SAVE was founded in 1993
but our story begins earlier.
September 28, 1976
An open seat on the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners in 1976 is retained by RUTH SHACK who was re-elected to serve in 1978 and again in 1981.
Gay rights debate rages on 30 years after Miami-Dade challenge
HOW IT BEGAN
December 7, 1976
One month after her election, Commissioner Shack sponsors an amendment to the county's original nondiscrimination law to ban bias in jobs, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of “affectional or sexual preference.” Although initial work on the ordinance is spearheaded by her predecessor County Commissioner name], it is Shack who successfully pushes for adoption of the crucial -- and highly controversial -- amendment.
Gay rights debate rages on 30 years after Miami-Dade challenge (Miami Herald, Jan. 30, 2009) • Commission to Hear Ordinance to Eliminate Bias Against Gays (Miami Herald, Dec. 7, 1976). This amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) passes 5-3 in January 1977.
Singer and political activist
ANITA BRYANT, widely known as the spokesperson for Florida orange juice, orchestrated a campaign to
repeal the 1976 Dade County
Human Rights Ordinance.
Dubbed Save Our Children, the campaign notoriously promoted the “sinfulness of homosexuality” and “homosexual recruitment of children.” This led to a special election on June 7, 1977, where voters repealed the HRO by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. Bryant’s success galvanized the gay community who organized a boycott of orange juice and retaliated against her by forming the Coalition for Human Rights and the Miami Victory Campaign.
Though the overturning of the HRO did not halt our community’s fight for progress, the emergence of the global AIDS epidemic in the 1980s had wide-ranging repercussions: forcing many to fight for their lives first and foremost. With this increased public scrutiny of the LGBTQ community, State Rep. ELAINE GORDON led the charge in finally passing the Florida Hate Crimes Reporting Act in 1989, explicitly adding sexual orientation to its language in 1991..
In 1990, local activism was reignited by Dade Action PAC, starting the process of political endorsements now done by SAVE, and successfully adding sexual orientation to the 1992 Miami Beach Human Rights Ordinance.
In 1993, there was an effort to repeal all Florida county and city discrimination protections, including the one established on Miami Beach. The LGBTQ community tried to organize statewide opposition through an organization called Florida United Against Discrimination (FUAD) but it struggled to become formidable.
Pictured are two of the founders of Dade Action PAC, co-founders of The Winter Party and Dade Human Rights Foundation are DENNIS LEYVA (left), CLARK REYNOLDS (right), DJ BUC (center) at the first Winter Party in 1994. This celebration was created to benefit SAVE and fight statewide attacks, raising $65,000 to seed the organization's efforts to push for local protections throughout South Florida. The Winter Party is now an annual event of the The National LGBTQ Task Force.
In Miami, Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE) is formed on July 6, 1993, to unify the local community against the American Family Association’s (AFA) statewide effort to ban county and city ordinances protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Florida Supreme Court invalidates the proposed amendment, but this momentum would lead local leaders to face our issues head-on and strategize as to how best to fight back. With the “SAVE Dade” campaign name, SAVE went on to fight for many locally cherished advances showcased throughout this chronology.
Juan Carlos Espinosa
FOUNDER / EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
FOUNDER / CO-CHAIR
FOUNDER / TREASURER
FOUNDER / CO-CHAIR
FOUNDER / STAKE-HOLDER
FOUNDER / SECRETARY
FOUNDERS NOT PICTURED
FOUNDER / EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
FOUNDER / STAKE-HOLDER
With county-wide advertisements on billboards, buses, and letters, SAVE helps publicize and open discussion of LGBTQ issues. And as it becomes safer for members of our community to be their true selves, we see the first openly LGBTQ elected officials in the state of Florida: openly lesbian Judge VICTORIA SIGLER is elected to the bench in 1994, and openly gay Judge MARK KING LEBAN in 1995. As our community’s presence and pride becomes increasingly public, SAVE begins the tradition of hosting its annual HALLOWEEN PARTY in 1995, and turns its attention back to the HRO that started it all.
After building relationships with local communities and elected officials, SAVE begins a campaign to return “sexual orientation” to the Dade County HRO in 1996.
Though an initial vote fails 5-7 in 1997, further work with commissioners results in the successful passage of the Human Rights Ordinance on December 1st, 1998 in a tight 7-6 vote. The fight then begins to prevent another repeal.
12/1/1998, Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald Staff - L to R- Richard Sherman, James Balzano and Yanko Salazar cheer the yes votes by the County Comission that passed the anti-discrimination ordiance today. They are with SAVE DADE group that helped support the movement for the ordiance.
The anti-LGBTQ Christian Coalition organizes petition drives to repeal the ordinance starting in 1999. After failed attempts and members being arrested for forging signatures, they acquire enough signatures for a county wide ballot referendum in 2002.
SAVE, with the backing of the National LGBTQ Task Force, ACLU, celebrities, local community luminaries, and elected officials like Miami-Dade Mayor ALEX PENELAS, implement a major county-wide campaign through media and on the field to defend the HRO. This campaign cements SAVE’s political strength and reputation for getting out the vote.
TOP: Volunteers are gathered in the “war room,” where they were briefed on the “Decline to Sign” campaign to persuade voters not to sign the petition to bring the HRO to a county-wide vote.
CENTER: Volunteers review and verify signed petitions to ensure authenticity against the voter rolls.
BOTTOM: Campaign Co-Chair JORGE MURSULI provides volunteers with an update on the campaign status. Critical to the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance in 1998 with support from Miami-Dade County Mayor ALEX PENELAS, pictured here with SAVE Executive Director JORGE MURSULI. City of Miami
Mayor MANNY DIAZ was also among the elected officials who supported the Human Rights Ordinance.
TOP: Critical to the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance in 1998 was support from Miami Dade County
Mayor ALEX PENELAS pictured here with SAVE Executive Dirctor JORGE MURSULI.
BOTTOM: SAVE Executive Director JORGE MURSULI with City of Miami MANNY DIAZ who was amongst the
elected officials that were supportive of the Human Rights Ordinance.
NO TO DISCRIMINATION
This NO to Discrimination campaign is grueling, yet successful, and Miami-Dade keeps the HRO with a tight 53% of the vote.
In the wake of this defeat, some members of the opposition form the Christian Family Coalition (CFC), a group which primarily furthers anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion policies in South Florida to this day.
PHOTO: Campaign posters, buttons, bumper stickers, rallies, town halls, and the massive get-out-the-vote effort in neighborhoods were all part of getting voters to vote NO on county question 14, which appeared on the ballot on September 10, 2002.
CONTINUING THE FIGHT
As SAVE continues to support local electoral successes, including Miami-Dade’s first openly gay leader of a municipality - Mayor KEVIN BURNS of North Miami - in 2005, new roadblocks form to limit LGBTQ rights statewide. Despite a massive opposition campaign, an amendment banning same-sex marriage equality in Florida passed in a 2008 vote, with the amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
That same year, California and Arizona passed marriage bans, resulting in over thirty state bans on same-sex marriage and unions.
In a rapid response to guard against the state amendment, SAVE initiates efforts to support same-sex couples by supporting the passage of a county-wide domestic partnership registry, and launching The Domestic Partnership Project to educate couples and promote enrollment.
From 2002 to 2008, HEDDY PEÑA served as SAVE's Executive Director and previously held a leadership role in managing media and communications for the HRO campaign. She was instrumental to SAVE’s success in winning the HRO defense in 2002 and in securing the domestic partner registry and benefits ordinance.
Progress on other issues marches on, with a lawsuit from North Miami resident FRANK MARTIN GILL in 2010 successfully ending Florida’s ban on adoptions by same-sex couples; a ban originally enacted as a backlash to the initial HRO in the 1970s. Then, in 2011, newly-elected Miami-Dade Mayor CARLOS GIMENEZ thanks the LGBTQ community and SAVE in particular for our support - being, at the time, an ally in passing pro-equality legislation.
SAVE Executive Director CJ ORTUÑO (left) with Champions of Equality Award Recipients United States Congresswoman ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, City of Miami Mayor MANNY DIAZ, and Commissioner MARC SARNOFF.
CJ ORTUÑO served as the executive director from 2008 to 2013.
In 2012, SAVE recruits and successfully campaigns for DAVID RICHARDSON, Florida’s first openly gay legislator, finally giving the community a voice in Tallahassee. That same year, Miami Beach hosts its inaugural Pride Parade, which SAVE continues to take part in.
SAVE encourages future mayor DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA, in 2014, to run against an anti-LGBTQ incumbent for county commission. Once elected, she becomes a critical vote in adding gender identity protections to the HRO. 2014 also sees the release of The Day It Snowed in Miami, an Emmy award-winning documentary by Joe Cardona and The Miami Herald detailing the history of the LGBTQ rights movement in Miami, and featuring several former SAVE staff and board members.
In the years following the defense of the HRO, SAVE starts fighting for nondiscrimination protections in support of the transgender community. This begins at the city level, with successful efforts to encourage local municipalities to add gender identity protections to their books throughout the 2000s.
Resistance remains at the county level, however. It is not until the election of future Mayor DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA to the commission in 2014 that an opportunity presents itself to finally enshrine the rights of our transgender peers into law. In one of her first acts as a commissioner, and with the guidance of SAVE, Levine Cava casts a decisive vote to add gender identity protections to the Miami-Dade County Human Rights Ordinance.
SAVE joins forces with the ACLU and several couples in the fight to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Florida.
In January 2015, a Florida judge ultimately rules that the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional, and marriage equality is finally achieved in Florida.
TOP: JEFF RONCI , 53 left, touches the face of his partner of 15 years JUAN TALAVERA, 46, right, as they wait to apply for a marriage license at the Miami-Dade County Court office, Monday January 5th 2015.
BOTTOM: Judge SARAH ZABEL, left, married JEFF & TODD DELMAY in a Miami courthouse after she lifted her stay on same-sex marriages.
Later that year, in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges finally guaranteed marriage equality throughout the nation, strengthening the security of same-sex couples here in Florida.
SAVE, the L.A. LGBT Center, Stanford, and U.C. Berkeley conduct a study to determine the best way to produce a lasting reduction in people’s anti-LGBTQ bias. This deep canvassing model sees success in reducing prejudice against the transgender community.
Starting in 2016, SAVE successfully lobbies a number of municipalities to enact conversion therapy bans. These bans were later blocked by the courts, and the fight to enact them continues.
SAVE continues getting pro-equality champions elected in the face of a divisive national environment, including Commissioner EILEEN HIGGINS and State Senator JASON PIZZO
In 2020, despite the pandemic, SAVE successfully supports the election of SHEVRIN JONES, the first Black, openly gay Florida state senator and a powerful voice against attacks on our community like the Don’t Say Gay bill.
An online community of dedicate phone bank volunteers developed during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns making it possible to continue fighting the good fight. The online Zoom training was a welcome relief to the isolation of the time.
SAVE’s field operations are also amplified: applying the deep canvas model to low-income housing with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, all while expanding into Broward County.
Yet even with these successes, our community still faces attacks that bear the same shades of ignorance and hatred as those from the 1970s. Laws have been passed preventing the discussion of our history in schools, restricting speech, knowledge, and personal freedoms once again under the guise of shielding children. And waves of legislation targeting the trans community in healthcare, sports, and legal records threaten to make outcasts out of vulnerable members of our community. In South Florida and beyond, SAVE continues to tackle these threats head on, vowing to keep the struggle alive until our community has full equality in all facets of life.