January 24, 2018
ORLANDO | Central Florida attorney John Ruffier was elected as the vice-chair of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors and will become the chair of the organization next year.
The announcement was made by the law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A.— where Ruffier is a practicing attorney—in a press release Jan. 12.
Ruffier was voted unanimously by the board to the positions, and with it became the first person from the state of Florida chosen to lead the national board.
Ruffier got his start with HRC 15 years ago when he was asked to be co-chair of Orlando’s HRC steering committee with Jennifer Foster.
“Our job was to build HRC in Orlando politically and with fundraising, of course. That’s always a big part of it,” Ruffier says. “There was a real hunger for people to get politically involved in Orlando. Equality Florida was based in Tampa Bay and this was before they had expanded statewide like they have now.”
Ruffier, Foster and Orlando’s HRC steering committee came up during a very different political and social climate when the George W. Bush presidency was behind the Defense of Marriage Act and same-sex marriage was a polarizing issue with U.S. voters.
“It was a time when there really were no protections for LGB people, much less transgender people,” Ruffier says. ”Transgender was still a topic that was hardly on people’s minds. Nationally we were playing a lot of defense. It was a time when, as a community, we were starting to get recognized more but we still had not seized a lot of political power where we were making advances, certainly not the way we have in the last five and 10 years.”
Ruffier has been a force with HRC since those first years. He helped to launch HRC Connects, now known as HRC Socials, which allowed members of the community to gather, socialize and learn where LGBTQ issues stood politically. Ruffier served a total of six years on board of directors for both HRC’s political side and the HRC Foundation, the non-profit side.
In this role, Ruffier will oversee the organization’s actions, including fiscal management and budget approval, and also assist in establishing the official policies that direct HRC, according to the press release. Ruffierwill work with the 32-member board of directors who, in conjunction with the HRC Foundation board, set policy and steer the strategic direction of the organization.
HRC’s main focus will be the 2018 midterm elections.
“It’s funny because we were talking about how 2016 was the most important election of our lives, then Trump wins, and now this year’s election is really the most important of our lives,” Ruffier says.
Two programs which Ruffier and HRC have their attention on are called HRC Rising and Project One America.
“HRC Rising focuses on states that we think the LGBTQ vote can really make the difference,” Ruffier says. “States that are borderline, a lot of them are in the upper Midwest: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio. As a swing state, Florida is always one that we pay attention to.”
Project One America is a focus on what Ruffier says are states that have gotten left behind in our movement, predominantly Southern states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
“It’s easy to celebrate what happens in New York and California; even in Florida we are very fortunate, particularly in Central Florida, to be in pretty progressive communities,” Ruffier says. “It’s easy to forget about the folks who are in places where you can’t be openly LGBT, or being openly LGBT has real risks. It’s really about reaching into those communities and helping them to find strength, find their voices and hopefully change hearts and minds.”