‘She inspires us all.’ Robin Schwartz leads the way in LGBTQ activism and support

·6 min read

Born in 1962 at Hialeah Hospital, Robin Schwartz didn’t come from a Westchester household known for its philanthropy or political activism.

“I was not an activist in any way growing up. I was always a very vocal, outspoken person, but didn’t really do much with it. I didn’t do anything political nor anything with activism,” said Schwartz, now 59 and being honored as one of Florida’s leading LGBTQ activists and fundraisers.

Schwartz’s transformation came as middle age approached, when Miami-Dade County passed a 1998 ordinance protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientations — 21 years after singer Anita Bryant got national attention leading a voter landslide to repeal a similar law.

“It was right before” the 1998 human rights ordinance fight, Schwartz recalled, “and my grandmother passed away and she left me $10,000.”

Schwartz used half the money to fix up her house, and gave the other half to SAVE, South Florida’s leading LGBTQ rights group.

“I said, I really don’t need this money, I’m doing well, I’m financially fine. I don’t remember how I found out about SAVE, but I did and decided to give [them] $5,000,” said Schwartz, back then a success in the copier sales business.

Soon after she gave the donation, SAVE’s then-Executive Director Jorge Mursuli asked Schwartz to speak at “a backyard event” in Miami Springs.

“The next thing I know, everybody wants me to get involved. I didn’t really get it at the time, but not that many people gave $5,000, and certainly not a lot of women. I must have stood out.”

Lesbian community leaders also took notice, said Alicia Apfel, who in 2000 created the Women’s Community Fund for the old Dade Human Rights Foundation, later known as the Gay & Lesbian Foundation of South Florida.

The women’s fund had been supported primarily by proceeds from Aqua Girl, a yearly Miami Beach festival co-founded by Alison Burgos. Months before the Gay & Lesbian Foundation of South Florida went bankrupt in 2004, the women’s fund had become its own organization, now known as Aqua Foundation for Women.

Schwartz served as a founding board member of the new women’s group, along with Apfel, Burgos, Cindy Brown, Vivian Lamadrid, Elizabeth Schwartz (no relation) and Martha Sternberg.

The initial purpose of Aqua Foundation was to raise money for educational scholarships and community grants, Robin Schwartz said.

“The scholarships were meant to do different things: financially assist LBT women in their higher education. There was a mentorship program. And the last thing — that I don’t think everyone knows — is that we are also looking to help inspire and provide skills to women who are interested in being future leaders.

“At that time, there were very few LGBTQ-female identified leaders. There still aren’t enough, but at that time it was worse. We felt there needed to be more women’s voices,” said Schwartz, who is also a successful mortgage loan originator.

Schwartz graduated from Coral Park High and attended the University of Miami and the University of Florida. She came out at age 21 and said she has “a privileged story.”

Longtime Florida LGBTQ activist Robin Schwartz, who is the 2021 recipient of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Eddy McIntyre Community Service Award.
Longtime Florida LGBTQ activist Robin Schwartz, who is the 2021 recipient of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Eddy McIntyre Community Service Award.

“I have family who’ve from Day One made clear they love me no matter what. I was very lucky. I also was born with something inside of me that felt like, ‘OK, I’m gay. That’s cool.’ I didn’t struggle or anything. Also, in my work, because I was very good at selling — doing something I was meant to do — no one ever questioned anything. Because at the end of the day, I did my job and they were good with that.”

In 2010, Schwartz became Aqua Foundation’s full-time executive director, a job she held through 2014, and again as managing director from 2018-19.

Aqua Foundation has given grants to local boards “that bettered LGBT women,” Schwartz said. Recipients have included Pridelines, Miami’s LGBTQ community center; and YES Institute, a South Miami-based organization primarily to prevent LGBTQ youth suicide, violence and discrimination. Aqua Foundation also partnered with the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors to develop an LGBTQ Health Directory; and with Our Fund Foundation and the Miami Foundation to launch a $100,000 LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Initiative.

Another Aqua career highlight for Schwartz: helping produce TransCon, a free, annual two-day conference for South Florida’s transgender and nonbinary community created by trans activist Jessica Lam.

Since 2019, Schwartz has been Miami development officer for Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBTQ lobbying group.

Schwartz has also served as vice chair of the original Miami Beach Gay Pride committee in 2009; is a member of the city of Miami Beach’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee; and a former member of the Miami-Dade County advisory committee.

And in June, the National LGBTQ Task Force announced Schwartz would receive the organization’s 2021 Eddy McIntyre Community Service Award at its 25th annual Miami Beach gala on Oct. 23.

“I am so happy she is receiving this award recognizing her contributions to the community. This recognition is well overdue,” said Apfel, who received the honor in 2004. “Robin implemented the vision we had for [Aqua] Foundation and made it a leading organization in the community through grant making, scholarships and mentoring, and special initiatives such as addressing LGBTQ youth homelessness. Robin has served our community in so many ways well beyond her work with Aqua Foundation.”

Recently, Schwartz raised $25,000 for a training and workshop series for LGBTQ organization leaders. “The work is intended to increase race equity within the organizations and with those they serve,” she said.

Schwartz has for several years mentored and helped young women such as Bianca Moya, who began her gender transition during her last year in the U.S. Army.

“I grew up in Alabama. I came from a very conservative background. My family is super religious. When I came out as trans I was completely rejected and I was on my own,” said Moya, 26, who moved to Miami and met Schwartz through Aqua Foundation.

“She was there through hard times in my life. Any time I needed anyone, she was the first person I called. She became my mother figure,” Moya said. “As a trans woman, I was lacking that kind of guidance and motherly love. And she gave that to me.

“She doesn’t like to take credit, but she’s such a hard worker. She works so hard and that’s something everyone sees, and she just inspires us all to want to work as hard as she does. Her genuine kindness is everything.”

How to help

Aqua Foundation for Women

305-576-AQUA (2782)

aquafoundation.org

Equality Florida

813-870-3735

eqfl.org

National LGBTQ Task Force

305-571-1924

www.thetaskforce.org

Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.

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