Supporters of the city's gay rights ordinance on Friday called those working to repeal the law "right-wing extremists" and promised a strong showing at the polls in November.
The group, called Say No To Hate, emerged in August to counter the well-organized efforts of Take Back Tampa, which opposes the gay rights ordinance.
Say No organizers rallied in the rain Friday outside Tampa City Hall, calling for tolerance of homosexuals as a means of assuring equality.
"Everyone, whether you agree with them or not, is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Pat Frank, a former Democratic state senator.
Say No spokeswoman Susan Glickman criticized Take Back Tampa and its leader, David Caton, for relying on financial support from a network of national right-wing groups.
"Despite repeated attempts to educate him, Caton continues to make outlandish, cruel and false claims about gay and lesbian citizens," Glickman said.
Take Back Tampa responded to the rally with the following statement attributed to Rick Clewis, chairman:
"We love the people of this city including those in the gay community. We also support ministries that are helping people who are coming out of the gay lifestyle. Sodomy, however, is not a civil right."
Anti-gay rhetoric could also give Tampa an "economic black eye," Glickman said. Tampa Bay Buccaneers president Gay Culverhouse said in a statement that even a small voice of extremism might persuade outside businesses and investments from coming to Tampa.
At issue is the controversial amendment to Tampa's human rights ordinance. In May 1991, the City Council adopted extra language extending to gays certain protections. The ordinance now prohibits discrimination based on sexual preference in employment, housing and public accommodations. Hillsborough County has a similar ordinance.
Those opposed to the amendment quickly began a petition drive to have the question put on this year's ballot. Take Back Tampa plans to use radio spots and direct mail to garner "yes" votes on repealing the gay rights portion of the ordinance.
The city, Take Back Tampa and the Supervisor of Elections for Hillsborough have been in court battling over petitions calling for the referendum, the date of the referendum and what the referendum should say.
At Friday's rally, the Rev. Bernard K. Jackson, of the Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"If this referendum passes," said Tampa City Council member Scott Paine, "I have no doubt that it will be understood as an endorsement of prejudice and will give encouragement to those who would deny a man or a woman a job or a home on the basis of appearance and mannerism, of innuendo and conjecture."