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Interfaith service opposes gay pride ban

Published Oct. 24, 2005

Responding to Hillsborough County commissioners' gay pride ban, about 85 people gathered for an interfaith worship service in downtown Tampa on Saturday afternoon.

Representatives from the Tampa Bay area's Christian, Jewish, Pagan and Buddhist communities spoke at the service, which was held at Joe Chillura Park across the street from the County Center. Some called for peace and love, some preached forgiveness and some urged the audience to pray for the county commissioners.

"We really let each of the denominations reflect the traditions of their particular beliefs," said the Rev. Phyllis Hunt, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa. "We wanted to send the message that God created all of us to be respectful human beings. Regardless of our differences, we are united by humanness."

The idea for the service came out of a June 20 meeting at Hunt's church, where more than 700 people rallied against the county commissioners' June 15 vote to abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events.

The commissioners voted to ban the county from involvement in gay pride events after Commissioner Ronda Storms objected to a library's display of books by homosexual authors during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

As the mother of a 6-year-old daughter, Storms said, she did not want to be forced to explain homosexuality and transsexuality if her child passed such a display and started asking questions.

Storms also said that the government should not use tax money and facilities to promote a particular political point of view. "Whether we should have pride in homosexuality is a political perspective," she said.

Saturday's religious gathering is one of several responses to that vote that opponents have organized.

An arts group is currently holding a "Family Values Portrait Project," in which all variations of families are invited to pose for pictures at Covivant Art Gallery & Studios in Tampa.

Another group has launched a "buycott" to encourage patronage at businesses and companies that openly respect the gay community.

Hunt said that a lot of planning went into Saturday's event, which drew families, couples and individuals who gathered under the few bits of shade the park offered.

"I thought it was a reasonable turnout, given the heat," Hunt said. "While people in this community are outraged, their world has not changed that much by (the county's) policy at this point."

Still, Hunt said, the point of holding events such as the worship service and the portrait project is to try to get through to the county commissioners.

"We believe this is going to take a long time to turn around," Hunt said, "although it shouldn't."