Parts 1 & 2 in a 7-part investigative series
Republican political operatives are about to give anti-LGBT hate groups just what they crave: a lopsided defeat for gay rights in the deepest South. NCRM’s 7-part investigative series reveals how progress toward marriage equality in other states is threatened by current events in Florida.
- Part 1 – LGBT Groups Oppose Equal Marriage Campaign
- Part 2 – Leaders Retreat
- Part 3 – Counts for Workers, Signatures, and Dollars
- Part 4 – Party Plans
- Part 5 – Haters Wait With Bated Breath
- Part 6 – Promising the Impossible
- Part 7 – Prognosis
Part 1 of 7: LGBT Groups Oppose Equal Marriage Campaign
As marriage equality soars in its longest unbroken string of victories ever, opponents are still trying to dismiss the first 18 states as mere flukes. Behind the scenes, however, those same enemies are desperate to defeat any gay rights measure, anywhere, by any means, especially if that defeat makes marriage equality look less inevitable. The best way to do that would be by breaking the string of recent successes with a giant loss.
Enter Vanessa Brito, a Republican political consultant in Miami, Florida. Last June, with donations from former Republican Governor of New Mexico and Republican/Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, and with expertise from GOP political strategist Tim Mooney, Vanessa Brito established Florida Political Action Committee #60477, and named it Equal Marriage Florida (EMFL). After appointing herself as both Chairperson and Treasurer, and getting the Log Cabin Republicans on board as an “active partner and leading proponent,” she predicted that her group would raise and spend $6 million repealing Florida’s constitutional ban on same-gender civil marriage. In 2008, Floridians voted 62% for the ban, and only 38% against the ban. Six years later, that 38% figure has not changed.
Thirteen Florida organizations quickly rejected Brito’s plan, which they deemed costly, psychologically harmful, and doomed at the polls. They feared that such a loss would needlessly postpone LGBT rights in Florida, and as well as break the nationwide winning streak.
The timing of Brito’s idea was so inopportune, and its execution has been so lackluster, that some wonder if this might be a stealth campaign, secretly launched by anti-LGBT forces, and engineered to fail on purpose. An alternate explanation might be that this tax-exempt campaign could have been created to funnel some of its supposed $6 million of donations into revenue at Brito’s political consulting business, MYami Marketing, Incorporated.
Even though local leaders opposed her idea as premature and reckless, Brito charged ahead anyway. Less than three months later, she began complaining that her campaign suffered from negative articles written by careless reporters. She said she wanted to set the record straight, and promised journalists interviews in which she would provide clarity and insight, and would keep information “seamless and transparent.”
Part 2 of 7: Leaders Retreat
The pre-interview questions forwarded to Brito to prepare for this article were standard political fare. The questions focused on figures for staffing, signatures collected and verified, and funds raised and spent, with updates for actual success vs. future plans in those areas. Campaign managers expect to be asked such questions about people, progress, and money, both before and during media interviews.
As soon as she was asked for current figures, Brito went mute. From mid-November through early January, 24 written requests for an interview were sent to Equal Marriage Florida. Many were never answered, although one request was officially declined by Ms. Heather Gray, who is connected to Vanessa Brito in three unique ways. Heather Gray is the Media Coordinator at EMFL, reporting to Chairperson/Treasurer Vanessa Brito. Heather Gray also is Deputy Director, and apparently the only other worker at MYami Marketing, Brito’s Republican political consultancy, where Brito is President. And Heather Gray also is Brito’s common-law partner. They say they are legally single, but in a committed relationship.
After they saw the pre-interview questions, Gray canceled the interview that Brito had requested, and together they broke Brito’s promise to share “seamless, transparent” data about the EMFL campaign. Gray not only denied the accuracy of statistics that EMFL itself had previously published, but she also would not explain why she withdrew them, when they changed, what they changed to, or why she changed them.
Since Brito and Gray declined to discuss both their progress and their plans, inquiries were sent to the only three EMFL district co-chairs who still had working e-mail addresses, so that they could shed some light on the campaign’s progress and plans for staffing, signature collection/verification, and fund-raising/spending. Multiple interview requests were e-mailed to: EMFL Broward County District Co-Chair Terry Gray, EMFL Tallahassee District Co-chair Angel de Armendi, and EMFL Miami-Dade County District Co-Chair Mimi Planas, who also is President of the Miami chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. In total, five different leaders were contacted — Brito, Heather Gray, Terry Gray, de Armendi, and Planas — but no one provided any figures, and no one gave any interviews. Four other leaders appear on EMFL’s Web site, but with no working e-mail address or phone.
Since last June, the EMFL Web site has referred to a stream of “exciting” upcoming events such as Pride weeks, parades, film festivals, and church services in which EMFL said it was slated to participate. But spokeswoman Heather Gray declined to identify any events where EMFL actually participated, or any events where it is scheduled to participate.
Tomorrow in this investigative series: Part 3 – Counts for Workers, Signatures, and Dollars
Image by Equal Marriage Florida via Facebook
Ned Flaherty is an LGBT activist currently focused on civil marriage equality, and previously on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts, where America’s first same-gender civil marriages began in 2004. He suffered a childhood exposure to Roman Catholic pomp and circumstance, but the spell never took, and he recovered.
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