The Right to Exist: Co-founder of Equality Florida Nadine Smith speaks about LGBTQ discrimination



Alex Medrano, Staff Reporter

Nadine Smith, a former journalist and one of the most distinct and notable speakers about equality, gave a talk to Texas A&M University-Commerce of the lessons of equal opportunity. After the Orlando Pulse Murders, the continued battle of nondiscrimination was brought into national awareness.

Smith said, “Hate violence, it hangs over you. I’m different after the murders of Orlando. Orlando was a fundamental question that everyone is going to have to answer. Will you dismantle hatred towards LGBT people, or will you be part of keeping it in place? You can’t be neutral on the issue. You have to decide. Either you consider us equals or you think I’m less than you.”

Smith has become an increasingly distinguished woman in 2016, winning many awards that are founded on her civil rights activism. She has visited the White House on several occasions, and in 2013, was named one of Florida state’s Most Powerful and Influential Women by the Florida Diversity Council. She was also given the League of Women Voter’s Woman of Distinction Award earlier this year.

“From the time I was born, I have gotten every message that gay people shouldn’t exist, and if we do exist we have to hide,” Smith said. “And, if we don’t hide then anything that happens to us is our own fault. That message is the heart of what we really have to transform.”

Throughout her own personal life, she has faced opposition from being what she really is.

“When I was in college I lost a job,” Smith said. “My then girlfriend and I were told an apartment wouldn’t rent a single bedroom apartment to two women. The worst circumstance was to not be legally wed to my wife, to ensure our son would be born in a state where both our names would be put on the birth certificate. Even though we were married in 2009, we were legal strangers in our home state.

“It’s an important time for people to be talking about LGBT equality,” she added. “How do we uproot hatred? The issues that remain are the harder ones. They are more deeply entrenched. In the aftermath of marriage equality, we saw more hateful LGBT legislation than ever. A business could turn away someone based on sexual orientation. Most of what those laws do is set an expectation…they set a standard.

“By doing this they erase people from the public square,” Smith explained. “You’re confined to your home. By challenging someone’s ability to access a restroom, you are challenging their right to exist.”

At the same time, to fully accept oneself can be more difficult depending on how and by whom you were raised.

“Coming out is powerful and transformative. because when we are younger, any story they say of us is true and as difficult as it was…the liberation of being out of the closet and unafraid, being able to breathe and be myself, to stop putting up an artifice, changing pronouns…It’s worth more than anything,” Smith said. “Your happiness is worth fighting for.

“When I came out, it was the last night I lived in my parents’ house,” Smith said. “It was the worst case scenario. It was all my fears of this secret would come out, but it was a journey that was familiar to this country. It was difficult for my family to accept me to the day my father walking me down the aisle for my wedding.”

Beyond personal reasons, the upcoming political elections have raised certain hot button items that specifically affect the LGBTQ community.

“I think that this presidential election is a moment of truth for our country,” Smith said. “Are we going to give into fear, or are we going to embrace a vision where everyone has a place and everyone has a responsibility to each other. This is a character question for the country, and what we have in this country right now is a lot of people who believe the system is fundamentally broken on the left and the right. But, fixing a broken system is not burning it the ground but getting involved.

“This race, the prospect of the first female president is creating the same backlash,” Smith conjectured. “I still have faith that our country will not take the path of fear. I think it’s the last gasp of a dinosaur in it’s sunset. There is a new generation coming of age, that don’t understand why we are fighting this fight, that don’t understand the hatred of gay people.”

With everything going on in this country, it has become important to be honest to your own voice and Nadine Smith has become an outspoken proponent in her beliefs of equality.

“I wish everyone thought the way I do but they don’t,” she said. “We all have to find a way, together. We have to end the normalization of hatred towards LGBT people.”