Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus comes to St. Pete

ABOVE: Photos via the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus.

ST. PETERSBURG | The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus will hold their winter conference “Turn It Up, Turn It Out!” Feb. 11-13 at the Hilton Hotel in Carillon Park, the organization’s first event in St. Petersburg since 2008.

With 22 certified chapters throughout the state, including the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, the caucus represents LGBTQ interests to the Florida Democratic Party. It holds two conferences per year to mobilize equality-focused voters statewide.

This year’s winter conference “will be focused on voting registration and voter turnout, quite simply,” Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus President Stephen Gaskill says. “2022 is a crucial year for Florida with everything is on the ballot – and given how things are playing out in Tallahassee right now, I think that’s more apparent than ever.”

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature began this year’s session by introducing a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills. The legislation targets LGBTQ youth, their supporters and other marginalized groups, measures Gaskill says the caucus is prepared to oppose.

“We’re the largest we’ve ever been and our membership is growing,” he says. “So much is at stake this year. We’re watching the legislature debate our very existence every day, with Republicans chomping at the bit to erase us from public life.

“People are anxious,” he continues. “That’s one of the reasons why we have our events – to underscore just what’s at stake and to get people energized to turn out to vote.”

Programming will begin Feb. 11 with a welcome reception hosted by the Stonewall Democrats. Gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Annette Taddeo will attend, as will St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch.

“With everything that’s going on in Tallahassee and in facing an upcoming midterm election, the winter conference couldn’t come at a more-needed time,” Stonewall Democrats President Paul Ray says. “It’s really important that we energize the LGBTQ and Democratic base and reach out to the Independents.

“What’s really cool is that we also get to show off St. Petersburg and the whole of Tampa Bay,” he continues. “We should be really proud of where we live and the diversity of where we live. It’s wonderful to showcase our community to the whole of the state. It’s going to be a really fun and exciting conference.”

Programming will continue Feb. 12 with LGBTQ-focused panels throughout the day, including a look at Republican censorship efforts. “Erasing LGBTQ+ Voices in Schools and Libraries” will welcome Pinellas School Board Member Caprice Edmond and representatives from the Florida Education and Florida Library Associations.

Congressional candidate and State Rep. Michele Rayner will feature in “Is Florida Leading the Way in Anti-LGBTQ Legislation?” with Equality Florida’s Joe Saunders and others. “LGBTQ+ –  But the T is Silent” will subsequently welcome Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Nikole Parker to examine challenges facing Florida’s transgender community.

That evening’s cocktail reception will feature U.S. Charlie Crist, also a candidate for governor:

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who is running for the U.S. Senate, will also headline the event. She says she’s eager to join.

“The LGBTQ community is a valued part of Florida,” Demings explains. “I’m so excited to join my friends at the Florida LGBTQ Democratic Caucus to chart the path forward to building a state that respects everybody, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.

“I have a longstanding commitment to standing up for our LGBTQ community,” Demings continues. “We must always look for ways to prevent discrimination of any kind in our society – in the Senate, I’ll continue to speak up against hate wherever we find it.”

Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith will also receive the caucus’ Lifetime Leadership Award that evening.

“I’m personally thrilled to be able to present this award to Nadine,” Gaskill says. “She has done a phenomenal job in keeping our issues front and center in the face of so many headwinds coming out of the legislature and around the state.”

“It is an honor and a testament to the strong partnership between our organizations,” Smith says of the recognition. “As Republican lawmakers intensify their attacks LGBTQ Floridians, I look forward to an event that connects the activists and allies standing on the frontlines together to defend our communities.”

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A farewell drag brunch will close out the weekend, featuring U.S. Senate candidate Ken Russell. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Gaskill promises. “These are open to the community. You don’t necessarily have to attend the conference to join us at the brunch or the cocktail reception.”

Registration for the winter conference, which is open to all registered Democrats, is now live. Portions of the event will stream online and COVID protocols will remain in place throughout all portions of the in-person programming. Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test will be required for entry and masks are encouraged.

“This is an opportunity for people to meet with and interact with activists who are really doing the work,” Gaskill says. “We welcome everyone to join us and get involved in whatever makes sense. This is a good opportunity to see exactly what needs to be done.”

View the lineup and full schedule as of Feb. 11 below:


Friday, February 11
Welcome Reception
Hosted by the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County
  • Commissioner Nikki Fried
  • Sen. Annette Taddeo
  • Mayor Ken Welch
  • Former Mayor Rick Kriseman receives our Municipal Leadership Award
Saturday, February 12
Continental Breakfast
  • Stephen Gaskill, President, Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus
  • Paul Ray, President, Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County
  • Lucinda Johnston, Chair, Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee
  • Jim Nixon, LGBTQ Liaison, City of St. Petersburg
  • Earl Fowlkes, LGBTQ+ Caucus Chair, Democratic National Committee
“Is Florida Leading the Way in Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation?” — a panel discussion on efforts in Florida and state legislatures around the country to send us back into the closet
  • Ryan Wilson, HRC
  • Joe Saunders, Equality Florida
  • State Rep. Michele Rayner
  • State Senate candidate Eunic Ortiz
“Erasing LGBTQ+ Voices in Schools and Libraries” — a panel discussion on Republican censorship efforts in Florida
  • Pinellas School Board member Caprice Edmond
  • Nathan Breummer, Caucus Legislative Director
  • Carey Major, Florida Library Association
  • Brian Kerekes, Florida Education Association Director
“LGBTQ+ — But the T is Silent” — a panel discussion on the unique challenges facing Florida’s trans community
  • Nikole Parker, Director of Transgender Equality, Equality Florida
  • Carvelle Estriplet, activist
  • Lucas Whele, activist
  • Abbie Aldridge, activist
Lunch Program
“What the Hell is Happening in Tallahassee?”
  • Sen. Shevrin Jones
  • State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
  • Al Ferguson, Host of Queer News Tonight
  • Remarks by Rep. Ben Diamond
“Communicating to Win” — Training session
  • Travis Worl, Vice President, The Sexton Group
Presentation by the Caucus Diversity Committee: Unconscious Bias
  • Trevor Mallory, President, Democratic Black Caucus of Florida
  • Sam Alleman, LGBTQ+ Coalitions Director, Democratic National Committee
“Expanding the Rainbow: Attracting Diverse LGBTQ+ Democratic Activists” — a panel discussion examining ways to increase diversity among our chapters and the state caucus
Representatives from Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, and Pasco Counties
  • Robin Witt
  • Enrique Pascual
  • Peter Imhoff
  • Tyler Barrett
  • Moderated by Cory Maston, president, Pasco LGBTA Democratic Caucus
Membership Meeting
(The membership meeting is closed to press.)
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Evening Cocktail Reception
  • US Senate candidate Rep. Val Demings
  • Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist
  • Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith receiving the Lifetime Leadership Award
  • Video Greeting from Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison
  • State Rep. Michele Rayner
Sunday, February 13
Farewell Drag Brunch, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • DJ L MO
  • Host Daphne Ferraro
  • Performers Ashlee Bankx and Juno Vibranz
  • US Senate candidate Commissioner Ken Russell
Sponsored by Ken Russell for US Senate

The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus’ winter conference will be held Feb. 11-13 at the Hilton Hotel in Carillon Park at 950 Lake Carillon Dr. in St. Petersburg. In-person or virtual registration is $45, cocktail reception tickets with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres are $150 and drag brunch tickets are $60. Purchase yours and learn more here.

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