March 8th marked International Women’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate those who have pressed for progress (#pressforprogress) and furthered women’s equality. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have created an even greater urgency to address issues of gender parity, especially in light of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which reported that gender parity is over 200 years away.
When it comes to pushing for equality amongst LGBTQ women, there are several leaders that stand out above the rest, including Ellen Degeneres, Wanda Sykes, Edie Windsor, and Laverne Cox. In Florida, we are blessed to have our own list of female heroes. While we could spend hours identifying the LGBTQ women who have made an impact on progress in our state, these are the five we want to honor this week:
Smith is an LGBT activist and has been the Executive Director of Equality Florida since 1997. She has been part of numerous LGBT+ coalitions, such as the International Gay and Lesbian Organization, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Humans Rights Campaign, and Human Rights Task Force Florida. Smith is also an award winning journalist– writing numerous columns on LGBT+ issues and has served as an out lesbian on the Tampa Bay City council. In 1993, Smith was one of four national co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington. She was also part of the historic oval office meeting between then President Clinton and community activists – the first such meeting between a sitting President and gay community leaders. She lives in St. Petersburg with her wife Andrea and son Logan.
A Coral Springs, Florida native, Poma is well known as the owner of Pulse Nightclub, established in 2004 as an honor to her brother, to keep his heartbeat alive after his death from AIDs. The club became a place of sanctuary and love for the LGBTQ community. On Sunday, June 12, Pulse Nightclub became the scene of one of the nation’s worst mass shooting in modern American history. Following this tragic event, Poma shifted her focus to the establish the onePULSE Foundation to preserve the memories of those who lost their lives, survivors and their loved ones by creating a memorial to those lost.
Originally from New York, Lester now lives in Miami and is the founder of Trans Miami. She moved to Miami in 2005 to escape discrimination and was struck by the lack of resources for the transgender community, especially for trans women of color. At one point, Lester was homeless and struggled to find accommodations supporting who she was as a transgender woman. She eventually created a more stable life for herself and mobilized to gather education and advocacy resources for the trans community of Miami. Lester explained to South Florida Gay News, “The core of everything I do is to address equality for my community in the aspects of health, housing, employment, and with figures of authority.”
South Florida teen, Jennings, has become one of the youngest role models for trans children and teens. She is a YouTube personality, television personality, and LGBT+ activist. Jennings is a co-founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation and is also well known for her TLC TV Show and book, I am Jazz, which provides platforms for educating children and families about transgender individuals. She also currently runs the Purple Rainbow Tails, where she sews rubber mermaid tails to sell and raise money for her foundation.
Stanton was the city manager of Largo, Florida and Lake Worth Florida. She became the subject of national attention when she was terminated after announcing that she was transgender and would be pursuing sex reassignment surgery. Largo city commissioners then sought to end her contract– creating an uproar from the national LGBT community who protested on Stanton’s behalf. Stanton now lobbies for Congress to provide more protections for transgender employees.
We thank all of these courageous Florida women for the work they do to #pressforprogress.