Episode 012

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.


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05/31/2017 | Episode 012 | 34:00

Nadine Smith, Founder of Equality Florida

Is St. Pete inclusive? Nadine Smith shares stories from the front lines of the struggle for equality.

On this episode of SPx, we sat down with one of St. Petersburg's political giants, Nadine Smith. Smith is an award-winning journalist, advocate, and the founder of Equality Florida, the state's largest organization working to end discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. Making waves since the early 90's, Smith continues her work as a driving force for change throughout the state of Florida, pushing cities and businesses throughout the state to adopt uniform standards of nondiscrimination. Once a resident of the city across the Bay, Nadine shares her special love for St. Pete and its unique commitment to being a welcoming city. Smith acknowledges St. Pete's struggles with equitable education and sheds light on her hopes for St. Pete's future. This interview was originally shot on video. Head to the show notes on StPeteX.com to watch instead of listen.

Key Insights

  • On Nadine's love of St. Pete: "What I love about St. Petersburg is you get all of the cultural good stuff that you get in a big city with that kind of a small-town feel, where you see your City Council members, you see the mayor, you see... You can have brunch looking at the water and you can walk up Central Avenue and encounter any kind of shop."
  • A city for everyone, St. Pete's waterfront views aren't just reserved for the wealthy. "It's a walkable city, it is a pedestrian-friendly city, you're close to everything. You can be three miles from downtown and three miles from some of the world's most beautiful beaches. And even if you're not rich, living at the top of the penthouse of one of the condos, you can find a place where you're a bike ride away from enjoying the surf."
  • On the new Pier: "I like that it was not so ostentatious and really the design takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the city and it encourages kayaking and really using it as a park space, not just a shopping destination, and I think that's really important. I'm a parent of a six-year old, and finding the places to take him that aren't just about stopping and buying ice-cream but are places to engage nature and run around and get some physical exercise, all of that—I like that we are going in the direction of moving away from the upside-down pyramid to a place that invites you to come and listen to music, watch a concert, go and really enjoy the amenities that nature has provided."
  • The state of education in St. Petersburg: Smith believes that education should be a top-priority if St. Petersburg is going to serve its working residents - not just retirees. "I'm a firm believer that your zip code shouldn't determine the level of education and the quality of education that your child gets. "
  • St. Petersburg's political climate: are we a "purple" city? "I would like a world in which people are persuaded by ideas and where people are led by values, not political parties. And to the degree that people have a great deal of civic pride and want to find solutions, then I think that's true of St. Pete, that the political divide doesn't matter as much."
  • On alternative energy: "I would love to see our city really embrace the fact that we.. are literally the sunshine state, solar ought to be just common. We're one of the few houses on our street that has solar. It ought to be everywhere, it ought to be aggressively pursued."
  • Equality Florida: "Equality Florida is the state-wide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender education and advocacy organization...When I drive from St. Pete to Panama City I go through municipalities that have strong protections and municipalities that have none whatsoever. And we think the entire state of Florida ought to have a standard of treating people fairly and banning discrimination based on arbitrary attributes, like race, gender, sexual orientation, etc."
  • St. Petersburg & The Equality Index: "St. Pete scores a perfect 100% on the Equality Index that the Human Rights Campaign puts out each year, and it has slowly gotten there over time, but it's gotten there because it made a commitment to saying we're gonna do the things that are within our power to ensure that you don't have to worry about whether you're gonna be treated like everybody else. We're gonna make sure that that's the standard we set. So, there's some uncertainty out of Washington, there's been a lot of work of ensuring that we don't start moving backwards."

"The Dali used to be right down the street from where I lived when it was in—what? Looked to me like a converted elementary school. And I would go there all the time, the art work was amazing. But to see what the Dali is now, it's sort of emblematic of the transformation that's happened in St. Petersburg. It's always been this gem, but now it's polished."

 

Update: Nadine’s viral Facebook post, regarding the NFL National Anthem Controversy has garnered 902 likes, 92 comments, and 395 shares. If can be found in its entirety here.

Original Post: St. Petersburg has branded itself the Sunshine City, “a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play.” For the LGBT community, this statement has been made particularly true in the past few years. St. Petersburg has earned a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Council’s Municipal Equality Index two years in a row, making St. Pete number one in Tampa Bay and throughout the West Coast of Florida – one of only 3 cities in Florida to garner such accolades. The reality of making St. Pete a city that truly welcomes and includes all people, regardless of sexual orientation, means big things for St. Pete’s business community, especially as we begin to implement the plans created in the Grow Smarter Initiative.

St. Pete’s history of inclusivity is strong. It’s first human rights ordinance to protect the LGBT community was in 2002 – when the city added sexual orientation as a protected status in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Prior the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, St. Pete also offered a domestic partnership registry since 2012. Celebrating its 15th Pride festival in 2017, St. Pete has long been well ahead of the national tide of LGBT rights advocacy and acknowledgement.

But a city can only do so much. According to a 2015 study commissioned by Equality Means Business, the cost of discriminatory practices statewide are staggering. In dollars, this study estimates an excess of $362 million lost annually – measured in lost productivity and turnover alone – in Florida. Other costs include a diminished ability to compete for national and international corporate headquarters and expansions, as well as a diminished ability to compete for talent, especially among millennial populations who expect inclusivity as the norm.  While St. Petersburg’s scores exceptionally well in inclusiveness, the city’s efforts may not be enough. According to this same study, lagging statewide efforts to support Florida’s LGBT residents damages the state’s reputation and thus the reputation of the companies that do business here –  regardless of the city they do business in.
Out of the Grow Smarter Initiative came St. Pete’s new Economic Development Corporation, whose project this interview originally came from. Their mission is to unveil the hidden gem that is St. Pete to potential employers and employees looking to expand or relocate to our special city in renaissance. The EDC highlights the funky side of St. Petersburg, and the varied answers of what makes St. Pete such a special place to live and work. Inclusivity is one of those factors, and it differentiates St. Pete not only from other cities within Florida, but from the state itself. Visit the EDC’s website to see more.

"I think that once St. Pete began to become very serious about talking about diversity and inclusion and making sure that the policies of the city reflect that, this really sends a message that you're welcome here. Come here and bring your best ideas, come here and work hard on something and we're not gonna put artificial obstacles in your way."

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 0:25) Introduction

(0:25 – 2:27) How Has St. Pete Changed?

(2:27 – 5:18) Where Is St. Pete Headed?

(5:18 – 6:32) The New Pier

(6:32 – 9:13) Education System – Overview and Improvements

(09:13 – 14:37) Political Identity of St. Pete Citizens

(14:37 – 17:30) Diversity and Inclusion

(17:30 – 24:03) St. Pete Ten Years from Now

(24:03 – 27:26) St. Pete Needs More of…

(27:26 – 28:50) Shout-out

(28:50 – 32:58) Equality Florida and the Equality Index

Full Transcript:

Joe: Nadine, thank you for coming in.

Nadine: Cool! Thanks for inviting me, yeah.

Joe: So, we’re talking about St. Petersburg.

Nadine: Yes!

Joe: And how long have you been here?

Nadine: Well, I have been in St. Petersburg for a while now. If I tried to calculate the years, it’s been…

Joe: More than ten?

Nadine: …more than ten.

Joe: More than ten.

Nadine: More than ten years, yeah.

Joe: So, you’ve been through a lot of the changes. You’ve seen the growth and the…

Nadine: Absolutely!

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. So, if you had to articulate how St Pete has changed in the last ten years, what sticks out of your mind?

Nadine: I used to live across the Bay and my perception of St. Pete was slow, quiet, not much going on, some pretty places. And actually, I worked at the Tampa Tribune, so we had a rivalry with the St. Pete Times.

Joe: So, you guys were paid to not like St. Pete.

Nadine: Yeah, I was paid to not like St. Pete. And I took my job very seriously. And when I first moved or traveled to St. Pete, I didn’t understand the grid. You know, 1st Avenue South, 1st Avenue North… Yeah, the roads that weren’t the same road. Anyway… And I thought of Tampa as grittier and a lot more of a big city. But what I love about St. Petersburg is you get all of the cultural good stuff that you get in a big city with that kind of a small-town feel, where you see your City Council members, you see the mayor, you see… You can have brunch looking at the water and you can walk up Central Avenue and encounter any kind of shop. Physically, it’s beautiful. The Dali used to be right down the street from where I lived when it was in—what? Looked to me like a converted elementary school. And I would go there all the time, the art work was amazing. But to see what the Dali is now, it’s sort of emblematic of the transformation that’s happened in St. Petersburg. It’s always been this gem, but now it’s polished.

Joe: Right.

Nadine: It’s Shiny.

Joe: And where do you feel like we’re headed? How much more polishing is there to do on the gem? And you think about the growth of some of the cities, like Austin or even looking back to San Francisco, cities that may have had an equivalent vibe in their early days. Do you see us going in that direction, or…?

Nadine: Well, I hope that St. Pete will continue to hold on to this… it’s personality, it’s Studio 620, it’s the artist feel, it’s the bring a really good idea and you’re gonna find a place where people are gonna get excited about it here. So, I hope that it maintains that balance of being a place that tourists want to come here, it’s a neat place, you will have lots to do, it’s beautiful. But it’s very livable, it’s not just built around tourism, it’s built for the people who live here to enjoy it. And that’s part of what I really love about our city.

Joe: One of the areas we have on homepage of the EDC site is Make an Impact, and I think that speaks to where now the landscape isn’t so crowded with giant corporations, or even giant media entities or what not where. Anybody who can step up and if they have something they believe in can make an impact.

Nadine: Yeah. I love that we have a downtown area that is really alive. People live there, it’s not a place that people go to work and then go home to the suburbs. There’s always enough people for you to find a good restaurant or to find something neat to do. It’s not a ghost town after work hours are done. And that creates this whole different vibe of being in a real city. I think about those places where they talk about old town planning, where… the intentional planning. And I think St. Pete has that just by the nature of how our city has grown. It’s a walkable city, it is a pedestrian-friendly city, you’re close to everything. You can be three miles from downtown and three miles from some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. And even if you’re not rich, living at the top of the penthouse of one of the condos, you can find a place where you’re a bike ride away from enjoying the surf.

Joe: The same thing that the wealthy folks enjoy.

Nadine: Yeah.

Joe: We have a great park system and along the water… Which leads us to the pier. Tell me your thoughts on where the pier’s place is in St. Petersburg’s past and St. Petersburg’s future.

Nadine: Well, I’m glad because the pier design I like prevailed. I like that it was not so ostentatious and really the design takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the city and it encourages kayaking and really using it as a park space, not just a shopping destination, and I think that’s really important. I’m a parent of a six-year old, and finding the places to take him that aren’t just about stopping and buying ice-cream or but are… places to engage nature and run around and get some physical exercise, all of that—I like that we are going in the direction of moving away from the upside-down pyramid to a place that invites you to come and listen to music, watch a concert, go and really enjoy the amenities that nature has provided.

Joe: Great, cool! So, kids… Our kids go to school together and we found a special place there in Montessori. What are your…? Obviously, you have some shortcomings as well more on the public realm. What are your thoughts on the current state of education? Where do you think we need to focus resources to make a more equal format of…?

Nadine: I think that the education system in St. Pete and this county has really taken a hit. The coverage of it has been really quite… laid bare on some fundamental challenges that are not new and are gonna require a community to rally to improve. And at the same time, I know that we also have some gems within some really impressive schools within the school system. I’m a firm believer that your zip code shouldn’t determine the level of education and the quality of education that your child gets. And at the end of the day we all have a vested interest in making sure that every single young person gets the best possible education they can receive, not just our own children. I’m a huge fan of the Montessori technique for schooling and I’m glad to see that there are public schools that have embraced Montessori as well. So, I think that education has to be a priority, especially making sure that those early education—that early education period, that really shapes so much of who young people are going to be, how they feel about learning and sets the path for what school is gonna be for them and what life is gonna be for them. So, it’s an area that I am personally committed to and interested in. And we’ve got to make sure that, as the city becomes what it can fully become, there’s got to be a place for the workers, for the folks who aren’t retirees and aren’t wealthy and this is their second home, it’s gotta be a place where everybody can really live and have a quality of life. And I think that we’re working on that balance. And we live in a pretty modest house, but I can get on my bike and within five minutes be sitting on a pier watching the sunset.

Joe: Alright.

Nadine: It’s a good life.

Joe: Yeah, it certainly is. So, I’m gonna say a statement that has been said with pride. And given you’re very politically active with Equality Florida then I would see if you agree with it. And give your thoughts on it. So, people are proud—they use the word ‘purple’, they say that we have a purple city, and that the red and the blue, the left and the right seem to work together here more so than in the average city. Would you agree with that? And how do you feel we stack up as general citizens in our city versus… should I call it national political identity?

Nadine: Yeah, I don’t know. The work that I do on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equality means that I work a lot with politicians on both sides of the aisle, it means I work a lot with business leaders from both sides of the aisle. And when we are focused on a job, I don’t think that those partisan divides matter a whole lot. I think at the national level… I like a world in which people are persuaded by ideas and where people are led by values, not political parties. And to the degree that people have a great deal of civic pride and want to find solutions, then I think that’s true of St. Pete, that the political divide doesn’t matter as much. I think it matters much more when you see what’s happening in Tallahassee, when you see what’s happening in Washington, where putting on the jersey of a political party actually means that people set aside their own individual values, but they know it’s the right thing to do in order to be loyal to their team’s jersey. And that is doing us a lot of harm.

Joe: So, you think that’s a fair statement then, that we are compared to… As much as you would know from the average city, we do… obviously there’s always room for improvement, but some think that we can take a point of pride with that we do put the good of the city above the jersey.

Nadine: I think largely that’s true. But ask me in the middle of an election season when people are bringing some national figures from their party in the town. I think mostly it’s true, and I won’t say it’s always true, but mostly it’s true. And I do think that that love for this city, in the sense that we can do really great things if we get together… I took a trip to North Carolina recently with the Chamber of Commerce, and it was a great trip, and I couldn’t tell you how many democrats and I couldn’t tell you how many republicans were on the trip. What I did know is that these were all folks who cared a lot about how we can learn from what other cities are doing well and be proud of the things that we do better. So, I think that spirit is very strong here.

Joe: Yeah, and I think it’s important to keep reminding ourselves of that as we’re moving to what’s going to be a pretty interesting election. And hopefully everybody keeps that perspective in mind. And obviously, people will support who they support. But there are other ways to do it right.

Nadine: Yeah. Well, I think even going back to the school system, the history of every major city involves some pretty consistent things. Segregation, a system that very intentionally, when big things needed to be built, it displaced the black community, when schools were being built it displaced black property owners. So, we are dealing with the systemic issues when we talk about any major city. And the ones that intentionally look to heal those injustices and really create opportunity are the cities that thrive. And the ones that try to paper over those realities, that struggle never ends. And so, doing the human rights work that I do, I think that once St. Pete began to become very serious about talking about diversity and inclusion and making sure that the policies of the city reflect that, this really sends a message that you’re welcome here. Come here and bring your best ideas, come here and work hard on something and we’re not gonna put artificial obstacles in your way. And we have to make sure that, in addition to diversity and inclusion, we also have justice, fairness and a system that really isn’t stacked against those that it’s traditionally not always included. So, our education system is one place where that shows up, we’ve done a lot of work in the city around policing, and what that means, particularly in the black community… So, these are conversations, and not always easy conversations, but they’re necessary, they’re essential for a city to really gel, for everybody to have a vested interest in seeing our city grow. It’s gotta grow for all of us.

Joe: So, if a potential… back with through the EDC hat on, if a potential owner of a company has their 40 or 50 employees, and inclusivity and diversity is important to them, what can you tell them about St. Pete as far as their comfort level with coming down here and knowing that need will be served?

Nadine: Yeah. I remember I was talking to the CEO of a major company that was based… that still is based in St. Pete, and I was trying to convince her to join our program called Equality Means Business. And basically I was doing my pitch about how important it was for business leaders to stand up for these principles of equality fairness, equal opportunity. And she stopped me, she said, ‘I’m already with you, we have an international staff, we have to bring talent from all over. And I don’t just have to sell them on my company, I have to sell them on this city. And part of what’s really important to me, if an employee is gay I don’t have to explain why they are going to be treated differently, or not have the same rights under the law, because our city has made sure that these protections are in place.’ And that’s really important. And right now we’re at a time where we’re post baby-boom and there’s a real fight for talent, and people wanna come to a place that is going to embrace their full selves, their full complicated selves, and I think that St. Pete has been sending the right signals about being the place where you can do that. So, I think the business community gets it, our elected leadership has gotten it in recent years and we have to make sure that diversity and inclusion isn’t the end point, but it is a visible indicator that we really are making sure that there’s a place for everybody who is willing to do the work, and that they’re gonna get real opportunities, and that historical obstacles have been put in their place, we’re gonna take those down.

Joe: So, for what it’s worth, the way you’ve been working on this, the vision and the positioning for EDC, if you look at our website there’s basically four sections, and the headlines are ‘Make an impact’, ‘Opportunity’, ‘Inclusivity’ and then ‘Right City, Right Time’ and ‘A Sense of Place, a Sense of Purpose’. So, what we’re leading with is are these intangible, but hugely important aspects of this city, because that’s exactly the kind of people that we want to choose us, and that we want to choose them in how we’re putting ourselves out there. So, moving on, let’s talk about the time, or the timing of St. Pete and all. Where do you see St. Pete ten years from now? So, we’re ten years out, we’ve been more than ten years since our Renaissance has started, and you’ve been here for most of that. Transitioning ten years into the future—what are your hopes, what are your cautions, what are your thoughts on where we’re moving?

Nadine: I graduated from the USF in Tampa, until I’ve watched the USF-St. Pete campus really just take off. And it’s nice living in what is increasingly a University town. I think that brings some good energy and opportunities to a city. So, I like seeing that growth. I want to see the commitment to a strong education system really play out, I’d like my son to have lots of options when it comes to education, I don’t want to have to pick through and find the school that’s got the right kind of programs and the right reputation, and the right safety and inclusion. So, a deep investment in education I think is essential. I like that we have density, I like that we have a lot of people in the heart of our city. I think that one… Because I think it invites new business, new innovators to come to a place that is drawing people, has talent feeding in from the University. And I think the reputation of our city is really strong, people wanna move here. It used to be that when I said St. Petersburg I had to say I’m near the Tampa Bay area. But now people are like, ‘Yeah, St. Pete, I went there, I went to the Museum, we spent part of the spring break.’ It feels like people really know this city a whole lot better, that it has an identity separate from the larger… included in, but also separate from the larger region that we’re in. And I see these cities where the people who do the work, the waiters and the hotel maids and the landscapers and the average working person can’t afford to live in the city where they work, and they get a bus two hours from the middle of nowhere to go and work. That’s four hours on the road to do a nine to five job and get home to their families, and that’s just an untenable situation. So, I really hope that affordable housing is part of the mix, that we really pay attention to the quality of life all the way up and down the spectrum. And there are strategies that other communities have used that we can benefit from, and that we find the right mix between this being a place that is a tourist destination, because it’s got a lot to offer. But first and foremost, it’s a place that we want people to live, not just have the vacation rental, a lot of absentee homes. But it’s a gorgeous place to live year-round, it truly is. So, I think it has tremendous potential. And how we are geographically structured, we have to build up, sprawl isn’t really an option, which really does so much harm to other cities when you have that kind of sprawl and you have that kind of congestion and traffic that comes with sprawl. So, I think we have some sort of geographic advantages. I think I read once that this was at one time considered the healthiest city in America because of how the breeze would blow pollution away. And I think we ought to hype that part of this area, because I do think that we got a lot of yoga studios, we got a lot of healthy living vibe and I think people are more tuned in to… I think there’s a whole industry that can spring up even more intentionally around healthy living, healthy lifestyle here in St. Pete. So yeah, I just want to make sure that a kid going to high school who gets their first job can actually have a livable wage, that there’s opportunities all up and down and that we don’t overbuild the waterfront to the point that if you’re not in one of the penthouses you’re not gonna enjoy the view. I love that we have a park right along the water that’s unobstructed by anything else. I love that we have festivals right along the water and that we haven’t built everything out. I think that kind of planning is what makes cities really great. And that everything isn’t squeeze every single penny you can out of every public space. There’s a lot of cities I’ve been to where you feel like you’re walking through a prison cell, because there’s no windows, and all of the buildings are built with the idea that there will never be pedestrians. And you walk St. Pete and you window shop. Even the buildings that aren’t store fronts, they welcome human interaction. And it’s one of those things that you may not even understand how important it is until you’re in a space where nobody cared about that whatsoever. But it’s just a nice place to hang out. I work from home a lot. I’ll just grab a cup of coffee, set up my computer in a coffee shop and run into 20 people I know. And I can talk to the mayor about something that’s going on in the neighborhood, or… It does have that small-town feel, but big town amenities, big city amenities.

Joe: So, anything that’s civically available or would be civically provided aside, what’s something that you’d love to see, a private, either a company, or an investor or a small business—what do you think you’d like to see more of come into St. Pete to round us out from some sort of service, or product, or events or lifestyle enhancement, do you think? Is there anything that jumps out, that you thought would be great, say, if you had a little more of this?

Nadine: You know, my wife started a community garden in Bartlett Park, in an old lot where… pretty rough place, drug deals, I think somebody had been murdered a couple of years earlier. And this is a neighborhood with no play grounds and walkable distance for the kids. And so, when she started the community garden, it took a while, but people saw that this was really going to have staying power, and the community really embraced it. And so, a lot that was once abandoned, overgrown and a bit of a neighborhood nuisance has really become a place where people get food, eggs, it’s a really community garden in one of the poorest areas of the city. And I would love to see that community garden culture take off even more deeply, and urban farming culture take off more deeply in our city. We have this great environment for growing that is somewhat unique in the state. I think we have to take greater advantage of that and I think we ought to be investing more deeply in… I think of this city… Or, when Australia went through the big dry and everybody had to convert to the most water conserving strategies, capturing rain water, using more solar… And once they went past that big drought they had become accustomed and learned to really love the technology that they were using, the enhancements they made to their homes. I would love to see our city really embrace the fact that we’ve got to have alternative sources of energy. We are literally the sunshine state, solar ought to be just common. We’re one of the few houses on our street that has solar. It ought to be everywhere, it ought to be aggressively pursued. So, I do think that there’s part of the natural environment here that we ought to be taking greater advantage of. And while lots of people move to Florida, we have to be aware that our infrastructure is finite, and so why wait for the crises that we know will come in terms of water, in terms of sewage, in terms of all of these things? We know that we’re growing and we should begin to do those things now than anticipate that will continue grow even more rapidly. The best way to sell our city is just get people to come here once.

Joe: So, I want to give you an opportunity to give a shout-out to someone. So, can you think of someone in St. Pete that is doing something neat that you appreciate, that you think it would be cool if they got a little more recognition or little more eyes on what they are doing?

Nadine: A little more recognition? Well, listen, I’m a huge fan of Bob Devin Jones. I think that Studio 620 has been such an important organization that’s contributed so much to the city and it… But even personally, even beyond Studio 620, he’s such a force for good, he’s the ultimate connector. And so, my big shout-out would go to Bob Devin Jones.

Joe: If you ever get bored, you gotta check out eatbobscookies.com, that’s the site of Bob…

Nadine: Yes, I’ve had Bob’s cookies. I’ve had the pleasure of eating Bob’s food, and if he decides to put the theatre and artistic side away… Well, his food is artistry in and of itself, it really is. If you ever have the opportunity to sneak into his refrigerator, I highly recommend it.

Joe: Okay. Will you bail me out if I get arrested for that?

Nadine: No. I’ll deny all of this.

Joe: Okay. So, let’s turn a bit to what you’re… When you said that you’re traveling a lot now, what are you spending your days on now and how is that going?

Nadine: So, Equality Florida is the state-wide lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender education and advocacy organization. Over the last 20 years, we just turned 20. We have spent a lot of time working with local communities to pass non-discrimination laws and to push the state to do the same. So that – I grew up in the pan handle of Florida – and when I drive from St. Pete to Panama City I go through municipalities that have strong protections and municipalities that have none whatsoever. And we think the entire state of Florida ought to have a standard of treating people fairly and banning discrimination based on arbitrary attributes, like race, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. So that’s the work that I’ve committed my adult career to. And right now, with all the changes at the national level, I think it’s even more important that cities make clear that they are unflinching in upholding that standard. St. Pete scores a perfect 100% on the Equality Index that the human rights campaign puts out each year, and it has slowly gotten there over time, but it’s gotten there because it made a commitment to saying we’re gonna do the things that are within our power to ensure that you don’t have to worry about whether you’re gonna be treated like everybody else. We’re gonna make sure that that’s the standard we set. So, there’s some uncertainty out of Washington, there’s been a lot of work of ensuring that we don’t start moving backwards. And I think that, even in a time of uncertainty, what we are seeing is even stronger majorities believe that discrimination is wrong no matter what form it takes. And I grew up in Florida, so I have seen Florida go through this incredible change from the early days of Anita Bryant, and all of the harm that she did with her anti-gay crusades that went nation-wide, to a time where we’re moving closer and closer, and are in fact leading this out in securing non-discrimination protections, and where the public is on these issues. I’m continuing to believe that between the push from the cities, from the public, from business leadership and from a growing bi-partisan cadre of elected leaders, we’re gonna get a state-wide non-discrimination act passed. And we can be the opposite of what North Carolina was. North Carolina really did themselves a great deal of economic damage and damage to their reputation, lost companies, lost sporting events, lost cultural events, and the damage continues even now. Florida can be the place that says you come here, and you’re going to be treated just like everybody else, you’re gonna have the same opportunities, we’re not gonna have artificial barriers between you and the dream and the vision you have for your life, and that discrimination has no place in Florida. And we can go after every business that any state fails to uphold that standard loses. I think it’s the right thing to do, but economically it’s the smart thing to do and I think it’s why St. Petersburg has become one of the cities in Florida that has really worked to achieve that 100% Municipal Equality Index standard. Because they understand the message that it sends, and the invitation that it offers for people that come here and get educated, build a career, raise a family and just enjoy the beauty and opportunity that St. Pete has to offer.

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About the host

Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group.  Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.


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