MIAMI – It wasn’t that long ago when people in Miami-Dade County could be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans — with no legal recourse.
In the latest installment of Local 10 News’ Pride Month series, we look back at a man who had the courage to speak up and sacrifice his career to fight for his rights.
Miami’s Damian Pardo has always been outspoken and tenacious.
“I remember going to the library and looking up homosexual. I’m 13, I would get in the car and my mom would talk about the homosexuals, and ‘Oh my God, those homosexuals’ and I would defend homosexuals,” he recalls. “So probably the third or fourth time she turned to me and said, ‘Why do you keep defending them? Are you a homosexual?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am.”
Pardo, now a 57-year-old senior financial advisor, would go on to help lead the charge in fighting to get the LGBTQ community equal protections against discrimination in Miami-Dade County.
“Early in my career I was called into a senior member, a staff member’s office and I was told that my sexual orientation should never be divulged under any circumstances, that clearly that would be to my detriment,” Pardo said in a 1997 interview. “And if you were an activist back then, it was very likely that people spit on you. I got spit on, I had people pray for me, include me in their prayer, hold me, hug me, pray and cry.”
In 1993, Pardo was the founding chair of Safeguarding American Values for Everyone.
SAVE’s message was simple but powerful, with their 1994 ad campaign on local buses making national headlines.
“I remember one of the bus boards would say, ‘If your child were gay, would your love be less?’ That was it, it was just about opening dialogue,” he says.
The dialogue set the stage for a grueling battle in the late 1990s to pass a gay rights protection ordinance at the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Right out of the blocks, the movement was hit with a demoralizing defeat.
“No ordinance had ever been denied at first reading in history,” Pardo remembers. “The opposition had brought in busloads of religious people from wherever they got them from.
“That was one of those moments I felt the most alone in the world.”
They would lose that battle but not the war.
SAVE mobilized allies in the straight, business and even religious communities.
In 1998 their civil rights protections measure passed — by one vote.
“I think the secret sauce to the success of all of this was that we listened to everyone, we went where it took us,” Pardo says. “If it was a Republican, we went Republican. If it was Democrat, we went Democrat. We really tried to lean into our differences.”
These days, Pardo keeps busy as the lead organizer of the Gay-8 Festival held annually on Miami’s Calle Ocho.
It’s the largest festival in the nation promoting love and acceptance of LGBTQ people within the Latino community.