Members of the GLBT community and their allies flocked to Ybor City under idyllic conditions on Saturday, as Tampa held its first gay pride event in more than a decade.
In his public remarks, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner referred to what he called one of the “darkest moments in this country’s history” — the June 15, 2005, vote by the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners to ban “gay pride” events.
“I think it was a day when most of us felt a loss of our dignity, and the loss of our pride,” he said, recalling the event.
LGBT activists say that Hillsborough’s ugly history of sanctioning discrimination didn’t begin on that day nearly a decade ago. They say it simply amplified the hurt that they had initially encountered a decade before, when an earlier county commission board removed gays and lesbians from the county’s human rights ordinance.
That’s what made Saturday’s event so meaningful for Tampa and Hillsborough residents. They have enjoyed celebrating Gay Pride events in St. Petersburg in late June for the past decade, but opted to create their own event after the Hillsborough gay pride ban was repealed last year.
Not everyone on the current commission, though, approves of such an event. Newly elected board member Stacy White chose not to sign a proclamation that Beckner handed over to Tampa Pride organizer Carrie West at the beginning of Saturday’s activities.
“Next time, we’re going to get all seven on board,” Beckner promised West.
White told the Tampa Bay Times that he just doesn’t agree with the proclamation, adding that he has “no interest in promoting hatred towards any person or group.”
There were several other public officials who had no problem appearing, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who opened the festivities a little after 10 a.m. “It’s been a long time coming,” he told the crowd. “And I couldn’t be happier to be the mayor that is in office when we bring back the pride parade.”
Despite the good vibes, however, several speakers mentioned a couple of bills now percolating in the Florida Legislature that show the Sunshine State still has a way to go when it comes to fully accepting the LGBT community.
Democratic Party political strategist Ana Cruz denounced Miami Republican Rep. Frank Artiles’ so-called “bathroom bill” that would make it illegal for a person to enter a public facility designated as single-sex if the person was not born a biological member of that sex.
“That piece of legislation is making its way through committee, but our Equal Work for Equal Pay legislation is not,” Cruz said. “Now you tell me whether we need to shake things up in the House and Senate.”
The Equal Work for Equal Pay bill is being sponsored by Cruz’ mother, state Rep. Janet Cruz, who was unable to appear during the earlier part of the program.
Ana Cruz relayed a personal message that she said speaks volumes about her mother’s character.
“When I came out to my mom seven or eight years ago, I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to get married to a man. She said ‘OK, honey, that’s OK. You’ll meet somebody some day.’ And I said, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ She said, ‘Finally, we have a lesbian in the family!'”
Cruz said, “That is the kind of family that I grew up in, and I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky I am because I know many of you out there have struggled with family members as well.”
Cathy James with the Hillsborough County GLTBA Caucus (the “A” is for allies), referred to the recent legislation in the Florida House that (CB HHSC 15-03) that she said would allow adoption agencies to “discriminate against whoever they want to, as long as it’s a written discrimination.”
The bill was introduced by Sanford Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur. It would allow adoption agencies to deny couples looking to adopt a child based solely on religious or moral convictions, and originated in response to a vote on the House floor to repeal the 1977 gay adoption ban that was already nullified by the courts in 2010.
“They are coming after us because we can adopt now,” she warned the crowd. “They are coming after us because we can marry in Florida.”
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor was one of the grand marshals for Saturday’s event. She called that designation a “huge honor,” and mentioned how her TPD career will soon come to a close, as she prepares for retirement in less than two months.
The chief herself is lesbian, something she’s never hidden but never made an issue of. Nobody else really ever has in Tampa ever since she replaced Stephen Hogue in 2009.
“I’m not naive to think that comments haven’t been made, but nobody’s ever said anything to me,” Castor told The Tampa Tribune’s Elaine Silvestrini in a story published on Saturday. “That’s one of the beautiful things about the Tampa Police Department is that officers want you to be a good officer. That’s what they expect and that’s what they respect. So it really isn’t an issue.”