Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg mayor plans liaison to gay community, but two council members have concerns

ST. PETERSBURG — When a national report ranked Tampa as the leading city in Florida for its promotion of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents last fall, officials on this side of the bay took notice.

Okay, maybe a little umbrage, too.

Mayor Rick Kriseman plans to take action. Later this spring, Kriseman will tap a person in his office to become the city's "LGBT liaison," chief of staff Kevin King confirmed Tuesday.

By doing so, the mayor will accomplish a few things, King said: a stronger bond with the LGBT community and a guaranteed higher score in the annual "municipal equality index" study by the Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C., which gave St. Petersburg 66 out of 100 points last year, compared with Tampa's 89 points.

The city would get five more points on the equality study by having an LGBT liaison in the mayor's office, and eight more if a similar position is created at the Police Department.

"It's an easy thing to do on our end, and it has some positive consequences," King said, pointing out that it will not cost the city money. "It's the right thing to do."

Not everyone is enamored of the idea.

Council member Darden Rice said she appreciates the mayor's intention but wonders if this won't ironically undermine the effort.

"My concern is that this comes across as transactional and not a real attempt at moving the ball forward in terms of inclusiveness and diversity," said Rice, who learned about the administration's plan at a Stonewall Democrats fundraiser late last week. "The smart way — the meaningful way— is to go the route of looking at the creation of a diversity officer."

When the 2013 rankings came out, St. Petersburg officials said their score didn't reflect all the progress the city has made — or the fact that after November's election, there are three openly gay council members (Rice, Amy Foster and Steve Kornell).

"Our equality score is dismal, and people and businesses look at those things when they move," said council member Foster, who said she shares Rice's hope that the administration will focus on broader diversity efforts. "This may be a starting point. … But this can't be the only thing we do."

Kornell said he was supportive of the mayor's plan, which is expected to be officially announced in June, which is celebrated as LGBT Pride Month.

Ben Kirby, Kriseman's communication director, said the person would be expected to elevate concerns from LGBT residents and be more attuned to any impact that policies may have on the community.

"While we have not specifically advocated for this, we could not be more excited," said Susan McGrath, president of the local Stonewall Democrats. "This is huge."

Rice, however, said she wonders if singling out one group reflects sincerity.

"GLBT liaison sounds to me like the 1970s. … Diversity and inclusion is too important for empty gestures," Rice said. "If we're going to do it, we need to do it right."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

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