No LGBT Pride Month in Hillsborough County, commissioners decide

Commissioner Kevin Beckner calls it a “slap in the face” to the LGBT community.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner calls it a “slap in the face” to the LGBT community.
Published July 21, 2016

TAMPA — A push from Hillsborough County's first openly gay commissioner to officially designate June as LGBT Pride Awareness and History Month was met with silence Wednesday from the full commission.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner's proposal came in the wake of last month's massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead. He said it would help Hillsborough take another step forward after its own struggles to embrace the LGBT community here.

But when Beckner made the motion to adopt the ordinance, none of his six colleagues offered a second to support him. Without one, the ordinance died without a vote or even a debate.

After the meeting, Beckner called it a "slap in the face" to the LGBT community.

"It's a sign we still have more work to do," he said. "It is one thing to change public policy, but it's the role of government to change the hearts and minds of people so we all can celebrate the rich diversity that is present in this community."

Other commissioners, though, said after the vote that designating a month for one group could open the doors to similar requests from others. One speaker during public comment hoped recognition of Pride Month would lead to a return of Southern Heritage Month for Confederate sympathizers.

Commissioner Les Miller said he would have supported a day of remembrance, "but not a month."

Asked how Beckner's proposal differed from Black History Month, Miller, the county's lone black commissioner, said that decree came from Congress, not the County Commission.

There are other avenues for commissioners to make commendations, Miller noted, that don't hold the weight of an ordinance. But this is Beckner's last year on the commission.

He had more success in the days after the Orlando shooting, when he won support from the board to raise a LGBT pride flag for the rest of June.

That 5-1 vote proved contentious a day later when Commissioner Stacy White said an employee anonymously complained that it was an affront to her Christian beliefs and created a hostile work environment.

During public comment Wednesday, another county employee, Gregory Colangelo, said raising the flag helped heal wounds from when past boards acted against the LGBT community. Colangelo, who is gay, said he considered leaving after the commission voted to ban recognition of pride events in 2005.

Since then, at Beckner's urging, Hillsborough County commissioners reversed that ordinance and in another victory for gay rights, voted to add sexual orientation and gender preference into the county's human rights ordinance.

"I know that this may not be felt by all," Colangelo said, "but I hope you all can understand the way I felt when I crossed the street and saw the flag of peace flying, not just above my place of employment but a building that houses people of all these groups dedicated to making Hillsborough County a great and safe place."

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Many religious leaders decried the proposed ordinance as an advancement of the "LGBTQ agenda" and an attack on religious institutions and traditional marriage. Others sought to distance sexual orientation from the victims of the Orlando massacre.

"My concern is that it is disingenuous to not recognize that the murderous actions of that individual were not against the homosexual community as much as it was the act of militant Islamic terrorists," said Travis Smith, a senior pastor of Hillsdale Baptist Church.

Beckner was incensed by that.

"It was not only an act of terrorism," he said, "but it was an act of a hate crime committed against a specific group, namely the LGBT community."

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.