Florida has its first ever LGBTQ consumer advocate.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried appointed Shenika “Nik” Harris to the newly created position in her agency.
Harris, an attorney who spent more than a decade with the state Department of Transportation, will serve as a liaison to the LGBTQ community. She will also raise awareness of opportunities in the agriculture industry for LGBTQ Floridians, while helping the community address issues of discrimination and fraud, Fried said.
“Historically, the state of Florida has turned a blind eye to discrimination against our LGBTQ community — but today is a new day in our state. We’re building a department that represents all Floridians, and it’s paramount that LGBTQ Floridians have a voice in defending their safety, economic security, and well-being. I’m pleased to have Nik Harris as our LGBTQ consumer advocate, helping safeguard consumer rights within this underserved community,” said Fried, a Democrat who took office in January.
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning.
The appointment follows Fried’s decision in January to become the first member of the Florida Cabinet to adopt sexual orientation and gender identity workplace discrimination protections for the 3,700 employees in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Fried’s policy came after Gov. Ron DeSantis re-adopted a workplace discrimination policy for state agencies when he took office, but the policy excluded LGBTQ protections.
Harris, a graduate of Florida A&M University with a law degree from Florida State University, has a long history of advocacy for equality and diversity issues.
She is a member of The Florida Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has been involved with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
LGBTQ leaders praised Fried’s appointment.
“Commissioner Fried has made history and sent a strong message that Florida is open to all — that every consumer, resident, and visitor should be treated fairly, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Now is the time for Florida to lead the South by updating our civil rights laws and redeeming a history of anti-LGBT discrimination,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
That history of discrimination included the Johns Committee, a legislative panel that operated in the 1950s through the mid-1960s. Its targets included civil rights advocates and LGBTQ Floridians, particularly in the state university system.
“As executive director of a leading LGBTQ advocacy organization in Florida, created to defend equality in the wake of the Johns Committee, Anita Bryant, and other LGBT-focused persecution, I am thrilled that we now have an LGBTQ consumer advocate that will look out for our community’s best interests. Thank you Commissioner Fried for making certain that the LGBT community is included and represented,” said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE.