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Most Hillsborough leaders snub upcoming GaYbor Days celebration

TAMPA — Last year, about 10,000 people packed Ybor City for GaYbor Days. Derrick Barry of America's Got Talent performed his Lady Gaga act at G Bar. Hotels, restaurants and bars enjoyed a surge in business during an otherwise slow time of year.

More of the same is expected for the fourth annual celebration June 30 through July 4. Harvey Milk's nephew, Stuart, will attend a showing of the movie The Times of Harvey Milk.

And organizers will read a Hillsborough County proclamation designating GaYbor District Coalition Days.

But the proclamation will have just two signatures from the seven-member County Commission: those of Kevin Beckner and Les Miller, the only Democrats on the board.

The others declined, angering organizers who have worked to improve Ybor City.

"It's a slap in the face to all the places up and down Seventh Avenue that support us,'' said Carrie West, president of the GaYbor District Coalition. "This is not a gay pride event. This is a showcase of businesses in this great landmark historic district.''

The coalition, which formed in 2007 to promote gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses in Ybor, boasts nearly 250 members, two-thirds of them straight.

It created GaYbor Days in 2008 in honor of the anniversary of riots at New York's Stonewall Inn that launched the gay civil rights movement.

Conservative Christian activist Terry Kemple said a GaYbor proclamation by the county violates its policy against acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events.

Former County Commissioner Ronda Storms, now a state senator, pushed for the rule in 2005 after objecting to a library display of books by homosexual authors during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

Kemple, who sits on Hillsborough County's Human Relations Board, sent an e-mail to commissioners asking them to refrain from signing the "illegal'' proclamation.

He rejected claims that the proclamation recognizes the business district's efforts, citing references throughout it to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"Some might look at the proclamation as a symbolic gesture, but I look at it as a position of statement by the County Commission,'' he said this week. "It would basically be saying, 'We want to promote what is effectively a gay pride event.' ''

Beckner circulated the proclamation to other commissioners on behalf of the GaYbor coalition and criticized fellow board members for bowing to pressure.

He considers the county's ban discriminatory.

"This proclamation recognizes the accomplishments a group of businesses have made to our economy and community,'' said Beckner, the county's first openly gay commissioner. "It's not based on someone's sexual orientation.''

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he opposes endorsing any proclamation not related to specific government business.

"Sexual orientation to me is a really private matter, and I don't want it to be in the purview of government,'' said. "My action has nothing to do with that group in particular. I embrace diversity and respect what all the business people in Ybor have done.''

Other commissioners who have not signed the proclamation — Victor Crist, Al Higginbotham, Ken Hagan and Sandra Murman — did not return messages.

Don Barco, owner of King Corona Cigars on Seventh Avenue, said their refusals amount to "thumbing your nose'' at the coalition's achievements.

He credited the group for rejuvenating Ybor by attracting visitors and keeping it clean. Before GaYbor Days started, he used to close on July 4 because no one went to Ybor. Now, he gets a good crowd.

"I just find that in these economic times, when you're not supporting somebody that's helping, that's hurtful,'' said Barco, who is straight. "I find it backward. You'd think they'd be looking for some good news.''

The coalition has pushed for similar proclamations in the past and received minimal support.

Last year, Beckner and former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita signed one. In 2009, Beckner, Ferlita and former County Commissioner Kevin White did.

This year, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and President Barack Obama have officially recognized the event, coalition officials said.

Kemple said the proclamation sneaked by him in the past but was brought to his attention this year from various sources. In an e-mail blast to his supporters, he asked them to contact county officials with their concerns.

Officials received about 20 e-mails, most of them from eastern Hillsborough residents, urging commissioners not to sign the proclamation.

"Our children are being exposed to way too much filth in this city already. Don't let what goes on in San Francisco settle here,'' said one e-mail.

GaYbor Days supporters suspect the controversy may be politically motivated.

Beckner, who holds a countywide seat, comes up for re-election next year and opponents might be looking for candidates to go against him, said West, president of the coalition.

Even without full support, the party will go on as planned, supporters said. They will celebrate the community's strength and diversity. Rainbow flags will fly.

"I actually thought more of them would have signed it,'' West said. "It's just a shame. With the stroke of the pen, they could make the community happy.''

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If you go

GaYbor Days run June 30 through July 4 with a free health fair, Harvey Milk movie night, pub crawl and music festival at various locations in Ybor City. For a complete list of events, go to gaybor.com. A $25 VIP pass for multiple events is available at MC Film Fest, 1901 N 15th St. in Ybor.

Most Hillsborough leaders snub upcoming GaYbor Days celebration 06/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:09am]

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