Last night, I had the opportunity to attend the town hall meeting at the MCC church in Seminole Heights. The meeting, as discussed earlier, was in response to BOCC's recent "neutrality" statement on gay rights which led to the dismantling of a public library book display on that topic. The initative was led by Ronda Storms - no fan of the library during her tenure.
Anyway I feel rather strongly about this issue and am offended by the BOCC actions for three reasons:
1. The county should not mandate what a library can and can not display - from my perspective, this is a clear civil rights violation
2. The county is short sighted in making plans for the future of our community. Data has demonstrated that areas with a welcomed gay population also have a large creative class, driving a high innovation, high economic growth area. In other words, an anti-gay image threatens the future talent pool and economic growth of our area.
3. Gay Rights and Discrimination - it seems as though our society awards rights to one group only to find another group upon which to discriminate against. Seperate is not equal.
The meeting last night was VERY WELL attended - apparently some estimates are in the range of 700 people. I was in the main room which was was packed - forcing the church to set up numerous small rooms with audio to handle the hundreds of extra people. Not only was the meeting well attended in terms of sheer numbers, but also in terms of credible supporters. For instance, City Council women Linda Saul-Sena was there, as well as former county commision chairmen, Pat Frank. Furthermore, a representative of the ACLU was in attendance along with the attorney who handled the human rights ordinance in 1990. Other Tampa notables included Joe Redner.
Attendees were very enthusiastic - lots of applause and standing ovations for speakers. What was most impressive about the meeting though was the ORGANIZATION. Equity of Florida has thought this through - after a general short pep rally the moderator had the room divide into break-out groups including - Art, Business, Direct Action, Legal, Librarian/Education, and Meet-Up/Long Term.
I attended the Business group since I didn't really fit well anywhere else and feel that I understand the economic arguments of why the BOCC decision is wrong. Furthermore, I also feel strongly that the gay community must be careful in crafting their campaign to fight this - I have outlined three issues above and only one of those issues applies directly to the gay community. In other words, this is a chance for many people in the community to rally around a single issue but if the campaign is driven by a gay pride marketing strategy you stand to lose numerous would be supporters who might not get passionate about gay pride but would certainly be passionate about civil liberties or future economic impacts. You have to craft a campaign that markets to the non-gay community and keeps the focus on all three important issues. The economic impact arguement (articulated best by Richard Florida) is probably the easiest thing to get behind for most people. You don't have to be gay to be outraged.
Anyway, the business meeting went well with people offering suggestions including a buycott of gay and gay friendly businesses, a display of company non-discrimination statements that include sexual orientation, and contacting the NFL to discuss whether a superbowl should be played in a town so unfriendly to the gay community.
After the breakout sessions, the group came together again to share ideas. The art community will sponsor a number of gay readings and book discussions at the public library, as well as a gay family portrait studio with the prints to go on display at the public library. The librarian group supported these measures. Furthermore, the direct action group will be sponsoring a number of protests and also suggested contacting the Human Relations Board of Tampa and the Human Rights Board of Hillsborough County to lodge a complaint.
One of the most interesting aspects of all of this is that the city and the county do not agree. Pam Iorio and at least some members of the city council are supportive of the gay community and Iorio has come out against this initiative previously, while Saul-Sena spoke out last night. Therefore, it is important to seek positive resolve without punishing the city itself (e.g. losing the superbowl). In addition, this could make for some interesting political battles as we move on.
Finally, the Equality Florida group is interested in getting another Human Rights ammendment passed in the county that would inlude Sexual Orientation in non-discrimination policies.