Anthony Niedwiecki

Standing Up

Filed By Anthony Niedwiecki | August 12, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Florida, Fort Lauderdale, homophobic behavior, Naugle, Oakland Park

For my first post for Bilerico Florida, I wanted to write about what got me involved in politics and why I think speaking out for our community is so important.

While I've always been extremely active in politics and activism, last summer was a tipping point for me. Many of you know about what happened to my partner, Waymon, and me at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. A baggage handler decided to use the intercom to announce his hatred of gay people, saying "A man that lies with a man as with woman shall be put to death." (You can read all the details here).

What many don't know is that Waymon and I were subject to severe backlash for speaking out against the anti-gay message that was played over the public intercom at the airport. Waymon was spit in the face and called a sinful faggot. We received numerous hate letters, calls, and emails at work and at home. We had to have the police watch our house for weeks because we had death threats, people looking in our windows, and people banging on our door carrying sticks. All because we stood up and fought back against anti-gay hate.

As a result of that incident, and the backlash that followed, my partner and I started a national non-profit, Fight OUT Loud, that is designed to empower people to fight against hate and discrimination directed at LGBT individuals.

Right after we formed that group, we had one of our first projects--to fight against the comments made by Mayor Naugle of Fort Lauderdale that demonized and demeaned our community. We were some of the first to protest the mayor by handing out flyers at the next commission meeting telling the community that bigoted words can lead to violent actions and that they must stop.

Unfortunately, the message in the flyers played out. In the flyer, we stated that his comments can inflame hate crimes, harassment and violence against the LGBT community. That became the sad reality with the killing of Simmie Williams Jr. in the streets of Fort Lauderdale and the violent bashing of a gay couple on Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.

My activism continued during last summer when we were one of the main organizers of a Unity Rally that brought over 1000 people to the steps of city hall. I also worked closely with County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, her assistant Justin Flippen (who is also running for City Commission in Wilton Manors) and the rest of her staff in getting Naugle removed from the Broward County Tourism Development Council, which the commission did by a vote of 9-0.

All of these events led me to one conclusion- we can't sit around and let people get elected who are going to hurt us and our communities. Instead I want to stand up and run to make sure that Oakland Park and the South Florida region deal with the real and difficult issues we must face, and not some made up problem based in bigotry and hate.

While the city was facing severe budget issues, beatings against the homeless, and the lowering of our property values, the mayor decided to manufacture a non-existent problem to demonize the LGBT community. It showed how one person can foster an environment that is dangerous for all LGBT individuals. We witnessed the damage that only ONE city official can do our community and our reputation as a gay-friendly place to live and visit.

We cannot allow this to happen again.

That is why I decided to run for the Oakland Park City Commission. I started as a gay activist and will continue be a leader in our community and use the platform that this office will give me to speak out on our issues. We can no longer elect leaders that will hurt our community. We need to elect leaders from within our community, so when the next Naugle goes on an anti-gay rant, I can stand and say that he is attacking me and my family. That is powerful statement.

We need leaders that will fight and speak out for our community when we are attacked. We need leaders that will actually work on the real problems of our cities, counties and state. I have proven myself as a leader in my community, and I will continue to lead and fight for all of the residents in Oakland Park and the region. Many of you don't know, but Oakland Park has one of the largest numbers of LGBT individuals in the entire state, so we need to make sure that those residents have a voice fighting for their respect and equality.

We are all dealing with falling home values, water restrictions and conservation issues, and our failing education system, to name just name just few. I plan on working on those issues instead of trying to divide our community. That is why the elections over the next year mean so much. We have so many problems that need help and fixing, and we can't allow others to distract us from these difficult challenges.

We have so many amazing openly gay candidates all around the state and we all need to support them. Electing out politicians means that our community has a voice. It means that our elected officials will deal with the issues that matter to us instead of stirring up controversies that foster hate and bigotry.

We all need your help and support to make a difference in Florida. Do whatever you can to help these campaigns so we can show our strength and power and make sure our community has a voice at all levels of government.

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Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | August 12, 2008 4:30 PM

Well said, Anthony, and a great first post! :)

Great first post, Anthony. Thanks for doing all that you do.