With all the talk about marriage equality, surely you’ve heard the name. Nadine Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, the state’s largest organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A longtime LGBT activist, Smith is recognized as a national leader by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Task Force of Florida, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum.
I was inspired even more deeply by her willingness to intentionally sacrifice her freedom and safety to make the country confront the ugliness of Jim Crow.
Smith’s path to advocacy for LGBT rights has its roots in Tampa, where in 1991, Smith was the first openly lesbian African-American to run for City Council, earning the most votes in the primary and garnering 42 percent in the run-off. In 1993, Smith was part of the historic oval meeting between President Bill Clinton and LGBT leaders. That same year, Smith, a former award-winning journalist, was named co-chair of the March on Washington, coordinating national and international media.
An outspoken advocate for hate crimes and anti-bullying legislation, in 1995, Smith served as campaign manager for Citizens for a Fair Tampa, a successful effort to prevent the repeal of the city’s human rights ordinance, which included sexual orientation. In 1997, Smith co-founded Equality Florida, which for 14 consecutive years, successfully defeated every piece of anti-LGBT legislation filed in the state’s capital. Equality Florida’s efforts have resulted in the passage of a statewide anti-bullying law that has spurred school districts across the state to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. From 2006 – 2009, Smith served on the Board for Fairness for All Families, a grassroots effort to protect LGBT families in the face of a ballot measure that banned recognition of marriage between same- sex couples.
Smith is a Green Florida board member and served on President Obama’s National Finance Committee. In 2013, Smith was named one of the state’s “Most Powerful and Influential Women” by the Florida Diversity Council and, in 2014 earned the League of Women Voter’s Woman of Distinction Award.
In reference to her inspired transition from journalist to activist, Smith responds, “As a child I was told that Rosa Parks was tired and fed up one fateful day and decided right then and there that she would not give up her seat. I was impressed by her courage. Later, when I learned that her protest had been contemplated at length with the consequences fully measured, I was inspired even more deeply by her willingness to intentionally sacrifice her freedom and safety to make the country confront the ugliness of Jim Crow.”
With Florida once again becoming the focal point in American politics, it’s likely Nadine Smith will be where she is most comfortable, in the trenches.
Smith lives in St. Petersburg with her wife Andrea and their son Logan.