are in every room where important decisions are being made about our future,” Womack says. “At Equality Florida we talk all the time about how if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

He believes the LGBTQ community has been targeted by the Trump administration since 2016, citing a number of the president’s anti-LGBTQ policies. Participating in the delegate process is a natural result for many LGBTQ delegates, Womack says.

“LGBTQ people are fed up and we’re not afraid of a fight,” he asserts. “It’s in our blood – and that’s why we’ve been involved at this process in a higher level than maybe in other elections.”

Womack traces it back to Trump’s failures. “Donald Trump failed to lead when he banned transgender people from serving in the military,” he says. “He failed to lead with the epidemic of transgender women of color being murdered. He failed to lead when he deleted protections that the federal government had previously enacted for LGBTQ Americans. It’s time for us to stand up and put a stop to it.”

The final leg of that process begins at the Democratic National Convention, when Gaskill, Bruemmer, McMillen, McGrath, Rodriguez, Womack and Florida’s other delegates solidify the party’s platform and cast their votes in support of a Joe Biden presidency. Gaskill hopes the country is ready to follow suit.

“Joe Biden is meeting the moment,” he says. “We’re at a place now where we’ve seen what happens when you wish problems away or if you’re not serious about addressing them. We’re at a place where the ineptitude and incompetence in American management has taken us to the brink.

“Our people are dying,” Gaskill stresses. “Our people are not working. The world thinks we’re crazy, and we’ve lost the ethical and moral leadership role that we’ve played since our founding. That is having a real impact on the way voters are looking at this election.”

Even so, he adds that it’s incumbent upon every American to vote – and to encourage everyone in their lives to do the same.

“Every year, every campaign, every election cycle, we say that this is the most important election in American history,” Gaskill asserts. “I don’t think there’s anyone who could doubt that this one truly is. The fate of our democracy right now is in your hands.”

The virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held Aug. 17-20 and hosted live across multiple platforms. For more information and direct links to the platform of your choice, including details about its LGBTQ-inclusive lineup, visit DemConvention.com and view the video below:

Watermark reached out to the Republican National Convention for comment regarding its anti-LGBTQ platform and received no response. For more information about Biden’s pro-LGBTQ policies, visit JoeBiden.com/LGBTQ. You can also read his responses to Watermark’s primary candidate Q&A here.

For more information about the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus and its officers, visit LGBTQDems.org. For more information about Equality Florida and its staff, visit EQFL.org.

More in Nation

See More