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Gay community speaks loudly in Tampa Bay

Whether it’s gay marriage, civil unions or simply pride, the gay issue is a hot potato in the hands of politicians. In Hillsborough County specifically, where gay pride has been severely attacked over the last few months, the gay community is trying to speak out to regain its rights.

In June, by a 5-1 vote, the Hillsborough County Commission enacted a policy banning public displays of gay pride in the entire county.

The vote followed an incident at West Gate Regional Library where a book display in support of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month (June) was removed due to patrons’ complaints and relocated to a less-visible part of the library. The library officials claim the display was removed due to a misunderstanding.

Spearheaded by Ronda Storms, the commission adopted a “policy that Hillsborough County government abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events, little g, little p.”

But in a community as large and diverse as Tampa Bay, it’s easier to cause a ruckus than Storms thought. Almost immediately, Equality Florida, a statewide gay and lesbian advocacy group, organized a protest in a church in Seminole Heights, an area famous for its homosexually oriented residents.

Nearly four months later and Tampa Bay is still buzzing with dissent. Last Sunday at Skipper’s Smokehouse, a local organization formed specifically to fight Storms and her commission (called Just Say Know). BAN THIS! was organized, an event featuring more than 20 artists uniting against the ruling.

Recently ending at Covivant Gallery in Seminole Heights was Family Values Portrait Project, an exhibit of photographs featuring gay, lesbian and transsexual families. The exhibit, and gallery, won kudos in one of the Bay area’s most recognized awards – Weekly Planet’s Best of the Bay.

Starting tomorrow, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival kicks off more than a week of festivities, which include live performances, a gay and lesbian business expo and nearly 90 films that will be shown during the 10-day event. This is the festival’s 16th year and, as every year, the response is estimated to be huge.

It’s refreshing to see that in a world blind to pressing issues there are still groups of people willing to fight for their rights. Storms’ ban is an infringement of First Amendment rights and is an action of bigotry. Everyone – gay, straight or otherwise – who believes in upholding Constitutional rights should fight this law of ignorance and discrimination, and a good place to start is here at home.