Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Politics

Hillsborough to draft ban on discrimination against gay, transgender people

TAMPA — In many ways, it was a replay of a scene that had happened before. Religious people, some of them holding Bibles, some quoting from them, warning Hillsborough County commissioners what would happen if they outlaw discrimination against gay and transgender people.

The dissolving of religious liberty in America. Founding Fathers rolling in their graves. The wrath of a vengeful God.

This year, though, the scene ended differently: These people were outnumbered, and they left disappointed.

Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to move forward with a local law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The vote is another in a series of events in the last year marking a shift for this formerly staunchly conservative commission.

Wednesday's vote did not make it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people in Hillsborough in hiring, housing or public accommodations. Commissioners asked the county attorney to write a draft ordinance that would, and two commissioners remained silent on the issue, which will probably not come back for a vote until fall.

But if Republican Commissioners Ken Hagan or Al Higginbotham intend to vote no, they will have to do so in the face of an array of supporters marshaled by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough's first openly gay commissioner, who proposed Wednesday's discussion.

Gary Sasso, president of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt law firm in Tampa, spoke in favor of the law, and brought letters signed by leaders of dozens of local businesses echoing support.

Among them: Tampa General Hospital, Wells Fargo, Regions Bank, Bank of America, the University of South Florida, the Buccaneers, the Rays, the Lightning, the members of the Westshore Alliance, the Tampa Downtown Partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Beckner, one of two Democrats on the board, opened the discussion theatrically. He described childhood memories of flag-waving, fireworks and apple pie on the Fourth of July, then quoted from the Declaration of Independence.

"That freedom is not free and, for some, not equal," Beckner said. "In 2014, no hard-working American trying to earn a living … should have to live in fear of being fired … for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance."

Discrimination against gays used to be illegal in Hillsborough, but transgender people — who live as a different gender than the one assigned at birth — have never had such protections.

In 1991, commissioners adopted a human rights ordinance that included sexual orientation, but in 1995 commissioners reversed course and repealed the part barring discrimination against gays.

In the years since, dozens of cities, counties and states have adopted similar laws preventing discrimination against LGBT residents, including Tampa and Pinellas County. Hillsborough, meanwhile, developed a reputation that Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith termed "screechingly homophobic" for the 1995 repeal and 2005 commission vote to ban county recognition of gay pride events.

Two commissioners remain from the 2005 vote. Chairman Mark Sharpe reversed his vote last year when Beckner successfully pushed to repeal the gay pride ban. Wednesday, Sharpe said he supported expanding the county's human rights ordinance.

Hagan, who was out of the room during the gay pride vote, did not take a side Wednesday, nor did Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who is running for a new term this year. Commissioners Victor Crist, Les Miller and Sandy Murman all expressed support.

More than 20 people spoke during public comment about the proposed law, about one-third opposed.

"God does not change," said Travis Smith, pastor of Hillsdale Baptist Church in Tampa. "Leviticus 18:22 still says homosexuality is an abomination."

"If you pass this measure, it will discriminate against Christians and other people of faith," said Terry Kemple, a socially conservative activist and candidate for the Hillsborough School Board.

The discussion, though passionate, was respectful. No one shouted and, unlike in years past, guns and knives were not confiscated from the crowd.

Beckner said after the meeting he hoped the ordinance would be ready for a vote by September. Although its passage is not guaranteed, five of seven commissioners have now expressed support.

In a sign even county staff views it a forgone conclusion, Hillsborough's communications department sent out a news release Wednesday, touting the economic development benefits of the new human rights ordinance.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, a former Hillsborough commissioner, also released a statement congratulating Beckner. Castor was the lone vote against the gay pride ban in 2005, and the same year unsuccessfully tried to expand the human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination against gay people.

"This discriminatory policy was a dark cloud over our community," Castor wrote, "but we turned the page."

Contact Will Hobson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. Follow @TheWillHobson.

     
Comments
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18
Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

With six months to go before the Nov. 6 election, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell on Monday dropped her bid against Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard for the at-large District 2 seat.Caudell said she decided she’d better be better suited f...
Published: 05/14/18