“Celebrate Our Families Day” in Tampa & Orlando

By Vicki Nantz
Sunday was a stormy day across Florida, blinding rain and slippery roads - a perfect day to stay home. But we didn't. Nor did the nearly 200 folks who came out to the "Celebrate Our Families" events in Tampa and Orlando. 

My partner, Mary Meeks, and I made the 90 minute drive from Orlando to Tampa to screen our new documentary, In Anita's Wake: The Irrational War on Florida's Gay Families, at Tampa Metropolitan Community Church.  We found well over 100 enthusiastic people there, led by the always ebullient Rev. Phyllis Hunt. 

There were community leaders in attendance from many organizations in the Tampa-St. Pete area, and they shared progress reports on various fronts in the LGBT struggle for equality.  Our film was preceded by a press conference with U.S. Representative Kathy Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, both of whom spoke eloquently about the need for LGBT equality.  A proclamation from Tampa Mayor Iorio declaring it "Celebrate Our Families Day in Tampa" was presented by Cathy James of "Secure Our Childrens Rights," and Zeke Fread of "Tampa Bay Pride."  

Media reps at the event included the St. Pete Times, Watermark, Fox 13, and St. Pete's Channel 10.  Our film was well-received, and was immediately followed by a lively Q&A with Shelbi Day of the ACLU, and Brian Winfield of Equality Florida. Tampa was a wonderful gathering of positive people eager to change the world.
Immediately following the Tampa Q&A, Mary, Shelbi and I made another 90 minute harrowing drive through torrential downpours to Orlando for a second sneak preview of our film at Orlando's Joy MCC.  

There Rev. John Middleton enthusiastically put out the welcome mat for 70 attendees, some of whom arrived with tales of the Orlando N.O.M. protest earlier in the day which had attracted 140 counter-demonstrators to N.O.M.'s measly 15 anti-gay protesters.  The film was preceded by welcoming comments from Equality Florida's Joe Saunders who read a proclamation from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declaring it "Celebrate Our Families Day in Orlando."  

State Representative Scott Randolph, who is featured in the film, and who had valiantly led efforts in March to bring attention to the adoption ban on the floor of the Florida House, then spoke. Media reps included the Watermark and Bright House News 13. 

After the screening, the film received a lovely standing ovation from a crowd of very informed people who then stayed for another lively Q&A panel.  Like the earlier event, Orlando was a wonderful gathering and it topped off a wonderful day - despite the weather, and despite N.O.M.'s ugly, but very limited, presence in our town.
I shared my reasons for being a part of the day's 2 events, and for making my new documentary, In Anita's Wake, at the press conference in Tampa. 

There are hundreds of thousands of gay families in Florida.  Parents and children who want and need nothing more, and nothing less, than what all families want and need – the right to legally protect and provide for the people they love.  And what does that mean?  It means the right to be recognized as legal next of kin; the right to make medical decisions for sick children or incapacitated partners; the right to make funeral arrangements when a child or partner dies.  These are basic, fundamental rights that every family requires in order to navigate through the life events that every family will face.  And they are rights that every family takes for granted – unless you are a gay family in Florida.

In 1977, Anita Bryant started a war on the gay community that continues to this day.   Her malicious rhetoric, based on nothing more than religion-fueled bigotry, prompted our Florida Legislature to pass laws that continue to harm gay families - like the 1977 statute that categorically bans all gay people from adopting children.

In this documentary we wanted to show some of the actual families - the actual parents and children - who are directly affected by Florida’s adoption ban.   Parents like Martin Gill, like Vanessa & Melanie Alenier, who only want to provide loving homes and stability for their kids.  Parents like David Bloom & Damian McNamara, like Mike Federau & Curt Mellon – all of whom understand that children need permanence, security, and legal safeguards  - because without those things a child cannot thrive and cannot succeed in this life.

I think all of us agree that people who intentionally harm children are the most despicable people in our society.  Well, the politicians and religious leaders who support efforts to prevent gay people from legally protecting each other and their families are in fact harming children.

Every single day this adoption ban remains in place, children suffer needlessly.  It’s time for Florida to do the right thing and end this ban.  The children, whose stories are documented in this film, and thousands more just like them, deserve legally recognized forever families.  And nothing less.