TAMPA — State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, incoming leader of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, joined the ranks of the Tampa-area’s outstanding female leaders on Wednesday when she was inducted into the Hillsborough County Women’s Hall of Fame.
Joyner, 71, was inducted with equal-rights advocate Nancy Torbett Ford, who died in 2001, and Eleanor Collier McWilliams Chamberlain, who led the local effort a century ago to get women the right to vote.
Joyner praised previous Hall of Fame honorees Sandy Freedman, Pat Frank and Betty Castor for encouraging her to reach beyond her career as a civil rights advocate and attorney. Freedman was mayor of Tampa in the 1980s. Frank is Clerk of the Circuit Court. Castor was president of the University of South Florida.
“Each of these women is a shoulder I stand on,” Joyner said.
Joyner, an attorney specializing in real estate, probate and trust law, was first elected to the Senate in 2006. Her district includes parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties. She is the next Senate Democratic leader, replacing Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale.
This past legislative session, she was a co-sponsor of the Florida Civil Rights Act, which would have protected pregnant women from workplace discrimination, among other provisions.
At a rollout for the bill last year, the Senate Democratic Caucus room was filled with enlarged photos of Joyner and others protesting in the early 1960s, including one of her and dozens of young women sitting in a Tallahassee courtroom.
The civil rights bill (SB 220) passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.
Her efforts reflect the disadvantage of being in the 14-member minority party in the 54-member Republican-controlled state Legislature: Of the 25 bills she introduced this session, 20 died, Senate records show.
Joyner also lost a fight this year to procedurally stall a measure that will likely put an end to the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board. Joyner said she fears applicants now will be hired based on political loyalty rather than qualifications.
“When you have ultimate authority to decide who gets a job, it’s human nature to want to give it to your friends,” she said.
Reached after the award ceremony, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Joyner deserved the honor for all she has done in her life.
“The woman has been a champion,” he said. “A champion for women. A champion for minorities. A champion for those who have no voice.”
As she accepted her membership in the Women’s Hall of Fame, Joyner credited her parents with giving her the courage to stand up for what she believed to be right.
“I thank them for teaching me not to be disillusioned by the way people respond to me by their words,” Joyner said.
Over her career as a lawyer and a legislator, Joyner has inspired many other women to reach higher, said Deborah A. Austin, who introduced Joyner at the awards luncheon at the Tampa Convention Center.
“There are people that are privileged to call Arthenia Joyner ‘mentor.’ I am one of them,” said Austin, outreach director for Reachup Inc., a nonprofit created to promote health care among poor families in the Tampa area.
Austin told the audience that as a poor black girl from the country she the odds were against her achieving all she has, including earning a Ph.D. in communications, had it not been for Joyner and women like her.
“I stand here before you today as Doctor Deborah Austin proudly standing on the shoulders of people like Arthenia Joyner,” Austin said.