Politics and Power
Greg Baldwin speaks with the straightforwardness of a person who has made the following statement so many times he has forgotten that most people will miss the weight of its full meaning: "The heterosexual community has to understand what we want and where we're coming from and who we are."
Baldwin, a 44-year-old litigation attorney and a partner in the state's largest law firm, chairs the Dade Action PAC, a year-old political action committee that is an incipient presence on South Florida's gay and lesbian landscape. Sitting at the varnished desk that takes up most of his eleventh-floor office in Holland and Knight's Brickell Avenue suite, Baldwin is a presence in himself: tall and fair-skinned, with a powerful build that seems appropriate for his clean-cut American good looks, and gray eyes that are remarkable not because of their size or color, but because they seldom seem to blink.
"I would say 75 per cent of all heterosexual people think of gay people as a bunch of promiscuous, maniacal nuts who run around in dresses, talk with lithps, and have loose wrists," Baldwin continues. "And what are we really? We are teachers, we are lawyers, we are doctors, we're next-door neighbors, we are priests, we are nuns, we are rabbis. We're laborers, we're cab drivers, we're everything else. We pay taxes just like everybody else does."
Unlike everybody else, gays and lesbians tend not to get the benefit of the taxes they pay. Baldwin and the 107-member Action PAC aren't pursuing a goal that's unique among homosexual activist groups: They want equal rights in housing and health, and they want the government, the police, and the heterosexual public to treat them like human beings. But their approach to that deceptively simple-sounding destination sets them apart. Neither a placard-toting crew of radical activists nor a crisis organization with an AIDS-specific agenda, the Action PAC delivers its broader message through traditional political means: phone calls and meetings with local and state officials; endorsements and campaign support at election time.
Which is not to say they oppose the efforts of other activist groups, or ignore crises in health, harassment, and hate crimes in the campaign off-season. The Action PAC played a role in shepherding the recent hate-crimes amendment through the state legislature. Earlier this year, when several Miami Herald stories prompted county officials to draft laws prohibiting unsafe sex in health clubs and so-called bathhouses, Action PAC was contacted for support and advice.
More recently, in response to an increasing number of complaints about harassment by police in Miami Beach, Baldwin and other Action PAC board members, along with members of Broward-based GUARD (Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrimination), have held meetings with Miami Beach Police Chief Phillip Huber, demanding unbiased police treatment of gays and lesbians, and successfully lobbying for a "sensitivity" section in the department's in-service training sessions for officers. Huber is cooperating; the sensitivity training, a one-hour course taught by the Action PAC's Robin Buhrke, was added to the in-service sessions for Miami Beach officers in mid-May.
"It's just beyond the pale to have a cop walk up to you in 1991 and say, `Hey faggot.' I mean, it's hard to picture a cop walking up to a black person and saying, `Hey nigger.' And I have trouble imagining a cop walking up to a Jewish person and calling him a kike. But to say, `Hey faggot,' `Hey queer,' `Hey fairy' -- that's the coin of the realm. It's not just punks driving past a gay bar, it's cops, calling you a faggot. I mean, there's a real societal message in that stuff.
"`Sensitivity training' is really a misnomer. All it is is an attempt to explain to authority figures where a particular group is coming from, its view of the world. See, we -- and I suppose this goes for any minority -- we don't view authority and government the way the average middle-class white American straight person views it. Because we've been beaten up by it. A lot of us will walk out of a gay or lesbian bar at one or two o'clock in the morning and be stopped by the cops and be terrified. Why? Not because we're being stopped by a cop, but because of the fear that being stopped is going to wind up `outing' us -- by `outing' I mean the involuntary disclosure of a person's sexual orientation. And for us that's a very real fear. Because when we get outed, we can get fired, we can get thrown out of our apartments, our neighbors can turn on us, all sorts of terrible things can happen that you never even think of.
"Chief Huber was very responsive. We've met with him twice. The first was at the end of April. There had been reports in The Weekly News [the Miami-based gay and lesbian newspaper] of people complaining that they were entrapped, or harassed verbally. The cops in Miami Beach had been outstanding during the Health Crisis Network AIDS march in February. They were polite, they were respectful, they were sensitive, it was everything you could want. And yet a month later we get these awful reports from TWN.
"Part of the allegation was arrests of gay men on the beach for lewd-and-lascivious behavior, and a lot of allegations of entrapment. There are apparently two cops over there that liked to pretend they're having oral sex, and they invite passers-by to join them. And if you pause to join the `fun,' you get busted.
"I said to Huber, `Look, if you were a cop and you went out on the beach or in a parking lot and you found a boy and a girl making it in the car or in the sand, what would you do?' He looked at me. I said, `We both know what you'd do. You'd harass them, you'd hassle them, you'd embarrass the hell out of them, and you'd chase them away.' And I said, `But if you go to the same place and find two men doing it, or two women, what would you do? You'd arrest them.'
"The letter of the law is that if a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman are having sex on the beach, it's not legal. They don't arrest the man and woman, but they do arrest the men and they do arrest the women, and all we said to Huber is, `Why? Why the double standard? We don't read about a boy and a girl on their prom night who get arrested in their car for lewd-and-lascivious.'
"He looked at us in total surprise and said, `I never thought of it that way.' Which is true. Nine out of ten straights have never thought of it that way. Because we're not legitimate, we're not normal. I hold my lover's hand, it's a public misdemeanor.
"He also said, `We don't prosecute.' And I said to him, `How would you like to go through your life with an arrest on your record for lewd-and-lascivious, whether you get prosecuted or not?' If you ever try to get a job with the government and they run your criminal history, they're going to come up with a lewd-and-lascivious and you're dead in the water.
"When we went over the second time, with GUARD, Huber said he had been stressing to his officers that, `In your decisions to arrest, if you would not arrest a man and a woman, then don't arrest two men. But whatever you do, be consistent.' Now, what effect that's going to have, I don't know. But I can tell you the effect it's had on me. I'm talking to a guy who knows that South Beach is changing, and who wants the department to change with it. And I can work with a guy like that.
"We also confronted Huber about the Rapoport incident. Joel Rapoport and Freddy Rodriguez of [AIDS activist organization] ACT UP were out in July, late at night, putting up posters on South Beach, explicit posters advertising safe sex. And a cop came by and saw the posters and just went off the deep end (this is according to them, of course; I've got their side of the story), making references to little faggot clubs and this disgusting faggot stuff on the posters. She seized the posters and didn't arrest them, which is an absolute no-no.
"Joel called us up and complained about it, so I wrote a letter to Huber and said that it's not our point to defend their conduct; you're not supposed to put up posters in Miami Beach, it doesn't matter if you're advertising B'nai B'rith, or the White People's League, or safe sex. But no cop has the right to start mouthing off to a person about that person's sexual orientation or race or creed or color or political affiliation or anything else. I said, `For sure, if this involved an Afro-American or someone who was Jewish, you'd come down like that. And I expect the same thing.'
"Huber said the best way to get a handle on the whole thing is to have people report harassment to the department's Internal Affairs office. A lot of times an investigation's going to be inconclusive, a lot of times it's the cop's word against the victim's word. But Huber said IA does two things. The first is, there's nothing in the world that a cop hates more than an IA investigation. And the second is that if every gay or lesbian person that gets hassled by the cops reports it, the word is going to get out that if you start mouthing off to a gay person, you're going to wind up in an Internal Affairs investigation -- and it's going to stop. Unfortunately there's going to be a very difficult transition period, because we're going to be finding more and more incidents as people speak out. It makes the situation look worse and worse instead of better and better."
In several ways, Greg Baldwin's own life got worse and worse before it got better. A graduate of Boston College, Baldwin served in Vietnam as a lieutenant, an army infantry platoon leader who earned an Army Commendation Medal, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a chestful of shrapnel, and a bum knee. After attending law school at Cornell, he took a job in the organized-crime section of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked from 1974 until 1980. For the next two years Baldwin worked for Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn on the Senate Subcommittee on Investigation.
In December of 1981, Baldwin publicly "came out" as a homosexual, effectively ending his professional association with Senator Nunn, who happened to be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Even though he didn't work on that committee, Baldwin was suddenly considered a security risk. "Nunn said, `If my enemies find out that I have a security risk on one of my staffs, it won't matter what committee, they will use it to withhold information from me,'" Baldwin recalls. "He said, `I don't want to destroy your career, I'm not going to fire you, and I'm not going to ask for your resignation, but I do think you should go find another job.'"
End of conversation. End of life in Washington, D.C., and end of marriage for Baldwin, who has two sons, one of whom is now twenty, the other seventeen. Baldwin says that to this day he doesn't understand why a man who was considered good enough to tote an M-16 into battle should be considered a threat to democracy because he sleeps with men, but he has accepted it as a fact of his life.
In 1982 Baldwin came to Miami and got a job here with the U.S. Attorney's Office, even though a background check revealed his sexual orientation and caused some friction. "They found out I was gay and concluded that made me a security risk," he explains. "That one I could fight, and did. And won." In 1986 he left the U.S. Attorney for Holland and Knight, where he was made a partner in 1988. Baldwin says his sexual orientation has never become an issue at the law firm, and has not interfered in his work in gay and lesbian politics and AIDS groups. Since coming to Miami he has helped organize the Health Crisis Network, and was a founding member of both Body Positive and HOPE (Home of Peace Enterprises, which gives emergency cash assistance to people with AIDS).
Baldwin wasn't here in 1977, when Anita Bryant launched the "Save Our Children" campaign that led to the defeat of a countywide gay-rights referendum. But he is keenly aware of the impact it had on the lives of Dade's gays and lesbians. Leading the rancorous battle to pass the referendum was Bob Kunst, executive director of Cure AIDS Now. Kunst, whose stewardship of Cure AIDS Now is currently under investigation for possible misuse of county funds, has said that even in defeat, the campaign was the best thing that ever happened to homosexuals here, galvanizing the community to come out and fight. Baldwin argues that Bryant's gay-bashing had the opposite effect, and if anything at all was galvanized, it was Kunst himself. Through most of the Eighties, Baldwin asserts, Kunst was the principal "spokesman" for Dade's gays and lesbians, simply by default.
"Whenever anybody wanted to know about the gay community, the media went rushing down to Bob Kunst," Baldwin says. "And Kunst, who's an expert in sound bites, would come back with statements -- some of which were good, some bad, and most of which were embarrassing to gays. You'd see him on TV, and under it were those little white letters: `Gay Spokesperson.' And most of the gay and lesbian community would cringe every time we saw it."
No single event since "Save Our Children" has had as significant an effect on gays and lesbians as the turmoil that erupted in the Dade County Commission this past March, after the Miami Herald published several articles revealing unsafe sex practices at Club Body Center on Coral Way. The stories sparked county commissioners to action, and the resulting debate that surrounded efforts to pass a "bathhouse ordinance" was a watershed, according to Baldwin. Members of the homosexual community proved that they had the courage to step forward and speak in a public forum for themselves -- without the intrusion of Bob Kunst.
"The bathhouses had changed or had been closed in many other cities, by public-health authorities or by city zoning, sometimes over the opposition of the gay community, sometimes with the gay community. Here, nothing had happened. We knew in October that this article was being written, and we were concerned, because anything that deals with a gay bathhouse impacts on the gay community, at least from a public relations point of view. There was no question that there was going to be legislation; it was clear something was going to be passed. What happened was, Commissioner Gersten contacted us and said, `Can you all see your way to support this?' We told Gersten that we could only support it if it was from a public-health point of view, and if the law-enforcement aspect was basically health oriented instead of police raids. He said, `You're not going to have any problem with what I write.'
"He sent it over, and we sent it to about a dozen organizations. The feedback we got was that the definition of high-risk sex was so broad as to include any sex, and it was basically an anti-sex ordinance. Nobody would support it in that respect. The other problem was that the enforcement was so vague that conceivably we could have Metro cops rushing in and doing raids. We told Gersten that if he amended it in those two areas, he'd have eight or ten organizations come down and testify on its behalf. But before the ordinance was even drafted, Bob Kunst started screaming that this was gay bashing.
"The problem wasn't that it was gay bashing; the problem was that the goddamn zoning people and the goddamn health people totally ignored what was going on there. Pools and whirlpools are supposed to be licensed in Dade County, and they're supposed to be inspected every six months. The pool at the Club Body Center hadn't been inspected in over two years, and the inspectors and licensers didn't even know there were two whirlpools, because they had never been there. I can see them sitting in the office, saying, `Ah, don't bother with that, that's just the fags.' Nobody says anything, nobody does anything. Because it's just a bunch of faggots. `That's okay. We can let them be. They can go kill themselves.' That's gay bashing.
"When we went over to lobby on behalf of the ordinance, Commissioner Sherman Winn asked me, `If the gay and lesbian community knew about Club Body Center, why didn't the gay community do anything about it?' I said to him, `I think a lot of it is because we didn't know how.' And he said basically, `You all weren't organized enough to do it, were you?' and I said, `That's right. We weren't.'
"And we weren't. There was no organization to do it. There was nowhere for the politicians to go; there was nowhere for the community to go. This goes back, I think, to Anita Bryant, to the fact that, for better or for worse, that campaign was essentially run by Bob Kunst, Jack Campbell [Democratic activist and proprietor of Club Body Center], and a few other people, and we got our teeth kicked in. I think that traumatized the gay and lesbian community, and it forced many lesbians and gay people to become apolitical, to just turn their backs on the system in disgust, and to set up their own lives, separate and apart and insulated from the rest of society. As a result, we have not integrated ourselves into this community at all, which hurts us very badly.
"Bob Kunst is a very complex character, and he has done an enormous amount of good and he's done an enormous amount of bad for the community. The bottom line is that Bob is motivated ultimately for Bob, and not for the gay community, not for the lesbian community. Bob makes a living out of this. Bob makes a living out of AIDS. And the person who backs Bob Kunst and keeps him financed is essentially Jack Campbell. According to Kunst, Campbell has given $50,000 to Cure AIDS Now and is a member of its board. And it strikes me as no coincidence that Bob Kunst was the one person in any AIDS organization who stood up and tried to defend unregulated bathhouses.
"Jack Campbell makes a living out of this whole thing. Jack's money comes from the bathhouses. The bathhouses are in existence because we are oppressed and repressed, and we have nowhere else to go. We need special places. We need gay bars and things like that. If there were not this climate of oppression and repression, we would not need a Club Body Center. But Jack Campbell isn't the issue.
"After Anita Bryant came the growth and maturity of the gay community in a very subtle and disjointed way. But over that period there was a great realization that we can do these things, that we can form organizations, take care of our own and others. If the Herald had published those articles one or two years before, the gay community would have said and done nothing, it just would have gotten beaten up. But it happened that the maturity and the articles came at the same time.
"This is what I'm really, really proud of with the PAC. It was the PAC that coordinated it. It was the PAC that brought them together. They all formed their own opinions, and they all had the balls to stand up and publicly express that position. You had organizations that had never spoken out before as anything -- gay or straight organizations -- taking public stands in front of the commission. Health Crisis Network, Body Positive, HOPE, the Gay People's Alliance, the Gay and Lesbian Youth Group, it just went on and on. They all came down and spoke. That was the great breakthrough of it -- that all these people who had never been out before in their lives stood up in front of an audience and said, `I'm lesbian,' or, `I'm gay,' and, `This is what I think is good for my community.' The extent that they were for us or against us is totally irrelevant. The point is, they did it. That does more to create and mature and give self-respect to the lesbian and gay community than anything anybody can do. That's not a one-person job. It's an entire community saying, `Hey, it's time.'"
As recently as four years ago, when Baldwin and a few others attempted to form a gay and lesbian political group, they had trouble finding people willing to serve on a board of directors. But this past summer Baldwin and others began meeting with the idea of forming a political action committee, and, says Baldwin, "I couldn't get the people off the board." By August 10 of last year the Dade Action PAC had registered with the state.
One catalyst for change has been the AIDS crisis, although Baldwin is quick to emphasize that his organization is not an AIDS PAC. "Maybe that's the reason we're at the point we are," he says. "Because so many of us have lost friends. That sounds so trite; I don't know how to give it meaning. In the past twelve months, I've probably been to twelve different memorial services for people who have died. I don't have old friends any more. I don't have anybody that I've known for fifteen years. They've all died. We are absolute wizards at memorial services. It has an enormous effect."
In this past November's elections, the PAC's first, the group concentrated on two state House races: districts 114 and 117. In District 114 (from Galloway Road to South Miami to SW Eighth Street), they backed Fran Bohnsack, a Democrat, against incumbent Republican Bruce Hoffmann. Hoffmann won the election by 112 votes. In the 117th District (from Key Biscayne to Kendall to Coral Gables), the Action PAC supported Steve Nuell in the Democratic primary, which he lost to incumbent Susan Guber. In the general election, they did not back Guber but rather a Republican, Gary Gerrard. "We did it because trying to open any sort of communication with Susan Guber was like pulling eye teeth," Baldwin says, adding that local Democrats were shocked that the PAC would endorse a Republican candidate. "But if we weren't bipartisan, we'd be a Democratic club or a Republican club. Why pretend to be a political action committee if you're not bipartisan? It destroys half your effectiveness."
Susan Guber was re-elected. But in many ways, losing was a victory. Baldwin believes the Action PAC was able to sway a substantial number of votes in the gay and lesbian community, to the extent that Guber's staff later asked the group about its interests in the legislative session. The Action PAC wanted two things: an amendment to the hate-crimes act that would include sexual orientation; and opposition to any bill that would require mandatory reporting of a person's HIV status by name, address, social security number, or other identifier. Although Baldwin says other activist groups, particularly the Dolphin Democrats and the Florida Task Force, deserve most of the credit for passage of the hate-crimes amendment, the community's interests were served, and for her part, Guber responded positively.
This fall the Action PAC will devote its attention to Miami Beach, where a new mayor will be elected and all six commission seats are to be filled. Before election day, Baldwin hopes the group can double or triple its membership rolls and, through fund-raising events, gather $10,000 for operating expenses and an additional $10,000 to support candidates. By law a political action committee is allowed to contribute up to $1000 directly to a candidate (as of January 1, 1992 the maximum for contributions drops to $500), and to independently assist campaigns by means such as direct mailings and paid political advertisements. During the first week in September, the Action PAC expects to issue its endorsements.
"We're getting out our endorsement questionnaire," says Baldwin. "We're asking things like, `Will you support a domestic-partners registration act? Will you extend city employment benefits -- retirement and insurance -- to people who are registered under an act like that?'" If Miami Beach were to pass such legislation, unmarried couples -- who comprise an ever-growing percentage of the population -- could register their partnership the same way married couples do, and the "spouses" of city employees would be entitled to the same benefits married "spouses" get. Other questionnaire items ask candidates for their opinions about the formation of a community relations board, a civilian review board for the police, and an unpaid liaison position between the gay and lesbian community and the City of Miami Beach. This last, Baldwin admits, "might sound kind of silly -- until you realize that it will ultimately become a liaison between South Beach and the city."
The Beach is an obvious target for the Action PAC. Not only are all the commission seats up for grabs, but the area's gay and lesbian population, especially in South Beach, appears to be growing faster than anywhere else in the county. In fact OutWeek, a New York-based gay publication, tabbed South Beach as a "gay mecca" in a March cover story. (Greg Baldwin, it should be pointed out, owns a house in Coral Gables.)
"Is South Beach going to become a `gay mecca'? That's a terrible question, because it misses the whole point. What you're doing is freezing a neighborhood in transition in one moment in time and saying, `This is what it is always going to be, this is what it was aimed to be.' Every community is constantly in change. And what's happening on South Beach is overdue. It's what's happened in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, L.A., New York, Buffalo, Rochester, and a dozen other cities in this country. You get a piece of the city that gets run-down, beaten up. The schools get crummy, the crime rate goes up, and what they call `undesirables' are moving in. And then somebody suddenly realizes, `Hey, you know, these buildings are not all that bad. They could be fixed up. They could look nice. We could make money on this.'
"So somebody goes in and buys an apartment building for $100,000, fixes the thing up, raises the rents, and sells it for $200,000. The person who buys it does the same thing and sells it for $300,000. And the same thing happens with individual homes. Washington is the one I remember best, because I lived there while it was happening. I was gnashing my teeth because I didn't have the money to get into the market there. Not just Dupont Circle, but all over -- property that nobody else would touch.
"The thing is, why would nobody else touch it? There's a good reason. Because the `average' American -- married, a couple of kids -- they have to go where there are decent schools, where the kids can go out and play. Two men don't have to worry about the kids, the schools. And you're talking about double-income family units. The Wall Street Journal really pointed this out with great eloquence. The average gay-couple income in the U.S. (gay men, that is -- no matter how you slice it, women get screwed economically) is $55,000 a year. The average heterosexual-couple income is $35,000 a year. Think of the disposable income that a lot of gay couples have, ironically in relationships that the law won't recognize.
"They can go into a place like South Beach and sink money into a place, improve it, sell it, and move out. They don't have to worry about the average city services, because they don't need them as badly. So what you have is a constant progression. Gay people move in, or lesbian people move in, they improve the neighborhood. In the process of this, heterosexual couples move in with kids, and they start demanding better schools. And the better schools can be provided, because now it's a better neighborhood and the tax base is much stronger. The whole thing feeds on itself. What you ultimately end up with is not a `gay mecca,' which is bullshit, or a `straight mecca,' which is equally bullshit. What you wind up with is an economically and socially viable community of gay people and straight people -- married, single, whatever -- that works.
"I wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood that's totally gay. I don't now, and I won't move to one. I like diversity as much as everybody else. I enjoy my neighbors. I don't think people are rushing into Miami Beach because they think they'll live only with gay people. I think that number one, they're thinking it's economically sensible, and number two, it's a comfortable environment, a place where they can live without being harassed or hassled. This is the problem with the cops there. That's why people on the Beach won't take that any more, because they didn't come for that. They know they live in a community that is, in some areas, predominantly homosexual, and they're not going to be treated like the minority.
"And we can get that by voting. We've had at least one candidate from each one of the commission races and the mayoral race -- and in fact more than one in most of them -- contact us asking for our questionnaire, and looking for our endorsement, because they know the potential voting power of the lesbian and gay community."
What do you do when you've offered your support and a candidate doesn't want it? Or is afraid that it will do his or her campaign more harm than good? For a gay and lesbian political group, endorsing candidates is a double-edge proposition. This past fall, the Dade Action PAC endorsed Alex Penelas in his race against incumbent Metro Commissioner Jorge Valdes. The Action PAC endorsed other candidates, too, including commissioners Sherman Winn and Joe Gersten. But Penelas was young and unmarried, and word got out that the Valdes campaign planned to use the endorsement in radio spots emphasizing that Penelas was supported by homosexuals. When Action PAC members got in touch with Valdes, according to Baldwin, the commissioner said, "No, no, no, I won't do that, that's dirty pool." The day before the election -- which Penelas won -- the Valdes campaign distributed a flyer that reproduced the Action PAC's endorsement. It circled Penelas's name, circled the words identifying the PAC as "gay and lesbian individuals," and drew a line between the two. Says Baldwin: "It stinks, a real smear tactic."
It's not difficult for Baldwin to envision an election in which gay rights becomes the main campaign issue "because the other candidate is a yahoo." When the Action PAC offered its support to Gary Gerrard, they did so on the condition that he had to accept it publicly. No hush-hush efforts to get out the gay vote; no resorting to the subtlety of palm cards on election day. Baldwin says Gerrard wanted to accept the endorsement, but his campaign had a great deal of trouble with it. "Saying to a politician, `Gee, I understand why you would not want us to publicly endorse you,' is saying to him, `Yeah, I realize that faggots can be a real problem to your election,'" Baldwin explains. "Well, that's exactly the opposite of what we want to convey. So it's a tough decision."
Baldwin himself is unequivocal about the subject. "Personally where do I come down on it? Balls to the walls. You want our endorsement, you take it publicly," he says. "I don't want to see us cut off our heads to spite a headache. To turn to a politician and say, `You can accept our endorsement secretly,' is stupid from our point of view. The balancing point is what we want to accomplish in an election as opposed to what we want to accomplish in the long run. How we're going to resolve this, I don't know. But we will."
The Dade Action PAC, Baldwin stresses, is very much focused on the long haul. He completes his term as the organization's chair in December, and says he has no intention of becoming the spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community or of chairing the group for a second term. "For some reason, the lesbian and gay community has always thought in terms of `a leader,'" he observes. "The heterosexual community doesn't have `a leader.' It has `leadership.' There's a hundred people in this county that you could call the `leaders.' Why should the lesbian and gay community have to have a leader? It doesn't make sense. Our problem is we always think of it in terms of one person."
Baldwin's successor, University of Miami associate professor of psychology Robin Buhrke, has already been elected by the board. The Action PAC's primary aim will remain the same: secure gay and lesbian rights -- eventually in the form of a county ordinance. More than likely, such legislation is many years away. For one thing, gays and lesbians must win over the Hispanic community. Although the Action PAC does have Hispanic members, Baldwin has stopped short of bringing the gay-rights issue to Latins. "I think it would be a mistake to try and sell this whole thing to the Hispanic community," he explains. "It's something the Hispanic community has to pick up by itself. It has to see a functioning political group within Dade County society. When Hispanics feel there is that kind of group they can deal with -- and maybe have to deal with -- then they will."
"I think we could pass a gay-rights bill in the county commission right now, it's as simple as that. Do I want [the commissioners] to pass it? No, because we can't win a referendum. We're not organized and we don't have the money. Will we be? Hell, yeah -- in five, six, seven years. What we're looking for is to set up an organization that is strong enough that ultimately we'll not only be able to pass an equal-rights bill, but we'll be able to sustain it in a countywide referendum. Whether it's on the Beach or in the county, we know we're going to hit a referendum.
"What effect are we going to have? I don't know. Look at Miami Beach in November and I'll tell you. Let's say we carry the couple thousand votes that we believe we can in Miami Beach. We all know that a couple thousand votes will carry that election. Let's say that we elect the commission and the mayor. What's the next step? Run in and get a gay-rights vote [from commissioners]? You're nuts. The next step is to go to the politicians and get an anti-discrimination clause for hiring and firing among municipal employees. Get our friends to introduce us to our enemies. Whether it's city, whether it's county, Miami Beach, Miami, Coral Gables, anything, we're a minority by definition. We're never going to win an election or a gay-and-lesbian-rights referendum on our own. Broward County has proved that. Straight people hold the majority of the votes. We have to convince them. It's sort of stupid to go up to Susan Guber or Gary Gerrard or Xavier Suarez and say, `I want a gay-rights bill and I want it today and I want you to introduce it, and if you don't, goddamn it, you're a bigot.' That plus 25 cents might get you half a cup of coffee.
"What's going to happen eventually is that we're going to have a bunch of municipalities in the county that have passed an equal-rights ordinance. And when we get the standard arguments -- `Oh my God, you'll molest all our children! You'll take over our schools!' -- we'll be able to say, `Well, Miami Beach has had this ordinance for five years. None of this has happened in Miami Beach. South Miami has had this ordinance for four years. None of this has happened in South Miami. The crime rate didn't go up. The number of missing children didn't increase.' Bit by bit, until we get to the county. And then we'll hit the county, then we'll hit the state.
"There's probably 70 cities that have gay-rights ordinances -- human-rights ordinances. There's legislation in Palm Beach County that provides for protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Tampa has something. Gainesville is considering something, so is Monroe County. But nobody's ever done it down here. In Broward they spent ten years building bridges. The Democratic party endorsed them, the labor unions endorsed them, they had all the basic power structure endorsing them. They didn't win the referendum, but that's a monument for down here. I don't care whether we come in first or last, I just want Dade County to do it. And they will. When we go for it, we will go for it knowing that our enemies are either neutral or on our side. Or knowing that we can beat them. One of those three.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.