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A proclamation of progress for GaYbor Days? Not just yet

Such a little thing, really.

Just a piece of paper with some signatures, a red ribbon and a gold seal, presented with a few official words from a government pooh-bah saying that on this day, in this corner of the world, this person, group or event is worth noting.

Valedictorians, the annual festival in the name of the strawberry, youth councils and victims' rights week all get official proclamations from the Hillsborough County Commission. Commissioners are happy to hand out these minor moments of recognition like Halloween treats.

So how is it something so small can say so much about where we are, and where we aren't quite yet?

The GaYbor Days annual celebration in Ybor City — this year, June 30 through July 4 — began three years ago to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, a defining moment in the gay rights movement. Ten thousand people brought their economic impact to last year's festivities.

The event was the brainchild of the GaYbor District Coalition, made up of nearly 250 members to promote gay-friendly businesses and economic development in Ybor — many of those members, for the record, straight.

So let's see — an event that brings in business during the slow season and a coalition that's all about what's good for Ybor City — sounds worth a simple proclamation, right? The commission will sign it, say it and move on, right?

(Cue maniacal, I'll-get-you-my-pretty laughter here.)

But there's history. Six years ago, in a tempest over a public library display during Gay Pride Month, then-Commissioner Ronda Storms managed to forbid county government from officially recognizing "gay pride." Storms went off to the state Senate, but conservative Christian activist Terry Kemple was on hand this year to shake his finger at commissioners against signing an "illegal" GaYbor District Coalition Days proclamation.

"It's a board policy. It's not an ordinance. It's not a law," says Kevin Beckner, an openly gay commissioner. "As individual commissioners, we certainly have the right to recognize groups in our community." Beckner and Commissioner Les Miller signed the proclamation. Their five colleagues did not. Commissioner Mark Sharpe called to explain, saying he is not antigay but thinks the board should remain "clinically neutral" on such issues.

I think progress would be the day that signing something like this is officially Not A Big Deal, when an event or group that is generally good for the community is good for the community, period, next order of business, please.

The event, by the way, did get recognition from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and, oh, yeah, President Barack Obama, according to coalition officials. Just not the full County Commission.

Today, in the city across the bay, the streets are expected to fill at record numbers for St. Pete Pride. There was a similar proclamation issue back when the mayor treated his city's biggest one-day festival like a wad of gum stuck to his shoe.

Current Mayor Bill Foster does not sign either, citing the parade's "adult theme," but has sounded a more supportive note. He wrote a letter for the event's brochure. He says it's good for tourism and bringing people in. "Absolutely," he says.

Which sounds like progress, a small proclamation all by itself.

A proclamation of progress for GaYbor Days? Not just yet 06/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 8:58pm]
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