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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is giving several city employees a raise, bringing the minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

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Joe Henderson: Jane Castor’s win historic for gays and shows Tampa has changed

Castor’s competence, not sexual identity, was what mattered to voters and it shows Tampa has changed.

The resounding victory by Jane Castor in the Tampa mayoral election means she will become the first openly gay woman to lead a major Southeastern city. That was the headline on many news sites because of its historical significance.

It’s a huge step forward, no question, and a big part of the story of this election. A quick Google search backed that up. It was picked by wire services and in many national publications, including The New York Times. She did a guest spot on MSNBC.

But we should note something else about this. Locally, at least, Castor’s sexual identity was never a factor in her campaign against David Straz. Voters know Jane Castor is gay and no one cares because it’s her business. She received 73 percent of the vote because people decided she was the best candidate.

That’s a huge step forward too.

Castor’s win has great significance for the LGBTQ community, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The indifference voters had about her private life shows just how far Tampa and Hillsborough County have come in a relatively short time.

In 2005, lest we forget, bigotry was in full bloom in Hillsborough. A local library displayed a book honoring Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

It offended some people.

County Commissioner Ronda Storms heard about that and took it to the next level. She proposed a policy that the county abstain from acknowledging or promoting any Gay Pride event. She even ordered it spelled with “little g, little p.”

The motion passed 5-1.

Only Kathy Castor, who was then on the Commission and now serves in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted no. She argued that it was wrong for any government to promote discrimination.

Years later, Kevin Beckner, the first openly gay man to serve on the Commission, led a charge to overturn the prohibition, emphasizing to spell Gay Pride, “Capital G, Capital P.”

From that point, Hillsborough and Tampa moved in a different direction. That culminated with what we saw in the mayoral election.

Those are big steps, but not the final steps.

“(Castor’s win) is important for the LGBT community because it shatters what we call the Rainbow Ceiling,” Beckner told me. “It’s important to the youth because it shows they can be out and be with the one they love.

“With all the progress we’ve made, I hope we can say it’s the end of bigotry and discrimination. I know there are still people in our community who would discriminate against people for who they are. Our work is not done. We have to continue to keep our guard up.”

For a story in The Advocate, Castor said she understands people are going a point about the significance of her victory.

“There is a responsibility, and I fully understand that. You want to be a role model for young people in the community,” she said. “I want my tenure to be a statement that if you have the qualifications, work ethic, and motivation, then you can do anything.”

Castor’s life has been about serving the community. She served 31 years for the Tampa Police Department, including six years as Chief. People judged on the only things that mattered – the depth of her character, and the quality of her work.

It’s why Jane Castor won a tough campaign by such a wide margin. The time when being gay would have made that impossible has passed.

It’s why she earned the title Mayor Jane.

Capital M, Capital J.




Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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