Pinellas Proud: Our Most Powerful Tool

ABOVE: Photo via the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County’s Facebook page.

Widely known as one of the most influential members of the Supreme Court, on which he served for more than two decades as its first Jewish member, it was Louis Brandeis who said that “the most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.”

Legal scholars cite the justice’s work today because voting is what defines us and guides us. I, like so many others have been involved in the push for equality for the better part of my adult life. I have always believed that both voting and activism are critical to our future.

We are currently witnessing the denying of women’s right to determine what happens to their own bodies in Texas and in the upcoming Florida legislative session, we are facing the specter of HB 167, which would implement the same policy as Texas. Add in the attack on our transgender community with the banning of the ability to play sports and it paints a painful picture.

Once these direct attacks on women’s and transgender rights are successful, legislators will quickly set their sights on LGBTQ+ rights as a whole.

Our vote has the most power. As Abraham Lincoln reportedly said four years before he was elected as president, “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.” We need to keep always in mind that we, as the LGBTQ+ community, owe women and our transgender siblings our complete allegiance in this battle.

This, after all, is not just their fight, but ours as a collective. The attack on our transgender community in Tallahassee is the unraveling of decades of hard work by so many activists and so many who have voted for a better tomorrow.

Activists in this country throughout the years, from the Daughters of Bilitis in the 50s, to those who fought at Stonewall in 1969, organized with the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club in 1971, marched with Harvey Milk in 1976 with the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club or fought for visibility with ACT UP in 1987, to name a few, were created by committed individuals. Each participant worked to make a change in the world by building coalitions and engaging people.

In Tampa Bay, the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County continue with the movement. We do so by conducting voter sign-ups, holding candidate vetting through interviews and providing voter guidance through our organization’s endorsements. The current St Petersburg mayoral race and council elections are the latest effort by the Stonewall Democrats to make a difference.

The Stonewall Democrats are proud to endorse former Ken Welch for St. Petersburg mayor. We supported Welch in his previous campaigns for county commissioner, a role in which he served for five terms.

He has a proven record of reaching out and listening to the LGBTQ+ community, which has informed and shaped his advocacy and actions as a county commissioner. We are confident Mr. Welch will build on the equality legacy of Mayor Rick Kriseman who has endorsed him, as have many other Pinellas Democratic elected officials. When elected, Mr. Welch will become the first person of color elected to the St. Petersburg mayor’s office.

In addition to the mayoral recommendation, we have endorsed the following City Council candidates. Copley Gerdes for District 1, Brandi Gabbard for District 2, Lissett Hanewicz for District 4, Mhariel Summers for District 6 and Richie Floyd for District 8.

Over the decades, the efforts put into our community’s fight for equality has brought us much progress. It is with that positive progress, however, that we sometimes became complacent by not carefully exercising our most powerful weapon – our vote.

From municipal council members to county commissioners, state legislators and congressional candidates, we need to educate ourselves on their positions and work to get the right ones elected.

There are many organizations like the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County that are still in the trenches, working to sign up voters while educating them, detailing their endorsements and recommending candidates. But as the past decades of the fight for equality show us, it takes groups of people to work together to invoke the change needed.

We see the future of equality in America when we see TV series featuring LGBTQ+ stars in lead roles, where a drag queen can be the most-awarded Black person with Emmys in history. But then, when we look out at the real world around us, we see a different picture – this is the picture our combined votes can change.

Paul E. Ray is the president of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, which is devoted to advancing equal rights for all people as a county chapter of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus. He is also a proud resident of Gulfport where he serves as a city council member and co-founded the Gulfport Pride parade and festival. Learn more at

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