6.10.10 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
Comments: 0

SteveBlanchardHeadshotSo Bill Foster wrote a letter welcoming St. Pete Pride attendees to his city. On its surface, that sounds like quite an accolade for the new St. Petersburg mayor. In a city that celebrates the state’s largest LGBT Pride each year, it seems only natural that a mayor would reach out to the community that is pouring money into the community.

Foster placed the letter in the official St. Pete Pride program, published by Watermark and St. Pete Pride. Historically, it is a big deal. Never before has a mayor of the city even acknowledged the massive festival and promenade. Former mayor Rick Baker refused to sign the proclamation declaring June “St. Pete Pride Month” and it has been reported that he would even leave the council chambers when that proclamation was read.

So for the simple acknowledgement, we should feel somewhat grateful to Foster. But after reading the letter, I feel as though it’s a lukewarm welcome that’s missing too many key features.

Consider this:

His letter in the program welcomes attendees to the city but it never names the event or mentions the large numbers of LGBT people who reside there. Instead, the carefully crafted letter talks about the need for individuals to be “afforded the right to be equal partners in building a community.” All of the right words are there, but the order isn’t exactly correct.

Call me pessimistic or maybe even heavy-handed. But Foster’s letter is an extended olive branch that has lost all of its leaves. It’s an empty peace offering.

Many defend Foster, saying he has a conservative base to please. When he campaigned for the mayoral seat in 2009, he adamantly opposed St. Pete Pride and made it clear that he would not sign the proclamation. Despite that, his presence at a mayoral debate the gay-friendly King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church showed he wouldn’t ignore us, and he addressed the concerns of LGBT business leaders at Georgie’s Alibi last fall.

But is that enough? No.

This issue of Watermark is focused on the 8th Annual St. Pete Pride. The ever-growing event is expected to be bigger and better than ever with an expected attendance of nearly 90,000 descending upon the city’s Grand Central District on June 26. The economic impact alone of such a crowd is mind-boggling.

I wanted to know what Foster thought about St. Pete Pride, its impact on the city and its influence on its LGBT residents. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to discuss it.

When I contacted his office—twice—for a story appearing in this issue, his scheduling secretary simply left a returned message on my voice mail saying that he declined the interview.

There was no explanation. There wasn’t even an inquiry into the story’s specifics. I’m guessing he heard the words “St. Pete Pride” and was immediately turned off. My friends involved with planning the event would disagree, I’m sure. According to them, the mayor has been involved “behind the scenes” and has helped to expedite the planning of the annual celebration.

But to me, that’s like celebrating someone’s wedding from the parking lot. You can say you were there, but if the marriage ends in divorce, you can argue that you weren’t comfortable with the union in the first place.

Foster reminds me of Gov. Charlie Crist. The now-Independent candidate for U.S. Senate has said he supports the state’s law banning gays and lesbians from adopting children and the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But in the same breath, he’ll tell you he’s a “live and let live” kind of guy.

Both men fail to realize you can’t have it both ways.

The LGBT community has made some amazing strides in recent years. A handful of states recognize our marriages, President Obama has declared that hospitals must allow visitation rights to same-sex couples and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy seems to be on a fast track.

The time of tip-toeing around the LGBT community has passed. Foster needs to decide where he stands on LGBT issues.

Now is the time for him to follow the example of his counterpart Pam Iorio on the other side of the bay. Maybe then he’ll see that accepting all of the citizens in his city is better for his political career than marginalizing a selected group.

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