Hillsborough County Commission ditches ban on sponsoring gay pride despite pleas from conservatives

06/05/13 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously repealed a policy Wednesday that barred the board from promoting or participating in gay pride events. The ban had been in place since then-Commissioner Ronda Storms suggested it. Openly gay county commissioner Kevin Beckner started the conversation by recapping Storms’ 2005 motion.

“Board members, I move that we adopt a policy that Hillsborough County government obtain from acknowledging, promoting and participating in gay pride recognition and events – little g, little p – that’s my motion.”

“I think it’s inappropriate for government to promote discrimination.”

“One minute and 44 seconds was all it took for this board to pass a policy that put it in the national spotlight and labeled this county as bigoted, backwards and less than inclusive. No discussion as how this policy would serve public purpose or the greater good of this community. The only thing that was clear when this policy passed was its intent. It was intended to purposefully discriminate against a class of citizens in our community – little g, little p – how else could that be interpreted?”

Current U.S. Representative Kathy Castor was the only “no” vote on the commission in 2005.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe who is serving his final term on the board voted in favor of the Gay Pride event ban in 2005. He arrived late to today’s meeting because he was attending an award ceremony for his son.

“I also teach my kids that when you make a mistake you correct it – yourself – to not be afraid when you make a mistake and to fight like hell to stand up for the weak and people who are different than you.”

Members of the public packed the board room, filling every seat and then some. There were 28 speakers almost evenly split on the gay rights issue – 15 wanted the ban repealed. Opponents staked their claim largely on faith-based issues. Bianca Perez quoted the bible, condemning homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice.

“What sorrow awaits who builds cities with money gained through murder and corruption. We cannot afford to establish our city our county in iniquity. The bible clearly says that homosexual behavior is wrong.”

Beckner held up a bible in response to religious themes.

“Is that why our savior Jesus Christ hung on that cross, was so that we could divide our community? He did die for some of us; he died for all who believe.”

And commissioner Les Miller, a deacon at an all black Baptist church also attacked claims that homosexuality is a sin because the bible says so.

“There was an organization that took the words of the bible and twisted it the way they wanted to twist it and it’s called the Ku Klux Klan and as they twisted the bible and burned crosses on lawns and in front of churches and bombed churches and hung people, they also quoted the bible.”

But critics of the proposal to lift the gay pride event ban also appealed to the commission’s checkbook. Travis Smith told board members he didn’t want his tax dollars being spent to promote sinful lifestyles.

“With the surplus of the needs in our county like failed roads up where I live and the many families and children that go homeless and hungry, we should be focusing our resources and focusing our efforts on taking care of those people.”

Several amendments were proposed. One would have postponed a vote. Another would have banned offensive events without specific reference to sexual orientation. Commission Chair Ken Hagan asked that language be included in the motion to point out that gay pride events would need the commission’s approval. None of the three were approved. Commissioner Beckner argued that change was still discriminatory. And Les Miller, the only African-American on the board, compared the ban to discrimination he experienced living through the civil rights era.

“That hurts. Discrimination hurts regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sexual orientation. It is time to repeal this ugly ordinance that hangs over the head of this county and I’m going to be voting to repeal it.”

A motion by Commissioner Sandy Murman to take a closer look at the board’s policies on sponsorship of events and awards was also approved at the meeting.

Full audio of County Commission debate and public comment

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About frickin' time.