Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gay rights debate shows change

Some of the most bitter, divisive and crowded debates in the recent history of Tampa Bay's local governments have been waged over gay rights.

But this week the generally conservative Pinellas County Commission voted to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although it wasn't unanimous — the vote was 4-2 — there was none of the searing acrimony surrounding past debates.

"I was marveling at how times have changed," said former Democratic County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, who took part in a joint Hillsborough Commission-Tampa City Council hearing that packed the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

"I think attitudes have changed dramatically," said Republican Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who championed the new ordinance. "We've all become much more tolerant of people who are different than we are."

But some reluctance remains, particularly regarding protections for transgendered people, who are born one gender but identify with the other.

Commissioners asked the county attorney to study that issue, as well as whether some exemptions should be carved out for people who believe the ordinance violates their religious beliefs. The county attorney will report back in about six weeks.

Some officials are still puzzling over the transgender issue. Said Commissioner Calvin Harris after the vote: "I don't even know what a transgender is."

A recent local example: Steve Stanton, the former city manager of Largo who was fired after announcing plans to become Susan. Even Stanton understands Harris' confusion.

"I think that's a very legitimate … very honest statement," Stanton said. "These are all really good people, and I know none of them would want to discriminate, but they also have to be sensitive to the needs of other people in the workplace."

Stanton said she believes a person undergoing a "medical protocol" to change genders, like herself, should be protected from discrimination. The issue is fuzzier for someone who identifies as one gender but decides on some days to dress as another gender. Even if she remained as city manager, "I would not have allowed a man to come to work cross-dressed as a woman," Stanton said. She said careful study of how these issues would play out in the workplace is prudent.

While Tuesday's vote suggests that attitudes have changed, interest groups on both sides of the issue were grumbling.

"We were disappointed that the Pinellas County commissioners weren't able to summon the courage that it would take to provide the strongest protections to the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community,'' said Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida. "But we are hopeful that in six weeks time that they will come back."

David Caton of the Florida Family Association, who has spent years fighting local gay rights ordinances, said the ordinance reflects Latvala's influence, not a wide change in community values.

"There was nobody that was as fervent and as incessant as she was," Caton said.

In 1991, the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission passed gay rights ordinances, touching off a local culture war that led the County Commission eventually to reverse itself.

A St. Petersburg Times reporter called the offices of all five Pinellas commissioners that year to ask if a similar ordinance would come up for a debate on the west side of Tampa Bay. Only one commissioner returned the call, and he said, "I'm not at all interested in introducing legislation on the off chance that there might be a problem."

In 1999, the Pinellas School Board adopted an antidiscrimination and antiharassment policy and the debate was filled with "screaming and yelling," said Latvala, a School Board member then. "It was the worst public meeting of my life."

But she called this week's debate "delightful." She thinks the difference is partly because gay and lesbian people "have gotten the message out that they live next door to you, they go to church with you, they go to school with you."

"It was very respectful," said Pinellas Commissioner Karen Seel. "Both sides of the issue were heard with very little comment from the crowd with boos or yeas. … I was pleasantly surprised."

Gay rights debate shows change 04/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 2:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. After offseason of work hard, play hard, DeSean Jackson ready to produce for Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — There's no telling what DeSean Jackson will do once he gets a football in his hands. Perhaps that's why a camera crew followed his every move Wednesday while the Bucs' new $30 million receiver stood on a step of the hot tub that empties into a spacious, azure pool at his new, sprawling five-bedroom home in …

    DeSean Jackson jokes around with girlfriend Kayla Phillips at their Tampa home as a crew from HBO’s Hard Knocks documents their day.
  2. Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history.

    President Donald Trump embraces Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the East Room of the White House during an announcement Wednesday that Foxconn is going to build a plant in Wisconsin.
  3. Playoff chase heats up for Rays with key series at Yankees up first (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (11) and Tim Beckham (1) celebrate the double play to end the top of the sixth inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  5. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, it better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher it can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]