Out politician Carlos Guillermo Smith is making a return to Florida politics. The Orlando Democrat on Friday filed to run for Florida Senate.
Smith first won election to the Florida House months after the Pulse shooting rocked his community.
“I knew when I was elected to the Florida Legislature in 2016 that representation would matter,” he tells The Advocate. “I had no idea how much it would happen that we needed that representation. It’s clear now how important it is to have strong LGBTQ+ voices in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, things have gotten really bad in Florida.”
Smith noted some 20 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation have been filed; Equality Florida has a running list of bills it will track this year that includes expanding the state's infamous "don't say gay" law. But what’s all the more striking is how quickly Florida has taken a hard right turn into discrimination, Smith said.
He still recalls in 2019, shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election as governor, that he accepted an invitation to visit Pulse. That was on the third anniversary of the tragedy where a mass shooter killed 49 people before police killed him. While Smith had campaigned for Democrat Andrew Gillum, he felt optimistic DeSantis would at least be an ally on matters of LGBTQ+ equality.
“Maybe I was naïve when I heard him promise to not leave our community behind,” Smith says. “But something changed during the pandemic, where Desantis realized that taking a hard right turn and out-Trump-ing Donald Trump was going to be what he thought was the path to the Republican nomination for President of the United States. That included using the LGBTQ community as a vehicle to get to his destination.”
Smith added: “I’m just so appalled that Ron Desantis can be so calculating that one day he supports our community and the next he’s making it his number one priority to erase us from public view. It speaks to the fact Ron DeSantis is always for the current thing and has no core values and is not driven by any unifying principle except gaining power. People like that are extremely dangerous.”
Smith served three terms in the Florida House but lost a fourth term after redistricting put him in an inhospitable district to a Republican.
He’s notably running in a more Democratic-friendly district now. If elected, he will be the first out Latino to serve in the legislature's upper chamber. He will join Sen. Shevrin Jones, the first out politician elected to the Florida Senate.
He'll try to replace state Sen. Linda Stewart who cannot seek reelection due to term limits.
For his part, Smith feels the last couple years in Florida’s rightward lurch showed how important it remains to have strong queer voices in the state capitol.
“Florida is at the epicenter of all of these anti-LGBTQ attacks,” he says, “and while we have a lot of issues to work on, the importance of having out queer voices in the Florida Legislature in particular cannot be overstated.”