Hillsborough county LGBT community celebrates repeal of gay pride ban

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Beckner was the man of the hour on Sunday, but he characteristically deflected any direct praise. He said it was a great day for everybody who cares about basic fairness.

"This is what I live and work for every single day, when we can make a difference like we did and we can continue to move our community forward," he said.

St. Petersburg City Council candidate Darden Rice, who was at the Hamburger Mary's party, said the 2005 vote was so divisive and wrong that it compelled her to get involved in the political process. Beckner echoed the sentiment saying the 2005 vote was one of several incidents that inspired his 2008 run for office.

Equality Florida's leader Nadine Smith applauded Beckner for how he handled the debate last Wednesday, especially regarding the source of the 2005 gay pride ban — a library display during Gay Pride Month. Commissioner Victor Crist labeled it as "pornographic," but Smith said that the USF student who created the display did so because she was concerned about the suicide epidemic amongst gay youth. She even included a hotline so troubled LGBT adolescents could receive help and guidance.

"And to have that mischaracterized as something nefarious just shows a callous and cruel indifference," Smith said. "And I thought Kevin was just stellar with not letting them get away with cheap shots, lies and distortions about what was at the genesis to begin with."

The celebration for members of the LGBT community in Hillsborough County was so heartfelt because the region ranks well behind many other areas in Florida and around the country when it comes to equal rights. Most of the commissioners who spoke about the issue last Wednesday acknowledged that the ban discriminated against one group of people. For for gays and lesbians in Hillsborough County, the repeal comes just a few months after they were bitterly disappointed by that same board, who rejected (on a 4-3 vote) a proposal for a domestic partner registry.

Also on the list for gay-rights activists is the fact that the GLBT was inserted and then taken out of the county's human rights ordinance back in the 1990's. Smith said last week's repeal is hopefully just the start of reversing the county's reputation for being openly hostile to gays.

"The fact that it (Hillsborough County) had become somewhat notorious for having this ban in place is just one tiny hurdle," she said on Sunday. "Here's the reality: One day it will be illegal to fire people based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Hillsborough County. One day gay couples that work here, live here, visit here will be protected under the law. And the only question is: Will it happen sooner, or will we have to wait until some more tearful regrets, some more financial impact that hurts our community occurs before they wise up? But that day is definitely going to come."

click to enlarge Kevin Beckner at Hamburger Mary's - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
Kevin Beckner at Hamburger Mary's

click to enlarge Kevin Beckner at Hamburger Mary's - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
Kevin Beckner at Hamburger Mary's

Last Wednesday's 7-0 vote by the Hillsborough County Commission to repeal the eight-year-old ban on gay pride events is significant not only to the local LGBT community, said Ybor City business owner Carrie West, but to the gay community nationwide.

"I had friends call me immediately on Friday and ask 'What is going on down in Tampa? We just heard the news in Seattle,'" West said Sunday afternoon at a party celebrating the repeal at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City. "So this is not just a local issue. This is a national issue and also a worldwide issue ... opening up the doors to a lot of people coming here to visit in Tampa Bay. We're excited!"

"It's a great celebration, it's a great day, it's a great week, actually, for Hillsborough County," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the man who pushed for the repeal. "So finally we're able to take a step forward to begin the re-branding process of our community as a more inclusive community, so this is a new beginning."

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