The Gay Agenda

What is it, and where can we get a copy?

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Just as surely as the swallows return annually to San Juan Capistrano, we've had the semi-annual playing of the "gay" card in Florida politics. This year it comes courtesy of Republican Brad Swanson, who wants to be a county commissioner in Hillsborough.

His target: Republican opponent Rose Ferlita.

Earlier this month, Swanson sent out a mailer to hardcore, frequent Republican voters in which he questioned Ferlita's conservatism, her record and her support in the gay community.

Swanson's letter to voters said that he's "not surprised that our local gay community has endorsed my opponent" because of what he calls her "proactive role in defending local gay issues." He then reprinted a St. Petersburg Times story about the St. Pete Pride parade that didn't include a reference to Ferlita — because she wasn't there. That story likewise doesn't mention any "endorsement" of Ferlita. But it does include a photo of two men kissing, a shot so apparently incendiary that Swanson was forced to blur the image lest anyone be offended or faint — or worse.

I have to say up front that I am not a babe in the woods when it comes to playing the gay card. I was, after all, a Republican political consultant for nine years and was involved in plenty of campaigns where the client was adamantly opposed to gay rights.

And in full disclosure, I must say I worked in Ferlita's successful 1999 Tampa City Council election. I've tried to avoid writing about their race, but apparently what little I have written has ended up as fodder for another of Swanson's mailings, which uses three quotes from this column as evidence of Ferlita's alleged liberality.

Swanson is a new face in the Republican camp, but he has some strong allies and a socially conservative platform. The former child actor-turned-chamber of commerce spokesman has an uphill climb ahead of him, in some ways. He's one of three men running against one woman; he's raised quite a bit less money than the frontrunner, Ferlita; and she is a two-term Tampa City Council member with strong name recognition.

But Swanson has more than a few things going for him, as well. He's got the eastern Hillsborough conservative brain trust on his side, including strategist Sam Rashid and a consultant with a strong track record of Republican victories; Republican primary voters tend to skew to the more conservative candidates; and some of those same voters don't like homosexuals or any of the political issues they identify as "the gay agenda."

I wasn't aware of any gay-oriented endorsements in any of the local races, so I called Swanson to find out what he meant.

"Facts are facts," he said. "Every opportunity that the gay agenda has come up before my opponent, Rose, she has supported it. ... She needs to explain to Republican voters why she votes so hard for the gay agenda."

Ferlita's voting record is not one that is particularly "pro gay." One vote that Swanson cited, favoring same-sex benefits for city employees, was actually the result of an executive order signed by Mayor Pam Iorio, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Ferlita, however, did disagree with the county's slapdown of a gay pride display in its public libraries. Ferlita was quoted in the Times saying, "Personal prejudice should be left aside. I do not agree with what the majority decided."

Unfortunately, that kind of crazy talk can get you killed in a Republican primary.

"She is a liberal on every issue, from raising taxes [to social issues,]" Swanson said in his conversation with me. "This is one example of her showing her strength as a liberal. The coordination [between her campaign and the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community] I feel is out there. I am already receiving harassment calls from the gay community. But I will say this, we have received many more very supportive calls from Republicans ... that have been very supportive of the voters knowing about the facts."

(Ferlita's campaign countered that the only endorsements it has received came from Republican Sheriff David Gee, Republican State Attorney Mark Ober and the Tampa firefighters union. She also voted last week against a pay increase for Iorio, the only no vote on the City Council.)

Swanson cited as the source of his contention that the "local gay community" had endorsed Ferlita in an online message written by Brandon Pride president Mark Ferguson. In it, Ferguson said he was voting for Ferlita, but didn't say his preference was an endorsement, nor did he claim to be representing the local gay community.

In the aftermath, in fact, Ferguson was livid that Swanson was using him as the crux of a political attack.

"For the record, as President of Brandon Pride I will not tell other members to vote for, or support a particular candidate, or party," Ferguson said in an online message intended for Swanson. "Nor ... will Brandon Pride endorse a particular candidate, or party. As a nonprofit organization we cannot support a candidate, or political party. But if you ever have a beef about who I am voting for then, I ask you to approach me FIRST before you include me in any cat fights you have with any other candidate on where they stand concerning issues that effect the GLBT community."

Which leaves the issue of the gay agenda. What exactly is the gay agenda? I've heard it invoked many times, especially from social conservatives who fear gay marriage, but I've never really studied it to see what all the hubbub is about. So I turned to the one person I knew would have a copy: Nadine Smith, of Equality Florida. I fired off an e-mail asking her to send me one. She responded:

"Funny you should write me today. I had the gay agenda earlier this week and forgot I'd put it in the pocket of my comfortable cotton draw-string pants when I was trying on a pair of Birkenstocks at the Farmer's Market and Fair Trade Emporium.

"After stashing my purchases in the back of my hybrid and heading home, I decided to wash a load of clothes in environmentally friendly detergent and hang them on the clothesline. Imagine my embarrassment when I discovered that the agenda was now a useless wad of soggy debris, bobbing in the wash basin.

"I'm having to reconstruct the whole thing, and for the life of me I can't remember what comes after 'Destroy heterosexual marriage.' Oh well."

Political Whore can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], by telephone at 813-739-4805 or on our blog at

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