Celebrating Pride: Ruth Shack laid groundwork for anti-discrimination laws

Pride Month: Former Metro-Dade Commissioner laid groundwork for gay rights
Pride Month: Former Metro-Dade Commissioner laid groundwork for gay rights

It’s Pride Month, and as the LGBTQ community celebrates the progress made in the fight for equal rights, Local 10 News is shining a light on local heroes in the movement.

Today we speak to a pioneer who is not a member of the LGBTQ community but stood up and fought for it when most would not.

Ruth Shack was a straight ally before most knew what that even meant.

In 1977, the then Metro-Dade Commissioner introduced and helped pass a measure to protect homosexuals from discrimination.

“I grew up as a Jew, so I knew antisemitism, I knew prejudice,” she said. “For me, it was the next civil rights issue.”

Shack recalled that “to be gay in those days in Miami was dangerous. There were constant evening television coverage of police with paddywagons moving into a bar and hauling a group of men in suits, hiding their faces.”

[CELEBRATING PRIDE: Click here for more coverage in our series]

But the historically progressive law Shack pushed was short-lived.

Months later, beauty queen, singer and Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant rallied religious conservatives.

Her “Save Our Children” campaign branded gays as perverts and pedophiles.

“Turned so ugly and so mean spirited, and they gave rise to what was later called the moral majority,” Shack said.

The movement forced a vote to overturn the newly approved protections for gays and lesbians — and they won.

But the defeat was mobilizing.

“It allowed our friends who identified as gay to become a community,” Shack said.

It took 20 years for the Miami-Dade County Commission to pass protections against discrimination for the LGBT community.

“I don’t care who gets the credit, I’m just delighted that it finally worked,” Shack said.

The gay rights pioneer reflects on the decades of progress since with this message for the younger generations:

“We have to protect what we have. They have to know that this is their community and they have a responsibility to make it what they want it to look like.”

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