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Jane Castor to LGBTQ Democrats: ’We can legislate the laws but we can’t legislate attitudes’

Tampa’s new mayor addressed a statewide Democratic audience for the first time since her April election.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at the LGBTA Democratic Caucus Summer Conference breakfast on Saturday, July 20, 2019 at Grand Hyatt in Tampa.  ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at the LGBTA Democratic Caucus Summer Conference breakfast on Saturday, July 20, 2019 at Grand Hyatt in Tampa. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published Jul. 20
Updated Jul. 20

TAMPA — Three months after Jane Castor’s ascension to the city’s highest office, LGTBA advocates from across the state met and caught their first in-person glimpse of Tampa’s first out mayor.

“A tsunami” in Tampa, Stephen Gaskill, president of the Florida Democratic Party’s LGBTA caucus, called her win during Saturday’s meeting of his organization, to jubilant applause.

Castor, however, has been more muted about the impact of historic victory, saying it felt more like a “ripple” at a recent gathering of the country’s mayors in New York — where most the attendees beside Castor and her counterparts in Chicago and Madison, Wis., were straight.

“We’re trying to build it into a wave,” Castor said.

This weekend may have produced one of the first stones to create a splash.

Castor on Saturday addressed a statewide Democratic audience for the first time since her swearing in when she spoke at the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus summer membership meeting. A short speech to a few dozen activists and organizers over coffee and croissants — it was a modest but well-received foray into state party politics for someone who some Florida Democrats dub a “rising star.”

RELATED: LGBTQ advocates have high expectations for Tampa mayor Jane Castor

Castor’s unique background — former police chief, out woman, leader of a progressive city — are viewed as unique assets for the party in 2020 and beyond.

Castor’s remarks Saturday downplayed the personal and political aspects of her story. If her election was unique, Castor said, it was because her sexuality wasn’t an issue at all — and that itself is progress and a story Tampa can share with the world.

“The beautiful thing is no one cares. Everyone gets to be who they are,” Castor said. “In today’s atmosphere it’s more and more important. What’s going on around our nation is something I don’t believe many people stand for.”

MORE: Jane Castor’s historic win captures national spotlight and positions her as Democrats’ ‘rising star’

Castor has been coy so far about what her LGBTA agenda looks like. On issues like expanding health care to transgender city employees, bolstering outreach to the city’s gay seniors and homeless youth and ensuring LGBTA small businesses are fairly represented in city contracts, Castor hasn’t made many commitments. It’s all under consideration, she recently told the Tampa Bay Times.

Nor has she expressed an overwhelmingly desire to dive into party politics. “The job of mayor in this city of the Tampa is going to be all-encompassing. And that’s my first priority,” she said soon after her election.

But her address to the LGBTA caucus provided hints into her governing approach and how she plans to use her newfound platform to confront prejudicial sentiments in politics.

“We know that we can legislate the laws but we can’t legislate attitudes,” Castor said. “It’s the attitudes and viewpoints that we have to change as individuals and communities.”

“We can have individuals in Washington, D.C., that are discriminating on every single level,” she added, “but it’s up to every single one of us in this room to make sure everyone feels valued.”

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