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Castor vows to keep fighting for gays

Published Feb. 26, 2006

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor stood onstge at Saturday's Winter Pride festival and was greeted as a hero.

"I will stand by you and lead the fight for equal rights for all," she said, addressing a crowd of several hundred gay man and lesbians who had gathered at Lowry Park.

The audience leapt to its collective feet, clapping and cheering.

In the spring, Castor was the lone dissenting vote when the County Commission passed a measure forbidding county government from recognizing gay pride displays or events. Since then, the gay community has embraced her.

Castor has returned the sentiment, often sniping at her colleagues on the commission. She is leaving the county board, and running for the 11th Congressional District seat, which represents most of Tampa and a portion of south St. Petersburg.

"Their actions last year in trying to ban gay pride, if you look around you, you can see they had absolutely no effect at all," she said on Saturday.

Yet Castor didn't make her gay constituents any specific promises.

"We have many challenges and struggles ahead," she said. "I'm going to be as supportive as I can be, as a mother, as an attorney, as your local government official, and hopefully as your representative."

Sharing the stage with Castor was Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who praised the gay community for making the city "less boring."

Gay residents have helped promote the arts, found film festivals, and renovate neighborhoods, she said. "We're starting to figure out what an interesting place we can be," she said.

Adult entertainment mogul Joe Redner, who announced he is gay in December, likened the ban on gay pride in Hillsborough to a more extreme form of discrimination he witnessed as a child.

"I saw the drinking fountains, one for whites and one for blacks," he recalled. "Even at that time in my life I was ashamed I lived in a county that would do that to people. . . . We have to keep working 'til we don't have to be ashamed of the people who are running our lives in Hillsborough County."

That is the County Commission - in particular, Commissioner Ronda Storms, who is running for the state Senate District 10 seat vacated by Senate President Tom Lee. Storms initiated the move against gay pride.

"We could get ugly with Ronda like she's gotten ugly with us," said Ricc Rollins, pastor of the Breath of Life Fellowship. But he urged the community to take the high road.

"I'm still going to be gay when you're gone," he said, addressing Storms. "I'm still going to be gay when you're out of office."