County Commissioner Ronda Storms is at it again. Despite the need for attention on countywide problems such as transportation issues and indigent access to health services, Storms and a majority of her fellow commissioners on the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners have approved a policy prohibiting county agencies from acknowledging gay pride events.
This policy was enacted in response to a Gay and Lesbian Pride Month display that was located at West Gate Regional Library. As a patron of this library, I was dumbfounded that any display promoting diversity in literature could invoke such a conflict.
The display in question was put together by Meagan Albright, a 24-year-old library and information science graduate student at USF, for her multicultural materials for children and young adults class. I had the opportunity to speak with Meagan about her display and it was clear to me that her objective was to showcase the literature and recognize the impact that gay and lesbian writers have in this country — much the same way one might feature writers of color during Black History Month or female writers during Women’s History Month.
Megan’s project received an ‘A’ from her professor but that was only the beginning of the attention that it would receive. According to Hillsborough County’s Chief Librarian Jean Peters, the display received three complaints about its content over a three-day period. To put that in perspective, that is three complaints from over one million Hillsborough county residents.
Those three complaints were plenty for Commissioner Storms to get involved, liberally interpreting the commissioner’s mission according to their Web site, “to take action on any programs for the improvement of the county and the welfare of its residents.”
Last week, in a rather quick exchange at the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioner’s meeting, Storms received support from four of her peers for what, in her own words, is a “policy that Hillsborough County government abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events, little ‘g,’ little ‘p.'” Adding insult to injury, a supermajority of commissioners will now be required to overturn the policy.
So with that, the display at my local library is now down. As far as I know, the books are still in the library and, despite Storms’ disappointment, June is still Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. This isn’t the end of the story, as the issue appears headed for a judicial fight.
It should be no surprise that Storms has chosen this battle. Her legacy is that of being a “holy roller,” on a crusade to take on public access television, the adult entertainment industry and anything else that counters her personal religious beliefs.
Sure, she is entitled to her belief system and far be it from me to say what she should and shouldn’t believe. The problem here, however, is that the public library system, of which gays and lesbians are a part, should also be represented. What sort of library system would we have if we eliminated all the books that may or may not offend some people?
It is worth noting that both Mayor Pam Iorio and the lone dissenter on the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners, Kathy Castor, have made strong statements against the commission’s action. Iorio, in comments at The Tampa Museum of Art, stated, “Our diversity is one of our strengths and should be celebrated,” while Castor had commented during the commission’s meeting, “I would hope this board would not use this dais to promote discrimination.”
The County Commissioner’s actions are a reminder that, although we are living in the beginning of the 21st century, discrimination and intolerant bigotry are still alive and well — even within the very government that was created to promote freedom and equality.
The key to forward progress in this rapidly growing county is to become more inclusive, not more divisive or intolerant of anyone who lives a lifestyle different than the one that someone else believes is “right.”
While I don’t doubt that Storms believes she is doing the right thing as an elected official, her job performance marks are determined at the ballot box by the voters of Hillsborough County.
Just in case you wondered, Storms’ term expires in November 2008.
Aaron Hill is a juniormajoring in firstname.lastname@example.org