A library display of gay and lesbian-themed literature for young adults spurred a recent vote by Hillsborough County commissioners to not acknowledge gay pride in Hillsborough County public buildings. The controversy, which began June 6, has garnered public outcry from the gay and lesbian community of Florida and nationwide.
“(The Hillsborough County Commission) believe that gay people shouldn’t exist,” USF graduate and Executive Director of Equality Florida Nadine Smith said. “That’s what they think. And they think if we exist, we should be forced to hide.”
Equality Florida is a nonprofit organization that has few paid staff members and relies primarily on volunteers and member funding.
After the ruling, Smith found herself swamped with demands for interviews and statements since Hillsborough County commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of the ban.
“I spoke at the commission hearing,” Smith said. “I’d like to tell you that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. The county has been on a backslide for a while. I’m angered and disappointed at the ruling.”
Smith has been working overtime since the commission’s ruling and was instrumental in organizing an emergency town meeting at the Metropolitan Community Church in Tampa on Monday.
While answering questions to a reporter, Smith fielded questions and simultaneously gave instructions to her staff as telephones rang constantly.
“We’ve been burning the midnight oil. We’ve had more work with the new ideas from the meeting. We need volunteers, we need help to make this happen,” Smith said.
Smith spoke at the meeting, discussing the message that the County Commission sent when the ban was passed. She believes that some good will come from the Commission’s ban. Equality Florida members have been galvanized by the County’s decision, she said.
“People are ready to stand up. They are not going to allow this to go unchallenged.”Smith is sure that the gay and lesbian community is ready to stand together and make some positive changes.
“It’s been tremendous. I know that everyone at the church (Monday) night felt a tremendous energy; we’re all very focused and resolved.”
Some USF students were also present at the meeting. James Geiger, a sophomore at USF, said he was dismayed that more members of the USF gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community didn’t attend.
“I’ve talked to a lot of students and not that many know about the issues,” Geiger said. “They cannot believe this happened. Not many students are informed about the issues.”
Geiger attributed the lack of interest from USF students to a lack of information.
“If students were really concerned, they would be watching the news,” he said. “On the other hand, local news is not communicated well on campus. I’m a sophomore, and I don’t know what’s going on in the Tampa/Hillsborough community,” Geiger said.
Geiger is working to change that. He has formed Youth in Action, a group focused on activism and many of the issues young adults face today.
“We are the future. Young people are going to be running the country in 25 to 30 years. I really believe we need to have our voices heard,” Geiger said.