Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A majority of Hillsborough commissioners open to banning discrimination against gay people

“I feel very optimistic,” said Kevin Beckner, the county’s first openly gay commissioner.

“I feel very optimistic,” said Kevin Beckner, the county’s first openly gay commissioner.

TAMPA — In years past, a proposed county law barring discrimination against gay or transgender people would have been dead on arrival at the Hillsborough County Commission boardroom.

Not in 2014.

A majority of the commissioners — four of the seven — have expressed to the Tampa Bay Times their qualified support for expanding Hillsborough's human rights ordinance to also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in hiring, housing and public accommodations.

There are still a number of steps along the way to passage, starting with a discussion at Wednesday's meeting, and a vote on whether the county attorney should write a draft ordinance. But the mere fact that four of the seven commissioners agree discrimination against gay and transgender people should be illegal indicates a shift for a board that not long ago had a reputation for staunch social conservatism.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, a Democrat and the county's first openly gay commissioner, is pushing an ordinance that would mirror those passed in 17 Florida cities, including Tampa, and eight counties, including Pinellas.

"The timing is right, the environment is right, and we've certainly progressed as a County Commission," Beckner said. "I feel very optimistic that a majority of my colleagues know what the right thing to do is."

Beckner also pushed for last year's repeal of Hillsborough's ban on recognition of gay pride, a unique stance taken by commissioners in 2005 that Nadine Smith, the president of Equality Florida, called "a stain on Hillsborough County's reputation."

Commissioner Les Miller, the only other Democrat, and Republicans Victor Crist and Sandy Murman told the Times they support barring discrimination against gay and transgender people, but would need to see the actual ordinance in writing first.

"I'm against discrimination to anyone, for any reason," Crist said. "Whether you agree or disagree with their lifestyle, choices, or whatever, the bottom line is they are part of our community and they do not deserve to be discriminated against."

Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Mark Sharpe, both Republicans, wouldn't weigh in before Wednesday.

"I'm going to go into it with an open mind, and I look forward to what Kevin has to say," Higginbotham said.

Sharpe is one of two commissioners who voted for the gay pride ban back in 2005, a decision he later said he regretted.

"I really want to hear what the attorneys and Kevin have to say," Sharpe said. "I'll be listening to all sides."

The only commissioner to not comment was Republican Ken Hagan who, like Sharpe, was on the board for the 2005 gay pride ban. He was out of the room then when the measure passed but returned and supported imposing an extraordinary supermajority vote by future board members to overturn the ban. The ban was overturned by a unanimous vote last year.

Hagan did not return multiple calls for comment since Thursday, when the agenda was released.

Smith, the Equality Florida CEO, said Monday that she expects the Hillsborough ordinance to pass.

One local conservative activist has started mounting an effort to defeat the ordinance. Terry Kemple, a Hillsborough School Board candidate, called the offices of several commissioners Monday to express his concerns.

"It's bad policy, and this is a huge issue," Kemple said in a phone interview. "This puts government in the position of trampling on people's religious liberties in favor of people's sexual preferences."

Beckner, aware there may be opposition, stopped short of predicting the ordinance's success.

"I'm optimistic that we'll move forward on Wednesday," Beckner said. "But I always realize in a boardroom, anything can happen.

Contact Will Hobson at or (813) 226-3400.

A majority of Hillsborough commissioners open to banning discrimination against gay people 07/14/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2014 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31


    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win


    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday


    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle