On Thursday evening, a community panel examines the power of prejudice based on skin color and sexual identity.
With a dialogue on homophobia and racism, Equality Florida and St. Petersburg council member Steve Kornell will host two events at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum that frankly explore and celebrate overcoming inequality through understanding.
The discussion will be moderated by Goliath J. Davis III, a senior administrator for St. Petersburg.
"The same people who oppose civil rights gains oppose equality for the gay community and spend a great deal of time trying to pit gay and black people against each other for political gain," said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. "For those of us who are members of the black and gay community, this is a conversation that is especially important."
Smith's fellow panelists include University of South Florida St. Petersburg scholarship recipient Emma Makdessi, St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell and longtime journalist Carl Warren. Their conversation precedes Friday's "Harlem Renaissance: As Gay as it Was Black," a museum fundraiser that pays tribute to the songs, art and literature that shaped the era.
As she travels from Tallahassee to Key West to take part in similar discussions, Smith remains more focused on the present. She recalled November 2008 when Amendment 2 banning gay marriage was being debated with the NAACP supporting it. A conversation with a conservative black pastor came to mind.
"We have come to some common ground," she said. "He said 'I'll preach how I will preach but when it comes to how the law will treat you, we want absolute equality.' Those were the beginnings of the kind of conversations we want to have, frank and honest."
Smith contacted Warren, a former editor at the Tampa Tribune and other Florida newspapers, and he chose to get involved to spread his message of the need for love and tolerance. As a product of the 1960s who took part in the civil rights movement, Warren understands the seeds of intolerance.
"Intolerance is intolerance, it's just not right," he said. "If you look at all the forms of discrimination and bigotry, whether we're talking about a black person or a gay person, the arguments of intolerance are the same."
As the only openly gay member of the St. Petersburg City Council, Kornell has been fighting intolerance as the sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Boca Ciega High School. Elected Nov. 3, Kornell is part of the panel and also the grand marshal of the St. Pete Pride Parade later this month.
Kornell also helps several non-profits focused on gay and lesbian youth. He is excited about the art exhibit and the dialogue, both of which he said should foster understanding and a shared focus.
"We have a lot of issues facing our county and our city," he said. "I think it's really important to understand each other. The bigger picture is we all need to work together."