The logo for the Human Rights Campaign -- America's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization -- is one of the most widely recognized symbols of the LGBTQ community, its bold blue and yellow a symbol of equality we see on car bumpers and in shop windows. It’s a sign of support and solidarity, and one with which local attorney John Ruffier is proudly associated.
Ruffier, who’s served on the HRC Foundation Board of Directors for the past six years, was recently elected vice-chair and will become chair of the organization in 2018-19. He is the first person from Florida to lead the national board.
It’s a post to which the shareholder at Lowndes, Drostick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A. will be delighted to ascend. Especially since he was one of a handful of people who started its Orlando chapter some 15 years ago.
“It was what we call a steering committee,” Ruffier told GrowthSpotter, “and from that I was invited to join the Board of Governors, sort of a junior board, where I served for six years.”
From there, he was recruited to the main board for the HRC Foundation. A stint chairing the Development Committee followed, then the role as board vice-chair before being elected as chair of the HRC Board of Directors.
Ruffier is a native Orlandoan, so native in fact that his grandfather was the chair of SunTrust Bank when it was still Sun Bank and the first associate at Orlando’s Akerman law firm. He was born the year Disney World opened, though his childhood was far more Andy Griffith than Mickey Mouse.
“Our family had a little fish camp that my grandparents had built in the ‘40s out on the Butler Chain,” Ruffier recalls fondly. “Most of our free time was spent out there water skiing on the lakes. At the time, you’d drive through orange groves and down a dirt road to get there to a house that was…” he pauses to chuckle, “very rustic.
“No cable, shag carpet, the whole nine yards and it was fantastic! It was just a lot of time spent with family and friends….”
His commitment and passion for helping the community hardly began with HRC, though. Ruffier wasn’t just a Boy Scout, he made it all the way to Eagle. Camping, canoeing and hiking – along with competitive crew for Edgewater High School – was the norm.
“I enjoy being outside,” he says, “but I’m a little older now – the heat gets to me more than it used to.”
That said, you still might find him out walking his rescue pup, Buddy. Chihuahua-terrier mix is his best guess at the dog’s lineage, though Buddy’s definitely not a purse dog.
“I might bring him out more if he were better behaved,” Ruffier laughs, “but he’s so mean! He’s very sweet once he knows you, but even walking him past people he sees every day he still might bark like crazy."
People, he says, are generally very forgiving. “But being a lawyer, I live in fear of him getting hold of a small child,” he laughs.
You can’t really cart dogs – even small ones – to most concerts, though, and that’s a passion Ruffier has enjoyed since his college days at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
“There was just live music everywhere you turn,” he says, noting a memorable impromptu gig when Blues Traveler played the school’s Sigma Chi fraternity house. “My senior year they’d gotten kicked off campus and decided to blow their entire social budget on one last blowout party! It was pretty amazing to be there for that. We had maybe a thousand people.”
Ruffier’s musical predilections are hard to pin down, but classifies his taste as alt-country and Americana, citing Jason Isbell, Shovels and Rope and Fleetwood Mac as regulars on his playlist.
It’s hard to imagine much time in his schedule, though, with HRC-related events popping up all the time. Ruffier regularly speaks on a host of topics, including educating folks about what HRC does (he recently did this for Turner Construction) or its religion and faith program.
“Our work is broad enough that most of the time I can easily tailor what I’m talking about to the interests of who I’m speaking to.”
He easily remembers a favorite HRC moment, which came while working a booth at a Gay Days Expo. A transsexual boy from Melbourne and his mother approached the table.
“He was about 17, maybe not even, and he was beyond excited to see us there!” Ruffier recalls. “He wanted stickers, t-shirts and we gave him basically everything we had in the booth. He said, ‘I love you guys! You had so many resources for me!’”
The teen’s mom was hanging back a bit, but then approached, as well. She explained that the boy’s father was not as accepting.
“She said, ‘I can’t tell you how helpful it has been for me to be able to go to your website and wanted to thank you for what you’re doing.’”
He pauses, thoughtful.
“Parents’ biggest fears are for the safety of their kids and the life they’re going to have,” he says. “It meant so much for the two of them … and to see our work positively impacting them, it’s sort of tough not to be moved by it. And that’s why I’m always at this. Because you never know who’s in the crowd, who needs to hear the message.”