Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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 carlton@tampabay.com.

Carlton: The county commissioner and the unbearable display of gay pride 06/21/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 4:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.