AFGE Member Leads with His Heart…and His Hair

This post originally appeared at Medium.

It isn’t hard to spot Francis Nichols in Orlando, Florida — or whom he supports for president.

At 6'2", he describes himself as a well-polished "walking billboard" for AFGE and Hillary Clinton. When he took leave from his job in Washington last month to get involved in the upcoming election, he had Clinton’s campaign logo artfully shaved into the side of his head.

The election isn’t the only thing on his mind, however.

Francis has several close friends, as well as family ties in Florida’s third largest metropolitan area. On the night of the devastating massacre at Pulse nightclub, Nichols was in Washington, D.C., for the Capital Pride Parade. He feels a personal duty, particularly as AFGE’s national pride coordinator, to represent his friends who were slain that night.

"I would have been in that nightclub with my friends," he said. "It could have been me."

Francis works at a federal law enforcement agency, which "is not the easiest for an openly gay black male," he said. When he experienced discrimination in the workplace, the union answered his call for support.

"When I first joined the union, I just paid my dues and went on about my life," he said. "But when I saw how they went to bat for me when I was mistreated, I thought, 'I can do this, too.'"

Now, when he stands up for his rights in the workplace and for the labor movement, he knows he’s not alone. He has 300,000 AFGE members behind him, as well as the AFL-CIO family. "I’m blessed to have a sense of security in my job," he said. "If something goes wrong, I have the whole umbrella of the AFL-CIO over me."

Francis also plays a crucial role in supporting youth engagement in the labor movement. In AFGE’s 14th District, he is a coordinator for the Young Organizing Unions for the Next Generation. His message to young people originates from the struggle of those who gave their lives to secure the workplace rights that many take for granted today.

Francis said he tells younger people, "You pay for health insurance, you pay for car insurance, you even have insurance on your smartphone — why not protect your job?"

Now that it’s campaign season, he wants to make sure the country’s elected leaders support working people and the LGBTQ community. So he’s taken his energy and talent for advocacy to the battleground state of Florida.

Francis is fired up about the U.S. Senate race between Rep. Patrick Murphy, a southern Florida member of AFGE, and Republican incumbent Marco Rubio. Rubio has been criticized for his absence during key votes and committee hearings.

"People in Florida are upset that Marco Rubio doesn’t show up to work," Francis said. "If you don’t show up to work, you get fired. So why doesn’t he?"

Along with voicing support for Murphy, he also pointed to Hillary Clinton, who backs the LGBTQ community, and her running mate, Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor who banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in the state workforce.

With the election on the horizon, Francis has been working around the clock to reach as many Floridians as possible.

He hopes he can use his voice to inspire people in the Sunshine State to raise theirs — and vote.