By Bart Coyle, Dignity/Sarasota
Moving to Florida eight years ago was supposed to be the beginning of the retirement phase of my partner’s and my life. That didn’t happen. Right from the “get go” my partner got involved with and became president of the GLBT Bowling League, the Chairman of Sarasota Pride Fest and a board member of the ALSO Out Youth program. I became a part-time volunteer at Bethesda House, a food bank for Persons Living with AIDS. I was one of the founders of Dignity/Sarasota and subsequently the President of the Board for the first four years. I later became Dignity’s representative to the Gulf Coast Affirming Interfaith Network (GAIN). GAIN conducts two interfaith services every year: World AIDS Day and a service that opens Sarasota’s Pride Fest season. I never understood retired people who say they have less time now than they did when they were working, I fully understand that now.
One of the most interesting, rewarding and important initiatives that my partner and I were involved in was the recent struggle to defeat the Florida Gay Marriage ban, Amendment 2, on the ballot this past election. As always, I did not volunteer to become involved, but the next thing I knew I was Co-Chair in Sarasota/Manatee Counties. We lost that initiative statewide, but we did win in Sarasota and if we could have combined the vote in the two counties, we would have won both.
The rewarding aspects of participating in this initiative were twofold: First, Dignity/Sarasota got a lot of publicity, and second, reluctant activist that I am, I was forced to do presentations, give speeches, walk the streets and pass out “palm cards,” participate in street fairs and basically do things that are not necessarily natural to me. I got to meet and speak with entire congregations from all different faiths, except Catholic. The major news media, which has always been kind to both Jim and me, ran our stories, endorsed our efforts and, in some cases, decried the passage of the Amendment. One described it as an “abomination.”
We know that there are going to be large challenges ahead of us. Already proponents are preparing to challenge Domestic Partner benefits in Hillsborough County where Tampa is located. (Interestingly, the Domestic Partner benefits package in Tampa was initially negotiated by the Police Union because a lesbian officer was shot to death a few years ago and her partner was left with nothing.) The City of Sarasota just recently passed a Domestic Partner benefit package. Many of the southern counties in Florida, and the Cities of Gainesville and Orlando have similar benefits. All of these benefit authorizations are in jeopardy with the passage of Amendment 2.
I was reluctant to get involved in this effort, but with encouragement and support from “Team DignityUSA” and all the folks here in Florida, I can say it was one of the best experiences in my life. While disappointed in the final result, it is good to know that there are still personal growth opportunities even as I get closer to that “light.”