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Disapproval not the same as discrimination

To listen to opponents of the new Hillsborough County policy on gay pride, one would get the idea that the county has banned homosexuals altogether.

Nadine Smith, a USF graduate and executive director of Equality Florida, was quoted in The Oracle as saying, “(The Hillsborough County Commission) believe that gay people shouldn’t exist … That’s what they think. And they think if we exist, we should be forced to hide.”

The Tampa Tribune also reported that T-shirts were being distributed by Equality Florida that read: “Banned in Hillsborough.”

To say that the group’s actions are an overreaction is a bit of an understatement. The actual policy, proposed by County Commissioner Ronda Storms after she learned of complaints about a Gay Pride Month display at a local library, bans the county from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride events and recognition. That’s a far cry from banning actual homosexuals from entering the county.

The sheer logistics of such a ban would be impossible. How would you tell if someone was gay? I envision checkpoints at the county borders inspecting vehicles for effeminate-looking men and masculine-looking women. The only good result from such a policy would be that Michael Jackson would never be allowed in. Besides, wouldn’t that be profiling?

The trouble comes when people confuse discrimination and intolerance with promotion and approval.

For example, The Tampa Tribune reported that a statement issued Friday by the NAACP’s St. Petersburg branch of Equality Florida said in part, “The actions taken by the Hillsborough County Commission are an affront to us all who are actively fighting against racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and injustice.”

My distinguished colleague (I say this because I have respect for him and enjoy reading his columns) Aaron Hill unfortunately is another example of this confusion of terms. He wrote last week, “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.”

The Tribune quotes Storms saying, “Discrimination and promotion are two entirely different things.” She added, “You can respect somebody’s human dignity and treat them with courtesy, but I’m still not going to promote what you do.”

In today’s multicultural society of lofty ideals like diversity, tolerance and understanding, the distinction between discrimination and promotion gets conveniently glossed over. Gay pride groups often find themselves not only demanding tolerance and non-discrimination from others, but also acceptance and approval.

For gay groups to demand that everyone tolerate them is to demand that everyone respect their individual rights. For gay groups to demand that everyone, through government acknowledgment, promotion or participation, approve of the homosexual lifestyle and the pride gays find in it is to demand that many violate their own consciences.

For many, the homosexual lifestyle is either sinful, unhealthy or both. To demand they promote that lifestyle is a violation of both their freedoms of conscience and religion.

A clearer example of this principle is smoking. Many people choose to smoke cigarettes. I may acknowledge the right for smokers to smoke, but I shouldn’t have to participate in the promotion of their habit. Just imagine government taking part in a smokers pride event.

If homosexuals, smokers or any group for that matter, want to display their pride in their lifestyle, they are free to do so. They are not free to force other people, through government acknowledgment, promotion or participation, to participate in their pride events.

Besides, imagine if the government were to promote a straight pride event or month. Besides being ridiculous, such an event would not be a proper role for government. Again, straight people would be free to organize and hold their own pride events, but they shouldn’t expect government to participate.

As many gay activists would say, what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is none of government’s business. And that’s exactly the reason why government should not be in the business of promoting it.

Adam Fowler is a USF