Jessica Fernandez understands that the impression at the national level – no doubt stoked by anti-LGBTQ actions from the Trump Administration – is that the political party she belongs to, the Republican party, is hostile to matters of LGBTQ equality. It’s frustrating, she says, to see that impression take over the political party she loves, especially when she knows that for herself and so many other conservative Americans, LGBTQ equality is a fundamental, bipartisan issue. Jessica is passionate about this fight, working everyday to change this pervasive perception and bring LGBTQ protections into the conversation among conservatives.
“As an American, as a conservative, I believe the ability to have success that comes through hard work shouldn’t be denied to anybody,” Jessica said “There is a lot more support on this among conservatives than you might think.”
Jessica’s understanding of the struggles LGBTQ people face every day began in 2009, when she saw her brother and sister-in-law, who are straight, non-transgender allies to the LGBTQ community volunteer at the Transgender Law Center.
“They were telling me about some of the work they were doing, helping people fill out forms for their gender confirmation. I was really moved, and it humanized everything for me in a way I had never thought about before,” she said.
With this new understanding and view of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, Jessica’s beliefs began to change. However, she was still unaware of that fact that in her home state of Florida, there were no protections in the law for LGBTQ people when it came to discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodations. She said her views had evolved, but on this issue, she thought is was mainly a liberal talking point.
“As an American, as a conservative, I believe the ability to have success that comes through hard work shouldn’t be denied to anybody.”
“I thought it was overblown,” she said …”But then I met some friends and heard from them that they were facing hate. I started hearing stories about how they had been fired, or not getting promotions.”
With this new information, when the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) came up in Congress, Jessica mobilized her friends and started knocking on the doors of her legislators, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio. Unfortunately, ENDA failed to move through Congress, but that didn’t stop Jessica from continuing to use her voice to talk to conservatives about the need for non-discrimination protections.
“My faith calls me to help people, to be a servant, to love everyone, and to not pass any judgment.”
In 2013, Jessica was elected President of the Miami Young Republicans, and she started using her leadership role to bring more people to the table regarding LGBTQ rights. She founded the group Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality and formulated a pledge in support of equal protection under the law for LGBTQ people that was signed by more than 350 people, including mayors, commissioners, and Republican party executives. Jessica also planned and executed a conservative LGBTQ gathering, which over 100 people attended, including several Florida State Representatives.
As a devout person of faith, Jessica has also attempted to carry her message into the larger faith community.
“I grew up in a very Catholic family and went to a Presbyterian high school,” she explained. “My faith calls me to help people, to be a servant, to love everyone, and to not pass any judgment.”
Jessica’s work has begun to be recognized by others who view her efforts and accomplishments as vital in continuing to spread the message of equality and fairness among more conservative bases. In 2015, Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE), South Florida’s leading organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, honored her with their Luminary of Equality Award for her continued work in trying to secure protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Though she knows the fight is far from over, Jessica continues her quest alongside countless other Floridians and organizations to make comprehensive non-discrimination protections a reality for not only The Sunshine State, but for the entire United States. The power, she knows, is in working with elected officials locally, statewide, and federally to realize the importance of how these protections will benefit their communities and ensure full equality in the law.
“This is not political,” Jessica said “This is the human thing to do…the right thing to do. I want to be able to show legislators this is about ensuring that the American dream is accessible to all. At its core, this is an American value and a conservative value.”