After a long Tuesday filled with meetings, handshakes and city statutes, Craig Lowe decided to stop off for a drink after work.
But for the mayor, his off-the-clock cocktail was more than an occasion to unfasten his tie and rub elbows with colleagues and friends in a subdued environment not confined to the formal customs of City Hall. It was an opportunity to relish in one of the causes that, he believes, is integral to whether his administration is viewed as successful: equality for all citizens.
Equality Florida, an organization devoted to promoting rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, celebrated opening a Gainesville office at Lux bar on Tuesday.
Mallory Wells, the public policy director for Equality Florida, said the opening of an office in Gainesville was years in the making. The group had previously led efforts to defeat Gainesville Charter Amendment 1, a local ordinance presented in 2009 that would have lifted local anti-discrimination policies toward the LGBTQ community. Equality Florida also campaigned and raised funds for Lowe during his run for mayor last year.
“I want Gainesville to go to Tallahassee and tell legislators that their town is an inclusive community,” Wells said.
Among those in attendance were city commissioners Lauren Poe and Thomas Hawkins along with city commission candidate Susan Bottcher, who all received endorsements in their respective commission races.
Bottcher said such an organization is necessary to resist what she described as a conservative and Tea Party-led effort to “turn the clock back.”
“I think that’s the antithesis of what we want to do in this city in this country in the 21st century,” she said. “All I know is that as long as there are citizens trying to restrict rights for others, I will be fighting for the rights of all citizens.”
Although he acknowledged that issues of equality may not be the key issue on the minds of most Gainesville voters, Poe stressed the importance of keeping such issues in focus.
“If you’re not grounded in equal rights for all citizens, you’re failing to serve your entire community,” he said.
Lowe said the fact that Equality Florida chose to open an office in Gainesville comes as no surprise. He said that while he is pleased with the strides the city has made with shoring up rights for all citizens, there is still much work to be done.
The key, Lowe said, would be in translating the city’s legislative efforts to promote equality into opportunities for residents on a day-to-day basis.
“I think we’ve gone pretty far,” Lowe said, “but I think we need to work harder.”