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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A gay problem for Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist will be the keynote speaker at the joint "Kennedy-King Dinner" sponsored by the Hillsborough and Pinellas Democratic parties Saturday, May 11 at the Tampa Convention Center.

The former Republican governor and potential Democratic gubernatorial nominee for 2014 provokes some strong feelings pro and con among Democrats. And the invititation to Crist by Hillsborough and Pinellas Democratic leaders prompted the following Buzz BLOG Guest Column by Michael Rajner, a Democratic activist from Fort Lauderdale, who serves as the legislative director for the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus and was the GLBT Representative on the Florida Democratic Party's Platform Committee.



Hillsborough County is rich in its own history of harmful policies affecting the lives of gay, lesbian,bisexual and transgender people.  In 2006, Rhonda Storms, Hillsborough County's own Anita Bryant, served as a Hillsborough County Commissioner and moved for her county to "adopt a policy that Hillsborough County government abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events, little g, little p." In 2013, The majority of the Hillsborough County Commission opted to join Storms on the homophobe train, voting to deny unmarried partners in Hillsborough County the ability to register with the county as domestic

The upcoming Kennedy King Dinner, the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee's major fundraising event, will now be perpetuating homophobia and giving it
credibility and a platform to speak in Democratic circles.

One must also consider the party's state committeeman, a self­professed openly gay man, who chaired the Florida Democratic Party's Platform Committee and blocked my efforts for the explicit inclusion of marriage equality in our state party platform, I remain with growing doubt in the county party's leadership on equal rights for LGBT people.

Over the last several months, Florida's former Republican Governor Charlie Crist has thrust himself into the spotlight, starting with the 2012 Presidential election.  Many continue to query whether Crist is gearing up an attempt to return to the Governor's Mansion. While I welcome any positive personal and/or political transformation, Crist's "transformation" is deeply personal for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.  In view of Crist's support for Florida's Marriage Protection Act, banning equality in civil marriage, and US Senator Bill Nelson's public leadership in switching his position, gay Floridians are looking for more.

In the twinkling days of Crist's candidacy for US Senate, he unceremoniously reversed his position on a host of civil rights issues for LGBT voters in a desperate attempt to peel voters away from Congressman Kendrick Meek.  Crist, after spending a career of opposing full equality for LGBT voters and kowtowing to conservative fear­mongering political groups like Christian Family Coalition, thought that the LGBT community would actually believe his sincerity.  Unlike others who have recently come out in support of marriage equality, with Crist there remains a deafening silence on the matter which, in the Defense of Marriage Act, now is in the hands of the United States Supreme Court.  Crist has refused to make any efforts to come to amends with LGBT Floridians.

In my circle, many think Crist is purposely avoiding discussion of LGBT­issues and suggest he views it as a third rail on the NYC Subway.  They believe he is trying to steer clear of resurrecting the flood of past and ongoing speculation about his own sexuality as documented in the movie Outrage.  Crist's sexual orientation is his own business.  But in 2008, I publicly challenged Crist at a town hall in Fort Lauderdale to reject federal dollars for abstinence education and implement a statewide minimum standard for age appropriate comprehensive sex education in our public schools.  As a person living with AIDS, I used my own upbringing as a latchkey as a example as a gay youth raised in a single parent home with inadequate sex education in our public schools.

A year later at the press skits in Tallahassee, Crist saddled up at the bar next to me and ordered his standard, a Red Bull and an alcoholic beverage. I introduced myself, handed him my business card and reminded him of my call to action on comprehensive sex education at the town hall meeting.  Crist simply downed his Red Bull, smiled while shacking my hand, took my business card and departed to mingle in the crowd.

In the days leading up to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, as an openly gay delegate representing Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's district, the Miami­Herald reported on my distaste for Crist's role at the convention.  From what I was told, it ruffled many feathers within the Democratic National Party and a phone call from Charlie Crist was promised to be arranged.  It was surprisingly that Crist opted to just completely ignore the matter that many openly LGBT delegates to the convention were not pleased with his participation. Even Rod Smith, former chair of the Florida Democratic Party explicitly banned Crist from speaking at our breakfast delegation gatherings.

The leadership of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee should be ashamed of themselves for their refusing to have Crist speak on LGBT­issues before next week's Kennedy King Dinner.  With each movement and organization, there are always dark days.  In my mind, this is certainly among those dark days.  Its sad day when a Democratic group is so blatantly insensitive to a key constituency group of the Democratic Party who is simply asking for equal rights.

Charlie are you ready to have that conversation we have all been long waiting?

Michael Emanuel Rajner, BSW is active in Democratic politics and serves as the legislative director for the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus and was the GLBT Representative on the Florida Democratic Party's Platform Committee.

The above op­Ed is the opinion of Michael Rajner and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus or the Floria Democratic Party or this blog.

*Email Adam Smith at if you want to submit a guest column,.

[Last modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 4:39pm]


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