Hillsborough County has a chance Wednesday to join the growing national march to give gays the dignity and decency all humans deserve. Commissioner Kevin Beckner will propose that Hillsborough repeal a ban the commission adopted in 2005 that bars county government from recognizing gay events. The entire board should welcome the chance to end a wholesale form of discrimination that has served only to embarrass constituents, scare away business and create an image of the county as a bigoted backwater.
The ban is a legacy left by then-Commissioner Ronda Storms, who moved at a board meeting in June 2005 that the county not acknowledge or participate in gay pride events. Her colleagues spent all of two minutes on the matter before adopting a ban that said gays were not worth recognizing in the county's eyes. The board followed up that act of prejudice by approving a second Storms' proposal that requires a super-majority vote to overturn the policy. Kathy Castor, the only commissioner to vote against both measures, is now Tampa's U.S. House representative.
This galling display of bigotry was years behind the times for the fourth-largest county in the fourth-largest state. Beckner's proposal is narrowly tailored to undo the damage. It would not have the county recognize gay-sponsored events — that decision would be separate and left to this and future boards. His proposal would merely remove the barrier and allow commissioners to look at gay-sponsored events as they do any other civic activity.
The states, national leaders from both parties and even the Boy Scouts have begun to see gay rights issues for what they are — fundamental questions about equal treatment. Commissioners should also recognize that their deplorable history on this issue ignores what their constituents in the city of Tampa, which has broad equal-rights protections, support. Commissioners should join the evolution that is taking place and begin to refashion the county as a welcoming environment for all.