LGBTQ activist Nadine Smith took aim Wednesday night at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for pushing laws that she says target the LGBTQ community.
“He is lighting these culture war fires instead of doing the business of our state, but he is a symptom of the moment,” said Smith at the TIME100 Gala in New York City. Smith is a 2022 TIME100 member and the executive director for Equality Florida—the largest civil rights organization dedicated to the LGBTQ community in Florida.
She added: “You can be afraid of a future where no single racial group is dominant, or you can say this is the strength of America. We come from all over and together we have made this unique place. When you embrace that you’re not afraid of talking about our past and you’re not afraid of people being authentically who they are.”
DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law earlier this year.
“We are seeing this tremendous backlash that is targeting the most vulnerable. Really we are at an inflection point for our country,” she said on the red carpet. “Are we going to move forward in a world in which we embrace diversity, equity and inclusion and understand our strength comes from different voices or are we going to go backwards? We are seeing so much effort to define America in the most narrow terms.”
When asked about the most pressing issues facing the world, Smith spoke about the importance of pushing back against threats to democracy. “There are people who want to narrow our democracy, who want to disenfranchise and suppress votes so that a smaller and smaller minority runs things,” she said. “The number one important thing that impacts everything we care about is anti-democratic destabilizing efforts.”
Novelist Kristen Arnett wrote a tribute for her for this year’s TIME100 list, in which she praised her commitment to protecting LGBTQ rights. “Her work is an inspiration for LGBTQ organizations around the world, providing a blueprint on how to make progress for our communities through strong commitment and perseverance.” Arnett wrote for TIME.
Returning after two years on pause, the TIME100 Gala is TIME’s annual celebration of the TIME100 list of the world’s most influential people, released this year on May 23. The Gala brings together icons, leaders, change-makers, and celebrities from across industries and nations for one lively evening of meaningful dialogue and celebration. This year’s Gala features live performances from Miranda Lambert and Mary J. Blige, two honorees on the 2022 TIME100 list. Further attendees from this year’s list include actors Andrew Garfield, Ariana DeBose, and Amanda Seyfried, musicians Jazmine Sullivan, Jon Batiste, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, athlete Eileen Gu, director Taika Waititi, and legal activist Chase Strangio,
TIME is teaming up with ABC to bring viewers inside the exclusive TIME100 Gala for the first time with a special television event. TIME100: The World’s Most Influential People airs Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC, featuring host Simu Liu, director Quinta Brunson, Ukrainian journalist Sevgil Musaieva, and more.