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While Florida falters on LGBTQ inclusion, Tampa should continue to lead | Column
“Unfortunately, the culture wars of the early 2000′s never really stopped,” writes guest columnist Alan Clendenin.
A float passes by during the Pride Parade in Tampa's Ybor City in 2017.
A float passes by during the Pride Parade in Tampa's Ybor City in 2017. [ KAIJO, CHARLIE | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 25

As an out gay man born and raised in Central Florida, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a region on LGBTQ issues. But I’m equally as worried about the recent pushback we’ve seen at the state level.

Alan Clendenin
Alan Clendenin [ Alan Clendenin ]

Like many LGBTQ youth who were coming up in the 1970′s and 80′s, I was paralyzed by fear of rejection by my parents and by a society that didn’t yet recognize the value of inclusion. In those days, I remember routinely getting stopped by the Orange County Police department while trying to enter LGBT safe spaces. LGBTQ people were being harassed for no other reason than who we are and who we love.

These experiences as a young person shaped me and served as a base for my personal political advocacy. In 1994 I helped successfully lobby the Air Traffic Controllers Union to include benefits for same sex couples.

The early 2000′s continued to be rough for Tampa’s LGBTQ community and it was easy to get whiplash. In 2005, Commissioner Ronda Storms famously led the charge to ban gay pride in Hillsborough County and won. In 2008, Barack Obama became President and Florida passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, which lasted until the marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court in 2015.

Unfortunately, the culture wars of the early 2000′s never really stopped. Next month, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill will become law, effectively erasing LGBTQ students, families, and history in the classroom. This will happen despite overwhelming opposition by the public, mental health experts, and the pleas of LGBTQ youth, families, and teachers across the state. It’s part of a political agenda designed to divide us. President Obama famously said that “Progress does not always move in a straight line,” and this move by the state government underscores that.

But where Tallahassee has failed the LGBTQ community, Tampa has led. In 2012, Tampa’s domestic partnership registry was signed into law, in 2013 Hillsborough County reversed it’s ban on public displays of gay pride, and in 2014 it passed a human rights ordinance granting nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 2019 also brought the first LGBTQ Mayor of Tampa in Jane Castor and the city voted to update our charter to include protections for LGBTQ people.

Tampa has proven to be a leader on LGBTQ issues where the state has failed. As we near the end of Pride month, my hope is that we continue to learn from the lessons of the past. Tampa has shown that we can continue to build bridges between our communities instead of walls. We can move forward together and show the world that our city and our state are open to all.

Alan Clendenin was born in Sanford, where he attended Florida public schools, and lives in Tampa. He is a small business owner, retired air traffic control professional with 32 years of experience, and has held numerous operational and administrative management positions.

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