Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hillsborough County Commission... grrrrrr!!!!

For those who don't know, there has been a battle going on in downtown Tampa for the last four months. It all started when the head Librarian of Hillsborough County ordered two libraries to take down their Gay Pride Month displays of books written by famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered authors and books with GLBT themes, after (we are told) *three* (unnamed) people called her office to complain. These were not books that were any different than any other book display they might have, except that it was pointed out that their authors were homosexual (Byron, Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein, E. M. Forster, etc. etc.) . There was considerable public outcry over the issue, since there are Black History Month displays, Hispanic Heritage Month displays and all manner of other seasonally themed displays in Hillsborough's public libraries. The libraries were allowed to put the displays back, but were told by their higher-ups that they were to be confined to the back of their buildings, in out of the way places so as not to cause undue discomfort... to the back of the bus, if you will.

Well, within two weeks of this scandal, serious rumors began that the County Commission was going to ban all gay-themed books from Hillsborough County Libraries. Within days they passed an ordinance that prohibited all County organizations from recognizing Gay Pride Month "in any way" and also prohibited the recognition of *any* event which reflected positively on gay people. There was considerable public outcry once again, and though the previous plan to ban books was confirmed, the County Commission has not yet been able to act on it (probably because they've been told by the NFL that if they actually go so far as to ban books, the NFL will find another place to hold the 2012 Superbowl). Only one Commissioner, Cathy Castor, has opposed these measures. In the week after this ordinance was passed, the County's webserver was crashed at least once by e-mails from as far away as England and Iceland voicing outrage over their discriminatory acts... It is estimated that they received at least 15,000 e-mails in a matter of days. It has been published that the number of e-mails received supporting the Commission have been less than 1% of the total (that's fewer than 150 e-mails for those who hate math).

And proving that the Commission is persisting in the face of public outrage, today, I received this e-mail:

Date: Thu, 06 Oct 2005 20:19:06 GMT
From: "Equality Florida"
To: Me
Subject: Hillsborough Commission Steps Up Their Anti-Gay Campaign

Hillsborough Commission Steps-Up Anti-Gay Campaign
Actions Shine Light on Discriminatory Intent

(Tampa, FL) Today, Equality Florida and the Pride is Back Community Coalition expressed outrage over the Hillsborough County Commission's continuing efforts to discriminate against LGBT citizens, as evidenced at yesterday's board meeting.

First, the commission rebuffed a recommendation from its own Human Relations Board to revisit the exclusion of "sexual orientation" from the protections of the county's Human Rights Ordinance. And in an act that completely removed any doubt of their discriminatory intent, the commission went on the make it more difficult for LGBT people to gain protections in the future.
"For the past four months, Commissioners have tried to deflect widespread public criticism by saying they do not support discrimination," said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. "Given an opportunity today to put those words into action, the Commissioners sat silent. There can no longer be any doubt that the intention of this commission is to discriminate against our community."

The Hillsborough County Human Relation's Board recommended that the Commissioners revisit their 10-year-old policy of excluding "sexual orientation" from the protections of the county's Human Rights Ordinance. Commissioner Castor told her fellow Commissioners that revising the policy would not only heal some of the damage done by the commission's now infamous June 15th anti-gay policy, but would also give Commissioners a chance to prove their previously declared opposition to discrimination. Not one single Commissioner was willing to second Castor's motion, in spite of the Human Relations Board's recommendation.

"The Commission had an opportunity today to begin a healing process. Instead, they escalated their attack on Hillsborough's LGBT community and intentionally tore open the wound of bigotry they inflicted four months ago," said Brian Winfield, Communications Director of Equality Florida, who along with field coordinator Lesa Weikel, attended the day-long session.

In a final slap at the gay community, the commissioners passed a legally suspect resolution that requires a super majority of the commission for the issue to be brought for a vote. When asked, the county's own attorney made it clear that the new policy was legally inconsequential.

"If you're not going to support my motion, that's one thing, but please don't be mean-spirited, Commissioners," Castor begged of her colleagues. Her plea appears to have made an impact on at least one Commissioner. Even Thomas Scott, who has repeatedly toed the majority line in casting anti-gay votes, didn't have the stomach to support Ronda Storms outrageous motion, which went on to pass in a 5 to 2 vote.

Since the Commission's June 15th passage of a policy that bars county agencies from even acknowledging any event that portrays gay people in a positive light, there has been an enormous outcry from the community with unprecedented involvement by individuals, businesses and religious and civic organizations. Their continuing efforts clearly demonstrate that the Tampa Bay community does not support the Commission's discriminatory actions.

At least 15,000 people have taken action by emailing the commissioners, attending marches, interfaith worship services, benefit concerts, read-ins and vigils and supporting the BUYcott. Neighboring cities, such as Dunedin and Gulfport, have shown their support of equal rights and community diversity. On October 4th, the night before the Hillsborough Commission meeting, the Gulfport's city council unanimously passed an inclusive human rights ordinance.

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