Pensacola Republican chuckled at homophobic comment. Fellow state rep. wants him to resign.

"It’s shocking, it’s insulting, it’s hurtful. Is this what Rep. Hill is thinking about me?”
Representative Mike Hill, from District 1, photographed in his office at the Florida State Capitol on April 2, 2019 in Tallahassee, Florida. Rep. Hill was elected in 2018 and represents part of Escambia County.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Representative Mike Hill, from District 1, photographed in his office at the Florida State Capitol on April 2, 2019 in Tallahassee, Florida. Rep. Hill was elected in 2018 and represents part of Escambia County.
Published May 31, 2019|Updated June 1, 2019

After Pensacola Republican Mike Hill joked about a Bible verse that condemns men for “having an affair” with other men, Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith is calling on his state House colleague to apologize or resign.

The comments came out of a recent meeting of a Pensacola-based group called Women for Responsible Legislation, where an attendee said: “In 1 Corinthians, it says that a man who has an affair with another man will be put to death.”

After Hill pointed out that the rule is also in the Old Testament, another attendee asked, “Can you introduce legislation?”

Hill, who was speaking in front of the group at Pensacola City Hall, chuckled and said, “I wonder how that would go over?”

He then said, “Okay, enough of that stuff.” Before the comments were made, Hill was discussing his personal theories about how homosexuality is not a choice and why gay citizens don’t deserve the same protections as other groups of people who have been targeted with hate crimes.

Smith, who is one of few openly gay state lawmakers, said in a tweet Friday that he was “shocked and disgusted to discover a colleague who I’ve worked closely with would joke about punishing me by death for being gay.”

Smith, who survived anti-gay hate violence while attending University of Central Florida, said “the consequences of homophobia are real.”

He then said Hill must apologize for his comments or resign.

Smith said in an interview Friday that he was shocked when heard audio of the meeting, since he has worked closely with Hill on issues like a banning greyhound racing in Florida.

“He’s not some random Republican colleague that I have no relationship with,” Smith said. “He’s someone I’ve worked alongside. For him to espouse these views, for him to make light of a constituent suggesting that someone like me, gay person should be stoned to death ... it’s shocking, it’s insulting, it’s hurtful. Is this what Rep. Hill is thinking about me?”

Hill said he didn’t recall laughing along and hardly remembered the comment made by that attendee.

The meeting was the same gathering where Hill claimed God told him to create new abortion laws.

“The meeting lasted about an hour and a half. There were a lot of things of substance that were discussed at that meeting,” Hill said. “For that one-, two- or three-second blip to come out was very inconsequential about what the meeting was about. I had forgotten completely about it. I don’t think it had an impact at all on anyone who was in attendance.”

Legislative leadership weighed in later Friday, condemning Hill’s behavior. House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Rules Chair Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, put out a joint statement calling the incident “unacceptable.” They called for him to apologize, not resign.

“We unequivocally condemn both the question asked of Representative Hill and Representative Hill’s laughter and refusal to push back and remind his audience that this is America and we don’t stone people to death we disagree with,” the wrote. “Such callous indifference to an outrageous question is unacceptable, runs contrary to our founding principles, and in no way reflects the beliefs of the Republican caucus in the Florida House.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, Sarasota Republican and state chair of the Republican Party, said he was “horrified” by the news.

“Hate of any kind cannot be tolerated,” he tweeted. “Mike Hill should immediately apologize.”

Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, said that as a conservative Christian, there was nothing conservative nor Christian about the exchange.

“This exchange is nothing short of theocratically fascist, unconscionable and indefensible,” he tweeted.

Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried, the state’s top Democrat, issued a statement as well, condemning both Hill’s behavior and comments by Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who earlier this week argued that legal abortions were cutting into the nation’s birth rate, and that America’s population is being “replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate.”

“Part of America’s promise is the freedom of opinion. But public service is a public trust,” Fried wrote. “We must hold the conduct and opinions of our public servants to a higher standard ... Whatever their motivations, their remarks were beyond unacceptable. They must apologize, be reprimanded by their legislative chambers, or resign from office.”

Equality Florida, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group, called Hill’s actions “deeply disturbing and dangerous.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor and Equality Florida spokesman said Hill should be “embarrassed and ashamed” for laughing along with the suggestion that he file legislation requiring the execution of LGBTQ people.

“We live in a diverse and inclusive state where the overwhelming majority of Floridians agree that no one should be discriminated against based on who they are or who they love,” Wolf said. “In less than two weeks our community prepares to mark three years since Pulse, the most deadly attack on LGBTQ people in this nation’s history, and we have never been more aware of how degrading and dehumanizing LGBTQ people causes harm.”

Smith said he hopes Hill apologizes soon, noting that Saturday, June 1, marks the beginning of LGBTQ Pride Month. June 12 also marks three years since the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a massacre that killed 49 mostly LGBTQ and Latinx people and became the deadliest mass shooting in the country. It was the nation’s worst terror attack since Sept. 11.

“This is all the evidence we need that LGBTQ people deserve to be protected by state and federal law,” Smith said. “The worst incidence of LGBTQ hate violence in the United States happened right here in this state, and this is the type of rhetoric he’s signing onto? He should be ashamed of himself.”

Hill responded to the bout of criticism on Twitter later Friday evening, calling Smith’s tweet “fake news” and calling Fried’s comments about him an “#Obsession.”

“You should focus on doing your job better instead of every word that proceeds out of my mouth,” he wrote.