TAMPA — All seven Hillsborough County commissioners have now signed a proclamation saluting GaYBOR Days, an event that seeks to promote the West Coast of Florida as welcoming to gay tourists and business owners.
One by one, Republicans Sandra Murman, Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist joined four of their fellow board members Wednesday by adding their names to a proclamation that recognizes GaYBOR Days as an economic driver. Crist was the last one when he signed his name in red about 3:15 p.m. after learning he was the only one who had not.
"This is not about gays and lesbians," Crist said as he was spotted leaving Democratic Commissioner Kevin Beckner's office, highlighting the event's focus on luring tourists to Ybor City in particular. "Preserving our historic districts is a priority for me. This has a huge impact on our historic district."
The Hillsborough County Commission has been better known for opposing recognition of homosexuality in any form.
In 2005, at the urging of socially conservative former Commissioner Ronda Storms, the board voted to ban county government recognition of gay pride displays and events.
Earlier this year, the board swam against the tide of local governments approving domestic partnership registries for unwed couples, rejecting the idea.
For the past six years, organizers of GaYBOR Days have sought a proclamation from county commissioners recognizing their contributions to the community. Other political leaders have obliged, noting the event draws crowds of 10,000 or more people, many from out of town, for activities that in part also recognize the anniversary of the gay rights movement.
But each year, most county commissioners have refused to sign the proclamation despite their general tendency to recognize most groups that seek one.
The Tampa Bay Times noted this week that for the first time this year a majority of commissioners had signed the document, with Republicans Ken Hagan, the board chairman, and Mark Sharpe, joining Beckner and fellow Democrat Les Miller.
"I applaud my colleagues for recognizing the economic contribution the gay and lesbian community makes to the overall community," said Beckner, who is gay and had circulated the proclamation to other commissioners . "I'm proud of what they've done."
Beckner plans to present the proclamation to event organizers this week.
GaYBOR days runs from Friday to Monday.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.