Opinion: Charlie Crist will get it done

ABOVE: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist attends St Pete Pride. Watermark file photo.
Photo courtesy Ben Friedman.

After making great strides in LGBTQ rights in recent years, it would be easy to just see Pride Month as a time for celebrating how far we come. Unfortunately for Floridians, the destructive reign of Ron DeSantis serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go.

DeSantis and his GOP cronies have spent their time in power targeting and attacking the LGBTQ community, banning trans athletes, vetoing funding for queer-serving organizations like the Zebra Coalition and the Orlando United Assistance Center, putting students at risk of being outed if they receive counseling, and passing the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law that emboldens bullies and punishes teachers who affirm queer students and families.

Right now, Democrats are in the process of selecting the nominee we will put up against Ron DeSantis this November, and lucky for us we have strong options to pick from. Any one of the Democrats running for governor would be a dream compared to DeSantis, but we have to actually win to make that dream a reality.

That’s why for me, the choice is clear. Charlie Crist has the experience, the skillset and the pro-equality record I want in the next governor of Florida.

Some critics seem determined to undermine Charlie by distorting his record on LGBTQ issues and deliberately misleading voters about his positions, even at the expense of the progressive movement and our chances to topple the most reckless and anti-equality governor in Florida history. So rather than buying into the smears from Charlie’s opponents, let’s take a look at his actual record.

While serving as commissioner of education in 2000, Charlie Crist was the first statewide elected official to support protections for LGBTQ students in an anti-bullying bill. Despite harsh criticism from the right, Charlie held firm in his belief that all students deserve the same protection from bullying.

As governor in 2010, Charlie vowed to end the state’s ban on adoption to same-sex couples, and when a judge officially ruled the state’s ban to be unconstitutional, Charlie used his authority to stop enforcement immediately and refused calls to appeal the decision, clearing the way for adoptions into loving and supportive homes.

As a congressman, he has continued to steadfastly support the LGBTQ community with his vote and his voice. Charlie Crist co-sponsored the Equality Act, voted against Trump’s trans military ban, voted to end taxpayer funding of dangerous conversion therapy and fought to prohibit the harmful “panic defense” for violence committed against gay and trans victims.

Charlie fought for HIV non-discrimination and directly confronted the Trump administration for housing discrimination against homeless gay and trans people. These are just a few of the many concrete actions Charlie has taken over the years in support of queer people, in addition to sponsoring and supporting resolutions to recognize Pride Month, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Equality Day and to designate Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial.

It’s true that Charlie evolved on some issues like marriage equality, putting him in good company alongside Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, not to mention the vast majority of Americans. But Charlie even went a step further than most, publicly apologizing for his past views on same-sex marriage and asking forgiveness.

Do I wish that everyone had supported marriage equality earlier? Sure I do, but a successful progressive movement is one that welcomes people when they join the cause for equality, rather than chastising them for taking too long to get here. Charlie has decades of history supporting our community and I trust him to continue that work when he’s governor.

I will never know the full experience of the most vulnerable within our community – specifically Black and Brown gay and trans people. What I do know is that like most queer people, I have experienced harassment and discrimination in both personal and professional settings before.

This is too personal and too important to get distracted by deceptive video clips and recycled attack lines. We don’t have time to waste bickering over the past while Ron DeSantis threatens our future.

One day, hopefully soon, we will be able to view Pride Month as a commemoration of the historic fight for equality, but for now, we’re not done fighting. We should celebrate and remember the generations of queer, gay and trans activists who fought – and often died – in this struggle, but let’s also honor their work by continuing it today.

Let’s do it by leaning in, speaking out and showing up to vote. That’s how we’ll defeat Ron DeSantis. That’s how we will build a thriving, successful and equal Florida for all.

Ron DeSantis has got to go. Charlie Crist will get it done.

Ben Friedman is an attorney and community advocate. Find him on Twitter @BenFriedman.

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