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Opening Plenary:

Learning From Nonprofit Advocacy, Litigation and Service Organizations Working to Advance the Public Good amid the "War on Woke"

Nov 16, 2023 | Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista - Orlando, FL 

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Few US states have moved more aggressively than Florida to enact legislation defined by its Governor, Ron DeSantis, as a "war on woke." He signed legislation codifying the denial of systemic injustices in public school curricula, limiting abortion access, barring the discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, and banning gender affirming care for minors. Many ARNOVA members are deeply upset by these actions. Building on our role as scholars of nonprofit organizations, the plenary brings together leaders of different kinds of nonprofits (advocacy, litigation, and service). The leaders will discuss advocacy and collective efforts toward justice for the groups affected by this legislation and maintaining services when nonprofit missions are challenged by the state. The panel discussion will offer a competing, more inclusive vision of the public good and the role nonprofits play in accomplishing that vision.

Meet the Speakers

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Panel Moderator

Kimberly Wiley, PhD.

Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Community Development, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida (UF)

Wiley joined UF’s Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences in 2019, which is home to the university’s nonprofit leadership undergraduate minor and graduate certificate program. Located in Gainesville, UF is one of Florida’s two land grant institutions serving a student body of 56,000. Currently, her Nonprofit & Advocacy Lab is documenting nonprofits’ lived experiences in Florida’s socio-political climate.


Wiley earned her Master of Public Administration with a Certificate in Gender-based Violence from the University of Colorado Denver and her doctorate in Public Administration from Florida State University. Her research navigates nonprofit and public policy intersections. She leads the Nonprofit & Advocacy Lab where her team studies nonprofit management during crises. She brings over a decade of professional experience in gender-based violence victim and systems advocacy in Florida to her scholarship and classroom. Wiley joined ARNOVA in 2014 and now serves on the Critical Perspectives Section leadership team. Her scholarship has been published in the discipline’s lead journals, such as Nonprofit Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Management & Leadership, Journal of Public Affairs Education, and Public Administration. Wiley’s co-authored research and call to action on faculty sexual misconduct with Sarah Young won numerous awards and was simultaneously published by 16 academic journals and associations in 2021. As a life-long Floridian, she is determined to ensure Florida’s nonprofits and universities are not deterred from pursuing the public good.

Carlos Guillermo Smith


Carlos Guillermo Smith

Senior Policy Advisor, Equality Florida

Carlos Guillermo Smith has been with Equality Florida since 2015 and now serves as Senior Policy Advisor to the organization. Equality Florida is Florida's statewide civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. Through lobbying, grassroots organizing, education, and coalition building, Equality Florida works to change Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Smith made history as Florida’s first openly-LGBTQ Latino lawmaker with his election to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016, where he served three consecutive two-year terms. In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in his community, Smith championed the needs of survivors and families and became a national leader in gun violence prevention. A graduate of the University of Central Florida, Smith is a respected civil rights leader who has been recognized by organizations such as the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the Florida Alliance for Arts Education, Florida PTA, Hispanic Federation, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the LGBTQ+ Center Orlando, and the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce for his public service and advocacy. Orlando Magazine has named him as one of Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People annually since 2018. Smith lives in East Orlando with his husband, Jerick Mediavilla, an educator from Corozal, Puerto Rico.

Gabriela Rodriguez


Gabriella Rodriguez

Executive Director, QLantinx


Gabriella Rodriguez is a dedicated queer women of color and advocate, bringing a wealth of community knowledge and advocacy expertise to her work. Her journey as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, sexual health, and wellness is deeply personal, rooted in her life experiences she approaches this work with an intersectional perspective.


Growing up in Florida, Gabriella witnessed the unique challenges faced by Women of color in the South. She recognized the difficulties in accessing crucial information, testing, and education. The cultural and religious influences that enforced silence also came at a high cost, resulting in homeless and limited access to resources, and supports which perpetuating cycles of vulnerability to physical, emotional and sexual violence.


These experiences have ignited a strong sense of purpose in Gabriella to rewrite the prevailing narrative. She has taken on roles she once deemed unattainable and remains steadfast in her advocacy. Her mission is a resolute commitment to dismantling stigma and discrimination within the community, raising awareness, and empowering individuals to embrace self-discovery, self-love, and personal well-being. Gabriella's work is rooted in the pursuit of social justice and equity, striving for liberation despite the odds.

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Simone Chriss, Esq.

Director of the Transgender Rights Initiative, Southern Legal Counsel

Chriss, a civil rights attorney, developed the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative in 2016 to fill a gap in access to justice for the transgender community in Florida. Southern Legal Counsel is a non-profit public interest organization that uses the power of the law to obtain positive social change, reform systems and institutions, strike down unjust laws and policies, and hold government accountable to the people. Their mission is to represent individuals with the goal of fixing the underlying problem not only for their clients but also for all other persons who have experienced similar injustices.


Chriss graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she received her J.D. with honors.  She is a member of The Florida Bar, and the bars of the U.S. Northern, Middle, and Southern District Courts of Florida. Chriss is a member of the Executive Council of the Public Interest Law Section of the Florida Bar, as well as the Section’s Children's Rights Committee and Advocacy Committee, and she was appointed to the Florida Bar's Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.


Chriss utilizes federal impact litigation to challenge discriminatory laws and policies that infringe upon the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, and is currently leading four federal lawsuits against the state of Florida, challenging the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration’s discriminatory ban prohibiting Medicaid program from covering treatments for gender dysphoria; rules banning doctors from prescribing medically necessary gender-affirming care to minors; the Florida law known as “Don’t Say Gay;” and the state’s blanket exclusion of gender affirming care in all health insurance plans offered to state employees. Further, she works statewide to ensure all LGBTQ+ students in Florida have access to a safe and affirming learning environment. Chriss also works with the UF Health Youth Gender Program through a Medical Legal Partnership ("MLP") to screen transgender youth and families for social determinants of health and provides free legal assistance to address health-harming legal needs. Chriss was selected by the National LGBTQ+ Bar as one of the “40 Best LGBTQ+ Lawyers Under 40” for 2022 and received the “Voice for Equality” award in 2021 from Equality Florida.

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Theresa Beachy, PhD.

Executive Director, Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, Inc.

For the past two decades, Beachy has served as the Executive Director of Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, Inc. a state certified domestic violence center. Peaceful Paths is a direct service nonprofit providing a wide range of programming including violence intervention services such as emergency shelter and 24-hour helpline. Their violence prevention programming includes community awareness and education for adults and youth. Recent policy changes directly affected the nonprofit’s programming and the people they serve.


Beachy obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a Master of Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations from the University of Florida. Her passion is for social change work that creates advocacy for issues related to violence against women, and promotes an empowerment feminist philosophy. She is an active community leader, and is involved in numerous projects that address equity and social justice, interpersonal violence, homelessness and the intersectionality of poverty and oppression. She is acknowledged as an expert in organizational leadership, program development and metrics, and vision to fruition planning. She is a member of the Executive Board and Public Policy committee for the Greater Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, a member of the North Central Florida Homeless Continuum of Care, fundraising chair for the Gainesville Woman’s Club, and a member of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. In her time at Peaceful Paths, Beachy has grown the agency from a small, rural center with 18 staff and a budget of $950,000 to a thriving model of best practice with 47 staff and $3.6 million in annual funding. Her greatest joy is her son Nate, a promising jazz guitarist with whom she enjoys the Gainesville community and the Florida lifestyle.

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