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Topics In the News
 
Florida's Hillsborough County Repeals Discriminatory Law
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/06/13
Last updated on: 06/06/13
 
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Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

On June 5, 2013 the County Commissioners of Hillsborough County, Florida repealed an ugly law banning government recognition of Gay Pride. The law, enacted in 2005, was deeply resented by Tampa's large glbtq community because it was enacted as a deliberate insult, singling out one group for special and discriminatory treatment. The law also had the result of branding Hillsborough County as homophobic, which no doubt had an impact on tourism in the area.

The 2005 ban on government recognition of "gay pride" (conspicuously lower-case in the ordinance) was adopted on a 5-1 vote; then, to add further insult to the insult, the Commission on a 6-1 vote added a provision that required a super-majority for it ever to be repealed.

The ban was just another in a long series of anti-gay positions taken by the Republican-dominated county commission over the years. In 1995, the commission pointedly deleted the protection of gay men and lesbians from the county's non-discrimination ordinance. Since then, the commissioners also appointed an infamous anti-gay activist to its Human Relations Board and voted down proposals to extend domestic partner benefits to county employees. Observers have noted a difference between the policies of Tampa's city government, which are generally welcoming and inclusive, and those of Hillsborough County, which are widely regarded as "backward and bigoted."

As Bill Varian of the Tampa Bay-Times reports, on June 5 the ordinance was repealed by a unanimous vote, "but the debate and public testimony were hardly harmonious."

The usual collection of religious fanatics and anti-gay activists spoke during the discussion period. But their fear-mongering and hatred were balanced by eloquent testimony from glbtq citizens and others in favor of fairness. As Varian observes, for a change "Most members of the Republican-dominated commission veered away from the spiritual and toward an argument about discrimination."

The lone African-American Commissioner, Democrat Les Miller offered a bit of both. In announcing his support for the repeal, he told his colleagues that he had confronted discrimination "eyeball to eyeball."

One commissioner, Republican Mark Sharpe, was on the prevailing side of the 2005 vote. He choked up as he reversed himself.

"I teach my kids that when you make a mistake, you correct it yourself," he said, "to not be afraid when you make a mistake and to fight like hell to stick up for the weak and the people who are different than you and people looking for help."

The chief sponsor of the bill, openly gay Commissioner Kevin Beckner, said that "It's time to repeal this ugly ordinance that hangs over the head of this county."

Beckner's impassioned speech is below.

Before the vote was taken, Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, addressed the Commission. She thanked the opponents of the repeal because their ugly words illustrated clearly the only purpose of the ban, which is to degrade and vilify gay people.

 
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