First Openly Gay Lawmaker Elected To Florida Legislature

Aug 17, 2012

Florida has elected its first openly gay candidate to the Florida Legislature. David Richardson defeated three other Democrats during Tuesday’s Primary, and is unopposed in the general election. And, he says while he plans to advocate for gay issues, Richardson says he intends to be more than what he calls “the gay legislator.”

“I didn’t want anyone to vote for me because I’m gay and I didn’t want anyone to not vote for me because I’m gay. I just wanted people to look at my record and that’s exactly what happened,” said Richardson.

David Richardson made history the night of the Primary Election, when he got 33-percent of the vote over three other candidates and became the first openly gay candidate elected to the Florida Legislature.

A certified public accountant from Miami Beach, Richardson says what helped his victory was his willingness to go out into the community and get the votes of many different groups of people. And, as a result of his campaign efforts, the 55-year-old says he’s proud the people within his district, not once, questioned him about his sexuality.

“We attempted 15,092 door knocks, and most of them were done by myself. And, not one time did I have someone close their door on me because I’m gay," remarked Richardson. "And, not one time did I have anyone question me about my status as a gay man.”

Now, that there’s no challenger to face him in the general election, Richardson says he’s looking forward to talking about the issues he campaigned on, like education. He says it’s his number one priority, and as a product of the state’s public school and university systems, he’s concerned about the number of cuts Florida’s seen in education within the last few years.

“Education is an investment in our future, and the decisions that we’re making today will affect how we’re living 20 years from now," said Richardson. "So, it’s really important that we properly fund education, and we structure the educational system in the right way.”

Another main concern is making healthcare more accessible to residents, especially since he says he saw the hardship his parents had to go through in the later years of their life. They passed away a few years ago.

“I really watched the way that they had to negotiate the health care system in the later years of their life," said Richardson. "So, the amount of paperwork and the cost associated with that, I’ve lived firsthand that the nightmare associated with that. So, I’d like to make it a little easier for people to get the health care that they need.”

Richardson says while he does not want to be boxed in as “the gay legislator,” there are still gay issues that are important to him. He says one of the biggest issues he’s like to see changed is one that most people don’t really know about.

“A person can go to work in the state of Florida and be fired immediately if their boss doesn’t want them there because they happen to be gay. And, I find that to be unconscionable," Richardson exclaimed. "And, I’ll be talking about that issue in Tallahassee. And, I’d like to see the state make some changes there where we have employment protections based on sexual orientation.”

Richardson received the backing of many gay rights groups, including Equality Florida. That’s the largest gay rights organization in the state, and its Executive Director Nadine Smith says his win is a real game-changer.

“And, now with the election of David Richardson, there’s going to be somebody who Legislators from all over the state will have to work with," said Smith. "They’ll have to recognize his humanity, and when that happens,  it changes how the lives of our community is treated.”

Richardson may be the only openly gay candidate elected so far, but he’s not the only one running for office. There’s three openly gay Democrats: Ian Whitney of Key West for House District 120, Joe Saunders of Orlando for the House District 49 race, and John Alvarez of Palm Bay in the House District 53 race. All three will face off against republican opponents in the general election in November. The only openly gay candidate currently running for office as a Republican is Scott Herman of Wilton Manors, who’s in the District 94 race, against House Democratic Leader-designate Perry Thurston.

And, Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith says with all these openly gay candidates in the running, there might even be the possibility of forming a caucus to bring all of them together.

“It will be great to not just to have a voice in Tallahassee with the election of David, but to have a caucus in Tallahassee with other out-gay Legislators," said Smith.  "It’s been so long that we have waited to be represented in Tallahassee, that it’s really been gratifying to see the tremendous support for qualified candidates who can also bring the perspective of being gay to Tallahassee.”

Even though he could lose to the Gay Republican candidate Scott Herman, House Democratic Leader designate Perry Thurston says he’s glad to have Richardson on board, and believes that Florida electing Florida’s first openly gay member also says something great about the state of Florida.

"It is unprecedented," Thurston remarked. "And, David Richardson will certainly be serving the entire district that he represents, but he will also be serving the gay community. And, he’s in forensic accounting, and he will be bringing those skills to the Legislature.”

In a statement, House Speaker Designate Will Weatherford says he looks forward to working with the freshman lawmaker as well as the new and returning members this Fall.