In their early 50s, Lori Geist and Janette Wagner have been married for five years and together for 14 years.
The two women live in St. Augustine. Geist works as a licensed message therapist while her wife is president of Capital City Bank for Putnam and St. Johns County.
With the November election just a few weeks away, the two spoke to the Florida Phoenix about what lies ahead for the LGBTQ community depending on who wins at the ballot box for the president, Congress, state lawmakers, and other offices in Florida.
“We’re concerned that there are talks of revoking our rights,” said Wagner.
“I am lucky enough to be married to Janette,” Geist said, “and have my insurance through her work. But prior to our marriage, when I was paying for my own health insurance, that was a big percentage of my monthly income that would be designated to health insurance” because of a preexisting condition.
Overall, LGBTQ communities are coming to the forefront of the state’s political sphere during the 2020 general election campaign.
With the nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially four more years of President Trump, LGBTQ voters are weighing in about what might be at risk in November.
A majority of LGBTQ voters support Biden
A report from GLAAD, a LGBTQ-focused media group, shows that former Vice President Joe Biden has far more support from the community than Trump.
The poll, conducted by Pathfinder Opinion Research, shows that 74 percent of LGBTQ registered voters polled are supporting Biden over Trump.
The report says that “aversion to Trump/Pence is driving the lopsided vote margin,” as more than two-thirds of LGBTQ adults find Trump “very unfavorable.” The data also show that 81 percent of LGBTQ likely voters are more motivated to vote than they have been in past elections.
A previous poll of battleground states from the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ-rights organization, showed that Biden had a slim lead over Trump in Florida among likely voters and that a majority of all voters polled were supportive of LGBTQ protections under the proposed Equality Act, the Phoenix previously reported.
Many Floridians in the LGBTQ community are worried that decisions made by the Trump administration will directly affect their lives.
Jon Mathes, 30, a manager at AXIOS Lifestyle Spa in Tallahassee, is worried about the safety of LGBTQ rights since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He mentioned the Barrett nomination as a potential threat to his liberties as a married gay man.
“There is a chance, even the slightest chance, that there could be a repeal on gay marriages,” Mathes said, “and I feel like that is such a harmful step backwards after there was so much progress made.”
Mathes continued: “Gay or not — we are Americans and we should be protected.”
But not everyone is worried that a Barrett nomination will spell doom for the LGBTQ community.
Conservative LGBTQ voters
Taylor Smith is a 20-year-old student at Tallahassee Community College who plans on majoring in political science. He is a gay man who supports the Trump administration.
He says that the controversies around Barrett’s nomination are less of a concern for LGBTQ folk than many believe.
“I do support her,” said Smith, adding that he hasn’t seen evidence that she plans on overturning any law that protects LGBTQ rights. “I firmly believe that it won’t happen.”
Smith praises the Trump administration’s handling of the economy.
“The economy has been amazing for us,” said Taylor, who shared that his father’s business, Precision Dent Removal, struggled under the Obama administration. “When you have a small business and the economy is not recovering as fast as it needs to be, it’s really damaging.”
Smith sees the economy as a higher priority than other issues, such as climate change.
Smith is a member of Log Cabin Republicans of Florida, a conservative LGBTQ group.
Andrew Brett, president of Broward Log Cabin Republicans, said the organization’s main effort this year is to reelect “the most pro-gay president the nation ever had” — President Trump.
“Joe Biden has never been a friend to the gay community, until recently,” said Brett in a conversation with the Florida Phoenix.
Biden faces a few points of criticism on the LGBTQ front dating from the Clinton administration. In 1996, Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman and was ruled unconstitutional in 2013.
An article from The New York Times highlights Biden’s long and complicated relationship with LGBTQ legislation. While he did vote in favor of DOMA, he is also credited for moving faster on same-sex marriage equality than his contemporaries.
The Times wrote: “Mr. Biden was the highest-ranking Democrat to initially endorse same-sex marriage — disclosing his position in a television interview in May 2012 that helped prod President Barack Obama to take the same position in an interview a few days later.”
Biden has been progressive on LGBTQ issues during the 2020 campaign. He supports the Equality Act, which will “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”
LGBTQ candidates gain traction in state elections
State Rep. Shevrin Jones is a Democrat who represents part of Broward County. When he was elected to the state House in 2018, he made Florida history as the first Black person from the LGBTQ community to serve in that chamber.
Now he appears on his way to the Florida Senate as the first openly gay senator. (He still needs to win the general election in November to solidify his win — he faces a write-in candidate.)
“It’s a new day,” said Jones. “It speaks volume to where this country is moving towards.”
In August, Florida saw a lift in LGBTQ representation with Michele Rayner, a Black lesbian who won her race for House District 70. The primaries also suggested that Floridians are less interested than before in candidates with anti-LGBTQ track records, according to a report from the Miami Herald.
Several candidates with anti-LGBTQ track records lost in the primary election, according to the Herald: Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet, representing part of Palm Beach County, Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville, and Republican Rep. Mike Hill of Pensacola. The Herald also noted that one of Jones’ opponents, former state Sen. Daphne Campbell, supported anti-gay legislation, including a ban on gay adoption.
“We are seeing the rejection of hate and bigotry,” Jones said.
Jones feels his voters are more concerned about how he will help Floridians and less concerned with his private life.
And while Florida LGBTQ candidates have seen success in this year’s primaries, concerns remain that Florida lawmakers will act against the interest of LGBTQ citizens.
Equality Florida, a LGBTQ advocacy group, announced a $125,000 ad campaign to “set the record straight” about the record of Republican Jason Brodeur, who is running for the Florida Senate in Central Florida’s District 9. In 2015, when Brodeur was in the Florida House, he sponsored legislation to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian parents.
The conversation with married couple Geist and Wagner reflects the changing environment as LGBTQ couples gain more acceptance as parents.
“I had to jump through hoops for schools to accept disclosing information to a partner — medical information as well. As time has passed it’s now being more acknowledged, more accepted,” said Wagner.
Geist added: “We’ve felt more open to be able to say, ‘We are together,’ and there hasn’t been as much resistance to the idea of co-parenting.”
“My hope is that more people within the LGBTQ community vote. We’ve heard different stories about some that are choosing not to vote at all because they don’t feel like their voices are being heard,” said Geist. “And that, in of itself, is not going to help their cause.”