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Joe Saunders discusses equality, candidacy for Florida House of Reps

By Jessica Pereda
On October 24, 2012

Democratic House Candidate Joe Saunders tells us about his work for equal rights in and out of UCF.

Former UCF student Joe Saunders says he is running for District 49 of the Florida House of Representatives in order to bring equal opportunities to all of the middle class.

Saunders was part of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Union, currently known as Equal, and the Progressive Council during his time at UCF. He graduated from UCF to go on to Equality Florida and the Florida Safe Schools Organization.

Saunders sat down with the Central Florida Future to discuss his time and work at UCF and how it will affect students if he wins the upcoming election.

Central Florida Future: What were you involved with at UCF during your time here?
Joe Saunders: I was the president of the GLBSU, which was the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Union; the co-chair of the UCF Progressive Council; and peer mentor of the REACH program. The Progressive Council is an advocacy-based student council that meets together to advocate issues that benefit all students. What they did was team up to work on campaigns to benefit everyone: things like stopping cuts to Bright Futures and tuition raises at UCF. The REACH program stands for Responsible Education Action Campus Health. They mentored incoming freshmen about campus health issues, to sum it up. I was also student liaison to the UCF Faculty Senate.

CFF: What were your best moments at UCF?
Saunders: The work I think I was most proud of was what I did with UCF Progressive Council. When I came in, it was, well, we struggled as organizations to come together, and in the time I was chair, I was proud we were able to come together and be able to work as groups. There were environmental groups fighting to get equality for every sexual orientation and animal rights groups working for environmental issues. When the tuition raises became an issue, that really brought everyone together. I really got to pull together all of these organizations and be able to make a difference on things that really affected everyone like these tuition increases.

CFF: You were a part of the GLBSU organization. Can you tell us what you did in that?
Saunders: Theres a story I tell on the campaign trail a lot. I was a member of the LGBT since my freshman year. But when I was at a party with two friends, they ended up being attacked because of their sexuality. They had to go in an ambulance and go to the hospital and everything. The police came and ambulances came, but the reaction of the community wasnt as outraged as I was. That was what really made me go into the leadership track and in the broader sense it has created a foundation for what I believe are issues. We did educate a lot on discrimination and tried to keep it holistic, but we tried to let everyone know that discrimination because they are gay or lesbian affects everyone, not only just those of certain sexuality.

CFF: What made you decide to run for a House seat?
Saunders: My career has been pretty broad. When I graduated, I started working for Equality Florida. It has a focus to lesbian and gay rights, womens health care and education, but I feel I can represent everyone. I am also a founding member for Florida Safe School Organization. I go back and forth to Tallahassee a lot and have seen how the passing a bill is there. We are run by conservative Republicans and now we have Rick Scott as governor and I felt that a lot of what we wanted was passed over. I want to give a shot to expanding middle class and give students a chance to get a job after graduation so I was fed up and said You know what? Someone has to change this, and I decided to run.

CFF: How would you winning this election benefit the UCF student population?
Saunders: Whats really great about this new seat for District 49 is that UCF will be represented by one seat only. Democrats have a strong pull against Republicans for this seat. I also feel this seat is a hub for education so it mean[s] the person who represents this district, they have a chance to make a difference in Tallahassee for students of not only UCF but Full Sail University and Valencia College. Since I graduated from UCF, I feel I know a lot of what UCF students go through and what [are] some things that they really need.

CFF: What sets you apart from your opponent, and how will that aid you in winning?
Saunders: There are a few clear differences in the race. The biggest difference, I think, is I spent an entire career in nonprofit working to improve people[s] lives working to get equality, working to get women health care, getting equal rights for all and better education. I think people in District 49 are sick of having their lives run by these politicians. My opponent has made it pretty clear about his stance. My opponent talks about how his corporate background makes him fit for the job. I think we dont need any more corporations in our government. The way we grow our economy is to build our middle class and that means we need to invest in our education.

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