Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

On a day of Pride, remembering what Ronda Storms wrought

The week's storms have cleared, and on this sunny Saturday, St. Petersburg celebrates its signature Pride event — fitting for noting how we live in interesting times.

This week came a headline maybe you thought you'd never see: Pentagon holds gay pride event. It's official: Don't ask, don't tell is gone, and the president says we should be able to marry whom we want. Now the Pentagon has held its first-ever event recognizing the service of military members who once risked being kicked out for showing their true selves. They celebrated at the White House. Remarkable.

But before anyone gets all heady about how far we've come, a little hometown perspective. Maybe the Pentagon can go around "acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events," but in Hillsborough County government, it's still verboten — the legacy of the infamously conservative, fire-and-brimstone County Commissioner Ronda Storms.

Storms, who went on to the state Senate, is back on the local ballot hoping to come home as county property appraiser. (Conveniently, the current one is embroiled in a porn scandal.) So it's especially important to remember what she left behind.

It was classic Storms: In 2005, a kerfuffle erupted over a display of gay-themed books in a branch library during gay pride month. Storms swiftly got the issue of gay pride on the commission agenda and proceeded to squash it like a bug.

"I move that we adopt a policy that Hillsborough County government abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events, little g, little p," she said. The lack of capitalization presumably meant not just official Gay Pride events or Gay Pride month, but any hint of gay pride any time.

So much for elected officials making individual decisions about a specific event on its merits. Storms' motion passed 5-1, with only Kathy Castor, now in Congress, objecting to the use of the dais as a billboard for bigotry.

Not done, Storms tied it up tight with a bow by getting the board to require a supermajority vote of at least five to undo it.

A county attorney later interpreted this as a ban on county funding for gay pride events, on participation by the board as a whole in such events, and on acknowledging such events with proclamations or resolutions.

Those may be officious pieces of paper doled out by politicians, but they are important to people who get them — an acknowledgement that government is glad they're there.

So have Hillsborough commissioners since ditched an obviously discriminatory policy?

(Sound of crickets.)

No — presumably because they don't care, they don't think they can win, or because it's too politically dicey.

Meanwhile, domestic partner registries giving unmarried couples, including gays, rights in their partners' lives are being warmly embraced in Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater and Gulfport. Progress is out there — just not in certain pockets, like the one where a controversial politician hopes to land in local office again.

But today is St. Pete's big event, where it's all about Pride — big p or little, doesn't matter. Seems fitting that the storms have cleared, and a sunny celebration of diversity and tolerance goes on.

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