Motherhood and advocacy are two of the biggest parts of New York born, Florida raised Kerri McCoy’s life. She and her husband, Kevin, have two sons ages 26 and 20. When her oldest son came out in high school, Kerri began her mission to do what she could to see that the LGBTQ community had the same protections as anyone else.
As a stay at home mom, Kerri focused her energy on raising her two children. “My husband and I sacrificed a lot in order for me to do that,” she said. “We started out struggling, but it was important to us that we raise our kids ourselves.”
The close-knit family supported their oldest son when he came out in high school. Kerri said she and her husband were not surprised or shocked and didn’t have any issues accepting it. “I was raised where we just loved everybody,” said Kerri.
The only worry she had for her son initially was fear for his safety, but that passed, and life went on as normal.
“He’s loving, he’s very highly intelligent, just an all-around good kid – even though he’s an adult I still consider him a kid,” she laughed.
McCoy joined the Polk chapter of PFLAG to be a help to any parents, family or friends of someone in the LGBTQ community that were struggling with it. Three years after joining, she became president of PFLAG of Polk County.
Learning and research are a large part of what Kerri does. If a parent calls and she doesn’t have answers, she will ask questions, research, contact doctors, counselors, and whoever else she needs to, to figure out the best way to help those parents.
“Everything I do is for the LGBT community,” said the PFLAG president. “This is my one and only hobby, my first love.”
Her deep-seated passion for LGBTQ advocacy is rooted in a few reasons. The first being that it is someone’s child. “I don’t know how anybody cannot love their child because of who their child loves,” she pondered. “If a family needs help understanding their kid and needs that guidance and that reassurance that everything is going to be okay – I am more than willing to do that to keep a family together because that is so important.”
The second reason is the law, or lack thereof, protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals in Florida. Kerri explained, “In the state of Florida we have no protections. My son can be fired from his job at any time, my son can be kicked out of his apartment at any time. There are different protections in different counties and with different companies, but it is sort of like a puzzle and you have to figure out where you’re safe.”
She continued, “I think that’s another reason why is because I know that my son’s life can change at any given moment for no reason other than who he loves – I don’t think that’s right. That keeps me going every day just knowing that we have a lot of fighting to do.”
Emboldened by her convictions, Kerri McCoy, along with Kristine Lally, president of LYA (Lakeland Youth Alliance) traveled to Tallahassee for Lobby Days. They spent time knocking on doors in an effort to gain support for the Equality Act, a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equality Florida notes that the Equality Act is, “the most comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights legislation ever filed in Congress and establishes protections in essential areas of life including housing, employment, public spaces, education, credit and even jury service.”
The U.S House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act in May. McCoy hopes to see it passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by the president to afford the same protections to all Americans.
On the local level, McCoy noted that LYA president, Kristine Lally has been representing Polk Pride at Haines City commission meetings in attempts to pass a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) that would include sexual orientation and gender identity. According to Equality Florida, “A Human Rights Ordinance is a policy passed on the local level (city or county) to prohibit discrimination based on certain characteristics. These policies often ban discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. HRO policies most often ban discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, ethnicity, national origin and marital status.”
Kerri hopes, if an HRO including sexual orientation and gender identity is passed in Haines City, surrounding communities will get on board, assuring the rights of LGBTQ individuals.
One of McCoy’s biggest frustrations through her work with PFLAG has been getting the schools to educate teachers, support staff, bus drivers, and anyone else working directly with the children, training and education regarding LGBTQ issues.
Kerri said for many people, “If they don’t have any LGBT members in their household or in their family, they might not understand it.”
From transitioning to struggling with their gender identity or sexuality, Kerri said, “A lot of kids are struggling, they’re having a hard time in school because they’re not understood.”
McCoy made it clear that she was not disparaging the teachers, just advocating for them to get more education “on what it means to be LGBT and how these kids are affected by the things that are said and done to them.”
McCoy said her personal goal is, “To keep families together, to keep kids off the streets. We have a high amount of homeless in Polk County and a lot of them are LGBT.”
She would one day like to see an LGBTQ shelter like Orlando’s Zebra House, in Polk County.
When asked if there was anything she’d like to share, she concluded with a smile, “Love is love.”