OPEd | Robert Asencio | “An Unexpected Ally”

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Robert_Asencio_For_State_Representative_District_118 (1)

Published August Edition of AMBIENTE Magazine

By: Pablo Hernandez

People love to say that technology separates and disconnects us, but I don’t think that’s true. I think there are very clear ways in which technology, especially social media, actually brings us closer together, both with the people in our own communities and also in other communities around the country (and world.)

A little over a year ago, my friend and I started a Facebook group,  robert-asencio-state-representative-district-118A Kinder Miami, with the intention of sharing and spreading
ideas that can help transform Miami through politics and social action. We didn’t really know what to expect, and before we knew it the group had grown (mostly on its own) to about 600 people. Seeing our group grow so much and so quickly was pretty exciting, but not as exciting as what would happen next.

A few months ago, through our Facebook group, we met a man named Robert Asencio. He is a police officer, a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, a heterosexual man, and…an LGBT advocate? We were very grateful to meet someone who fit this description for two reasons. One is that we are both very interested in politics and we care a lot about Florida’s, and Miami’s, future. So naturally we are excited to get up, close, and personal with the political process in any way we can. The second reason is that it’s always a pleasant surprise to meet a heterosexual, cisgendered person who supports, is interested in, and is knowledgeable about LGBT issues. It’s especially important at this point in history—as lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are gaining a new level of acceptance and empowerment across the country, and transmen and women are finally being heard and getting the respect and understanding they deserve.

ROBERT ASENCIO is running against Frank Artiles, the Florida State
Representative who created the notorious “bathroom bill,” which would force
transmen to use women’s bathrooms and transwomen to use men’s
bathrooms. I’m sure I don’t have to explain my feelings about that bill to
Ambiente readers.

I met with Robert in preparation for this article, and we discussed the bathroom bill, and LGBT issues in general. There were two things that really impressed me about Robert. One was how much he already knew about LGBT issues, and trans issues in particular. The second thing was his openness to learn more. At the beginning of our interview, Robert said something that really resonated with me. We were discussing the fact that, ultimately, LGBT people are just like the rest of society and Robert said, “Life isn’t prejudiced. They’re going to throw the same problems at you that they’re going to throw at me.”

But what I appreciated even more than that sentiment was his answer to my follow-up question. I asked him what he would say to someone who points out that, in addition to the inevitable challenges of life, there are also a specific set of issues that we as LGBT people have to deal with. And Robert responded by saying, “Help me understand what those issues are.” I believe that many people, especially politicians, would take my question as an opportunity to preach about their personal philosophy or to prove how informed or enlightened they are. But Robert’s natural, immediate response was just to listen and learn even more.

This kind of openness is rare and refreshing, and not something I necessarily expected to find in a politician. It seems to me that there are a lot of people who want to and try to be open, but Robert makes it look easy. It seems to come naturally to him, that he is just an open-minded, open-hearted person without trying to be that. We often complain about how there are no honest politicians, but I like to think that maybe we are at the point where people are tired of the old system, and maybe we are ready for an honest, real candidate.

My original point about society becoming more connected by social media is actually one of the things that make me feel optimistic about the future of politics. It seems to me that the constant recording, sharing, and re-sharing of almost every aspect of life leaves less room than before for politicians to harbor secret agendas without getting caught. For example: in the past, an important speech made by a state representative may never even be heard by the people in the state itself, but now state representatives’ speeches are regularly posted on YouTube, and occasionally even go viral. The speech that comes to my mind is New York State Senator Diane Savino’s beautifully brave and moving speech on marriage equality from December 2009. The video has been watched over 700,000 times on YouTube, and I know I personally have seen it pop up on Facebook several times in the last few years. (If you haven’t seen it, by the way, I really recommend watching it. It’s on YouTube as “NYS Senator Diane Savino speaks on the Marriage Equality bill.”)

So we are living in an era in which two ordinary, unestablished activists can meet and befriend a state-level political candidate, and in which the effects of a little speech made on a Wednesday in Albany can still be felt almost six years later in Miami. I think we’re doing just fine.


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