Florida’s Top LGBTQ Women to Know on International Women’s Day

Jazz Jennings

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March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate those who have pressed for progress (#EmbraceEquality) and furthered women’s equality. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have created an even greater urgency to address issues of gender parity, especially in light of the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, which reported that gender parity is over 132 years away.

When it comes to pushing for equality amongst LGBTQ women, there are several leaders that stand out above the rest, including Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Edie Windsor, and Laverne Cox. In Florida, we are blessed to have our own list of female-identified heroes. While we could spend hours identifying the LGBTQ women who have made an impact on progress in our state, these women below stand out among the rest.

Nadine Smith

Nadine Smith
Image via Equality Florida webpage.

Nadine Smith is an LGBTQ activist and has been the Executive Director of Equality Florida since 1997. She has been part of numerous LGBTQ+ coalitions, such as the International Gay and Lesbian Organization,  the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Humans Rights Campaign, and Human Rights Task Force Florida. Smith is also an award winning journalist– writing numerous columns on LGBT+ issues and has served as an out lesbian on the Tampa Bay City council. In 1993, Smith was one of four national co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington. She was also part of the historic oval office meeting between then President Clinton and community activists – the first such meeting between a sitting President and gay community leaders. She lives in St. Petersburg with her wife Andrea and son Logan.

Barbara Poma

Barbara Poma
Photo Credit: onePULSE Foundation Twitter

A Coral Springs, Florida native, Poma is well known as the owner of Pulse Nightclub, established in 2004 as an honor to her brother, to keep his heartbeat alive after his death from AIDs. The club became a place of sanctuary and love for the LGBTQ community. On Sunday, June 12, Pulse Nightclub became the scene of one of the nation’s worst mass shooting in modern American history. Following this tragic event, Poma shifted her focus to the establish the onePULSE Foundation to preserve the memories of those who lost their lives, survivors and their loved ones by creating a memorial to those lost. She continues to be a vocal advocate for social justice issues and has been recognized for her contributions to the community.

Aryah Lester

Arya Lester
Photo Credit: Arya Lester from LinkedIn

Aryah Lester originally from New York, now residing in the DMV area. She’s an author, speaker, model, and educator who has been nationally recognized for her work. Aryah is involved in multiple organizations such as AIDS United, Southern AIDS Coalition, and STARR, which is the nation’s first transgender organization. She’s also the founder of Trans-Miami, Miami-Dade’s first trans-led organization, and is an active member of the National Alliance of Transgender Advocates and Leaders (NATAL). In addition to speaking at universities, Aryah consults with government agencies including the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. She has received several awards for her work, and her achievements have been featured in national publications. Currently, she serves as the Deputy Director of Transgender Strategy Center.

Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings
Photo Credit: Jazz Jennings Twitter

Jazz Jennings is a prominent figure in the LGBTQ+ community. She became publicly known as one of the youngest documented people to identify as transgender and as the youngest national transgender figure. Jazz has various occupations, including being a YouTuber, spokesmodel, television personality, HRC youth ambassador, author, and LGBTQ rights activist. She speaks at conferences, universities, and major corporations across the United States, advocating for the transgender community. Jazz has been featured in numerous television programs, news outlets, and documentaries. She has received multiple prestigious awards, including TIME Magazine’s Most Influential Teens, the Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award, and LogoTV’s Youth Trailblazer Award. In addition to her advocacy work, Jazz co-wrote a children’s book titled “I Am Jazz” and published a memoir called “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen.” Jazz and her family are the founders of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation and continue to participate in various projects to educate and spread tolerance and acceptance for all transkids.

Susan Stanton

Susan Stanton
Photo Credit: Episcopal Diocese

Susan Stanton, a former city manager of Largo, Florida, gained national attention in 2007 when she revealed she was transgender, leading to her termination. After legally changing her name to Susan Ashley Stanton, she continued her career in public policy and politics, advocating for laws to protect gay and transgender people from employment discrimination. Despite applying for over 100 city management positions, she was named a finalist for the Sarasota, FL job but did not get it. Stanton remains committed to promoting transgender equality and has been recognized for her advocacy work.

Jane Caster

Jane Castor
Photo Credit: Jane Castor Twitter Account

Jane Castor is the current Mayor of the City of Tampa and has lived in Tampa, Florida her entire life. Prior to her role as Mayor, Castor was a 31-year veteran of the Tampa Police Department, where she served in various roles and led the department as its first female Police Chief. As Chief, Castor was responsible for reducing major crimes by 70% citywide and developing a progressive policing strategy for the 2012 Republican National Convention and the Bollywood Awards. Castor is also known for her community outreach efforts, which include creating enhanced Citizen and Young Citizens Academies, building a $4 million gymnasium and recreation center for at-risk children, and founding RISE Tampa, a foundation that supports law enforcement training and youth programs. Castor is recognized on a national and local level for her leadership and community involvement and has received numerous awards for her achievements.

Patty Sheehan

Patty Sheehan
Photo Credit: Patty Sheehan Facebook

Patty Sheehan is a commissioner in Orlando, Florida, known for her advocacy work in the LGBTQ community. She was the first openly gay elected official in Orlando, and has served on the city council since 2000. She has been an advocate for issues such as affordable housing, environmental protection, and LGBTQ rights. Sheehan has also been involved in efforts to improve public safety in the city, particularly following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub. She continues to be a prominent voice for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups in Orlando.

Cathy Pareto & Karla Arguello

Cathy Pareto & Karla Arguello
Photo Credit: South Florida Gay News

Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello were the first LGBT couple to get married in Florida in 2015, after a court appearance on the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in Miami-Dade. After being together for 16 years and having a family, their relationship had already felt like a marriage. Legalizing their union brought a sense of normalcy and safety to their family life, removing an underlying threat they had felt before. They run a business together, Cathy Pareto and Associates in Coral Gables. Pareto wants her marriage to be seen as equal in the eyes of society, no better and no worse.

We thank all of these courageous Florida women for the work they do to #pressforprogress.

For more updates and Florida news, click here.

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

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