Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

Carlton: The county commissioner and the unbearable display of gay pride

The voice mail message came in after regular business hours to the office of Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.

The woman doesn't give her name. She says she's a county employee. She's calling about the flag — the rainbow-colored gay pride flag that had just been raised outside the County Center building in downtown Tampa, where she works.

Commissioners had voted 5-1 to fly that flag through the end of June — a gesture of solidarity following the massacre at a gay night club in Orlando that left 49 people dead and dozens more wounded, a still stunning act of hate.

Take it down, the woman begs on the tape.

"As a Christian," she says, "that flag is so very offensive to me that I cannot bear to go into the office."

So here is what White, the conservative Republican commissioner from the east county suburbs, did not do following the anonymous complaint.

He did not say that, whether he agreed or not, a majority of elected officials voted to fly the flag, and that is how democracy — and, some would say, progress — works.

And he did not talk about putting aside differences after the bloodiest mass shooting in modern American history.

In fact, White was away when they voted, though he tried without success to get the matter delayed. This was a good gambit if you were against it: It would have kept the flag from flying through the end of June — gay pride month, which was the point — since the commission doesn't meet again until July.

Commissioner Ken Hagan cast the lone no vote even as his colleagues, fellow Republicans and also Democrats, said yes. Hagan did not give his reasons, though voters can probably figure it out.

And so armed with that anonymous complaint, White declared the rainbow flag a "divisive symbol" that created "a hostile work environment." (Except it's not, the county attorney later said.) He railed at the county administrator for not warning commissioners this might make "many" employees "uncomfortable." He did not mention what just happened in Orlando that spurred even his conservative colleagues to make the gesture of flying that flag.

One step forward, one step back.

In that same county center 11 years ago this very month raged another gay pride battle: Then-Commissioner Ronda Storms won her infamous ban on county government even acknowledging gay pride. Interestingly, this was also by a 5-1 vote — except back then it was for exclusion, and last week it was for acceptance, or at least empathy.

Greg Colangelo has worked for the county for 30 years. He's a computer graphics designer and is gay. Though he has never felt unwelcome in the department where he works, Storms and the message of that no-pride vote were tough to take. He considered finding another job. And then he thought: "If I quit, they won. They got me to leave."

Years passed. Storms went away, her ban was undone and one day, people could marry whom they wanted. Voters elected the commission's first openly gay member, Kevin Beckner, who last week pushed to raise the pride flag at County Center.

And then someone called the very sight of it unbearable, and a county commissioner backed that up.

Like Storms, White got lots of attention — nearly a thousand comments on tampabay.com and a story in, among other places, the New York Daily News, making us looking like a pinched village yet again. People voiced dissension on White's own Facebook page, posting plenty of colorful flags there for his consideration.

Colangelo hates the idea of going backwards. "We've come so far," he says, and a lot of people hope he's right.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Gulfport candidates draw stark contrasts

GULFPORT ó One candidate is a plain-spoken, straightforward technology consultant who preaches "conservative fiscal responsibility" and votes Republican in national elections.The other is a self-proclaimed "progressive liberal" who practices law, pro...
Published: 02/23/18
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the presidentís call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Published: 02/22/18
Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

After an emotionally draining day that captured national attention ó the massive rally in Tallahassee and a small, tearful gathering of survivors at the White House ó CNNís Wednesday night town hall on the Parkland shooting could have easily been ove...
Published: 02/22/18
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republicanís affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday. She launched an ...
Published: 02/22/18
Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Florida businessman Leandro Rizzuto Jr. to be ambassador to Barbados, Rizzuto pledged thousands of dollars to fund a gala at Trumpís Mar-a-Lago Club, the galaís organizer said.Rizzuto and his wife, Den...
Published: 02/22/18
Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

New charges were filed Thursday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, ratcheting up the legal pressure on them as they prepare for a trial later this year.A new indictment has long been expected in special cou...
Published: 02/22/18
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. Thatís because a ban deals only with fut...
Published: 02/22/18
Focused on Cubaís future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cubaís future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA ó One highlight of a congressional delegationís visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Published: 02/21/18
Melania Trumpís parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on Ďchain migrationí

Melania Trumpís parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on Ďchain migrationí

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple...
Published: 02/21/18
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governorís race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governorís race

Weíll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Published: 02/21/18