Carlos Guillermo Smith

Carlos Guillermo Smith knows hate crimes are real

 

Chicago’s police chief is accusing”Empire” star Jussie Smollett of using the “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career” by paying two men to stage an attack on him last month.

The allegations concerning Smollett, who is black and gay, sparked an international avalanche of commentary, but one state representative who’s weighing in has more than a passing interest in the matter.

“I decided to finally tell this very deeply personal story because the reality is that hate crimes are real. Homophobia is real. Bigotry is real. And hate violence is on the rise against many groups. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Hate violence against transgender women of color is on the rise, especially in Florida,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday evening.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is openly gay, spoke with us after he tweeted about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence” when he was a University of Central Florida senior in 2003.

In a telephone interview Thursday evening, Smith recounted the evening 16 years ago when a keg party turned into a gay-bashing attack on him and his roommate, Heath Frank.

The attacker, identified as “Eduardo Alessandro Mongio” in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at the crowded party, Smith said.

Other witnesses later said they heard Mongio making homophobic remarks, but “I never heard any of that,” Smith said.

But at some point a bloodied Frank came back inside the apartment, Smith recalled.

“He was red in the face. He was crying. I’m like, Heath, what’s wrong? He said, it’s nothing. Let’s go. Let’s go,” Smith said.

But when they went outside, Mongio confronted Smith and started punching him in the head and face.

“I didn’t know what was going on. But I got banged up pretty bad. When the dust settled, everyone was telling me about how the guy was making all these homophobic slurs about our group, because hey listen, we travel in cliques. We queer people, we stick together,” Smith said. “I don’t remember if the guy was drunk or what his deal was but he started lashing out at . It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”

Smith, who was still trying to piece together the events of more than a decade-and-a-half ago, said the police were called and Mongio was arrested. Once in the cop car, according to the police report, Mongio threatened to “get that fucker” and repeatedly referred to Smith and Frank as “faggots.”

“But I remember, the next day, I was so down on myself. I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. It’s hard to describe the feeling that you have when you’ve survived hate violence and you’re not sure what to do with it, especially when you’re young. I was like, what just happened,” he said.

Former state Rep. Joe Saunders, who was one of Florida’s first openly gay legislators and who was one of Smith’s close friends at college, told Smith the campus was “stunned” by the attack.

Saunders quickly penned “his first press release” and organized a rally where students — including Smith, who later worked with Saunders at Equality Florida — demanded that the university update its non-discrimination policy to include LGBT students.

Mongio was charged with two counts of “battery, evidencing prejudice,” and disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the hate-crimes enhancer — which could have added another five to 10 years to Mongio’s sentence — and the disorderly conduct charge after he agreed to plea no contest to the battery charges. He was sentenced to 312 days in the Orange County Jail followed by a year of probation.

And Mongio’s sentence also required sensitivity training, an anger management course, and a letter of apology to Smith, according to the court record.

Smith said he “felt compelled to speak out” as the controversy around Smollett exploded.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to become of the Jussie Smollett case. But I can already see there’s a narrative out there that hate crimes aren’t real. No. They are. And they’re on the rise. Especially with the election of Donald Trump, who wears hate for other groups on his sleeve,” he said.

Smith said he feels “like justice was served” in his case. But he knows that’s not every other survivor’s experience.

“Even though it hasn’t defined me as a person, it absolutely is part of my experience as an out gay man, as an activist, as a lawmaker who cares deeply about issues of fairness and equality,” he said. “I think that people who now know this about me, they understand why I’m such a passionate advocate for my community. It doesn’t define who I am but it’s part of my experience.”

Smith: What are the House’s priorities, post-Parkland?

Floridians once again are mourning, following a mass shooting at a high school in Broward County on Valentine’s Day.

The massacre resulted in 17 deaths, so far, and is the second worst school shooting in U.S. history, behind the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children aged 7 or under and 6 adults were slain.

The killings at the Parkland high school Wednesday prompted state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, to question the priorities of the Republican-dominated House.

“These people today, ask them if they deserve a hearing,” Smith said Wednesday of those impacted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, noting the rainbow ribbon on his lapel that honors the 50 people killed at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016.

“While we sit here and hear stories at length about one person in San Francisco who was murdered — a tragedy — something that didn’t have anything to do with a sanctuary city, yet that’s the driving reason behind House Bill 9,” said Smith.

Smith has unsuccessfully pushed a measure (HB 219) that would prohibit the sale, transfer or possession of assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The measure has failed to get a hearing this session.

“I have had many conversations about my legislation and what is really frustrating is the priorities in this chamber,” Smith said. “My bill went straight to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and it has not been given a hearing two years in a row. But do you want to know what the chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee does think is a priority: declaring porn as a public health crisis. These are the priorities of this chamber.”

A measure (HB 157) by Subcommittee Chairman Ross Spano, a Republican from Dover, seeks to have pornography declared a public health risk. The proposal has already reached the House floor.

“We’ve got an opioid crisis, but yet the budget underfunds programs that will help with that crisis,” Smith said. “We have a public health crisis related to gun violence. We’re still 50th in the nation in funding for mental health care. These are super, super important issues that are life or death issues for Floridians. Why aren’t they a priority>”

Tagging every yard of UCF’s undefeated season

UCFplate-logo.pngA group of Florida lawmakers, including one pursing a specialty license plate for his own alma mater, want the state’s motor vehicle agency to be the latest to proclaim the University of Central Florida undefeated Knights as college football’s “national champion.”

State Reps. James Grant, R-Tampa, Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, are pushing a proposal (HB 1359) that would add “UCF National Champions” license plate to the more than 130 specialty tags already available from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“A UCF license plate is the perfect way to commemorate our undefeated Knights for achieving this historic milestone,” Guillermo Smith said in a press release.

Guillermo Smith, Latvala and Mariano are UCF alumni.

“We can argue statistics and strength of schedules, but you can’t argue a perfect, undefeated season,” Mariano said in the release. “We are the true College Football National Champions, and our season made a big statement to the CFP that their current system is not working. I am so proud to be an Alumna from the best University in the world! Go Knights and Charge on!”

The measure would also revamp the specialty license program, an annual exercise in the state Legislature, by capping the number of different designs available at one time to 125 and to boost the required number of pre-order plates from 1,000 to 3,000 for a new tag to be allowed on the road.

The proposal also would make an Auburn University license plate — along with tags for Florida Lineman, Florida State Beekeepers Association, Rotary, Beat Childhood Cancer, Florida Bay Forever and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust — available for pre-order.

Grant, who along with Tallahassee public-relations guru Kevin Cate, have been working to get Florida to offer the Auburn University plate.

“Nobody wanted Auburn to beat UCF more than me,” Grant, an Auburn University grad, said in the press release. “However, UCF beat the team who beat the team also claiming to be national champions — Alabama — a team with a long history of making up national championships.”

Cate’s CateComm and Sean Hartman of Orlando designed the pseudo national champion plate.

Gov. Rick Scott on Jan. 8 signed a proclamation declaring UCF national champions following their 34-27 victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

As with Scott’s proclamation, those pitching the Knights as national camps point to Auburn having defeated the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama topped Georgia to conclude the NCAA’s four-team playoff invitational.

UCF finished sixth in the Associated Press’s final poll of the season.

By Jim Turner.

Rep. Smith: Scott ignored LGBTQ community post-Pulse

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith accused Gov. Rick Scott of failing the LGBTQ community, a year after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub left 49 people — many of them young, gay and Hispanic — dead.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay and Hispanic, said Scott has both “evolved” and “regressed” on LGBTQ issues in the year since the attack on the Orlando club. Smith”s comments, made at a Center for American Progress Action Fund panel discussion earlier this month, were posted online by his re-election campaign yesterday.

“Months go by, Pulse falls off his radar. I sat in the House chamber on the first day of the Legislative session, where the number one topic in his address to the Legislature was the attack at Pulse,” Smith says. “He spoke about the tragedy at length. Not once did he acknowledge or mention the LGBTQ community that was directly impacted.”

Smith goes on to say that Scott and his team promised to take action to sign an executive order to protect state employees from LGBTQ discrimination, but never followed up.

Asked about Smith’s comments, Scott’s office provided the following statement:

“Florida is a state that doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any form. In accordance with federal guidelines, Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way. Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”