Fighting for equality on all fronts

Nadine Smith, co-founder of Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities



ST. PETERSBURG — Nadine Smith represents different communities–all of them exploited throughout history. She’s black, a woman and a lesbian. She advocates for those that are in constant battle for their rights and continues to fight against discrimination.

Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida. As the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities, Equality Florida consists of two organization–Equality Florida Institute, Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational charity, and Equality Florida Action, Inc., a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization.

Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building and lobbying, they aim to change Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As a former award-winning journalist based in Tampa, Smith covered politics and law enforcement. In her reporting, she questioned society and drew conclusions. She then decided to pose solutions, rather than just reporting on the issues.

With her growing involvement with LGBTQ rights, she began to write press releases and speeches for organizations that represented those communities. One day, when a speaker didn’t show up for an address, she gave an impromptu speech. The next day, newspapers referred to her as an activist. She embraced the term.

Smith hopes that her activism helps to put an end to the hypermasculinity present in today’s society. The term denotes exaggerated forms of masculinity, manhood and physicality.

“Any hyper-masculine culture is going to present a challenge to [the] freedom, safety, and dignity of the LGBTQ community. To the degree that oppressed [groups] tend to embrace the hyper-masculine image among the men and gender conformity among the women,” she said.

For Smith, many challenges for African-American LGBTQ groups lay within their own communities. Where racism, homophobia and sexism rage on in the day to day world, many black LGBTQ folks must also contend with family and spiritual alienation.

Many have no family or religious support, and as a consequence isolation grows and overtakes their well-being.

“It’s not accurate to describe the [black] community as homophobic even though black ministers are often the faces put forward by the anti-LGBTQ movements,” said Smith, who grew up in a conservative southern neighborhood.

Despite obstacles, she feels that the LGBTQ community has strong allies in the black community. Smith is also pleased that more people of color are embracing their full identities, despite the threat of alienation from their family or violence directed towards them.

“For me, being out has been freedom. When you’re not out, they [family] don’t know you. They know the pretense. My family knows me,” Smith said.

After coming out to her family, Smith too underwent family isolation. Her father didn’t accept her being a lesbian, and their relationship grew cold. They didn’t speak to each other for several years until she began advocating for marriage equality. When she got married to her wife, Andrea, he walked her down the aisle.

Going forward

According to Smith, the good news is that conversations about sexuality and gender are happening more often. She feels the black community has traveled forward and is more open to issues such as marriage equality and family support.

She contends that African Americans need to set aside whatever religious and personal beliefs they differ on and tackle discrimination together. Whether it is a homosexual or heterosexual black person, they both are facing racism.

“We have more allies in the black community, not just politicians. The Black Lives Matter [movement] is led in large part by black LGBTQ voices in delivering the message that if you are not for black LGBTQ lives, you’re not dealing with Black Lives Matter,” Smith said, adding that black people in the LGBT community are very politically minded.

A Panama City native, Smith and her wife live in St. Pete with their son Logan.

This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.

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