Anti-gay rhetoric has a long history in Florida politics

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Florida would seem to be a progressive state based on the number of large companies supporting LGBT equality, at least internally. Walt Disney World comes to mind.

But in an age where, according to a recent CNN poll in early October, fewer than half of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, Florida’s political landscape remains home to a bevy of anti-LGBT politicians.

Many of those politicians—and those supporting them—have reared their heads as recently as August with anti-gay remarks and policies. Despite the steps made with LGBT characters on television, in politics and in more inclusive churches, there are several political enemies of LGBT rights that should be feared, even in 2010.

Scott free
The Florida Governor’s race is now calm  compared to the primary battle between two staunch anti-LGBT politicians. Political newcomer Rick Scott has made no secret of his views of LGBT Floridians and has an anti-gay message on the front page of his own campaign website.

“I’m an across-the-board conservative,” Scott says. “I am pro-life and support traditional marriage. We need to protect our values as well as our tax dollars.”

To reinforce the point, the site also lists that Scott believes “that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

Scott also goes so far as opposing gay adoption, which could potentially harm recent court and state decisions to end the three-decade-old ban. During a press junket in July, Scott told reporters that, “I believe a child should be raised by a man and a woman. I think it’s better for the child.”

RScottQuote_712245818.jpgDuring the gubernatorial primary campaign, Scott and his opponent, current Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, waged a war against each other that boiled down to which one hated the LGBT community more. As Queerty.com pointed out, Scott’s campaign attacked McCollum for “endors[ing] pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights candidate Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008 and was [being] a Giuliani campaign leader in Florida.” It should be noted, however, that Giuliani said he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage, noting the difference in changing the legal and constitutional definition of “marriage.”

McCollum’s campaign responded to the smear by hiring Mary Cheney (lesbian daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney) to reveal that Scott invests in an online dating site called QuePasa.com, “one of the world’s largest trilingual Latino Social Networks online” for non-U.S. users, according to the site. QuePasa.com has both straight and gay users—a fact that the McCollum campaign found relevant enough to use as an attack against Scott.

Scott continued his attacks by simply pointing out that McCollum had hired psychologist and Southern Baptist minister George Rekers—former officer and scientific advisor of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization offering conversion therapy intended to change homosexuals into heterosexuals—as an expert witness in a case defending Florida’s gay adoption ban. Rekers was paid $120,000 for his testimony before it was discovered that the minister had hired a “rentboy” to accompany him on an overseas vacation.

McCollum’s witness choice was criticized by Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith.

“Rekers is part of a small cadre of bogus pseudo-scientists that charge these exorbitant fees to peddle information they know has been discredited time and time again,” Smith says. “And people like McCollum will pay top dollar for it. There’s a reason why he can’t find credible sources. Because credible people don’t believe this ban should exist.”

While the finger-pointing by Scott and McCollum has ended now that Scott has won the Primary race, both are still a threat to equal rights. Scott is in position to take his “traditional marriage” stance to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, while McCollum is still attorney general of the state of Florida. In hiring others to help with an anti-gay agenda, McCollum could have found help in a kindred spirit that holds no office, but certainly uses his money to help those who would hold the same anti-gay views.

Outside the arena
History shows that politics and money are often tied together. That’s why even non-politicians can be deemed a threat to LGBT equality, if they have enough available cash to be persuasive.

Rich DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic and co-founder of the Amway corporation, is much more a businessman than a politician and became involved in the South Florida District 92 state representative campaign by using his vast cash flow. DeVos donated funds to Democratic incumbent state rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed. Reed’s opponent, Justin Flippen, is openly gay and was campaigning to become the first openly gay State Representative, but was defeated by Clarke-Reed in August—thanks in large part to DeVos’s efforts to spearhead campaign donations to Clarke-Reed.

It should be noted that Clarke-Reed has committed a large portion of her campaign to “Equality for all Floridians” and is not considered an anti-LGBT candidate.

“It is unbelievable that the representative for the one of Florida’s best known LGBT communities, Wilton Manors, is in the pockets of some of our state’s biggest homophobes,” Equality Florida said during the primary elections.

By the end of the primary, Clark-Reed had a $10,000 fundraising advantage,

This is far from the first time DeVos used his wealth to advance an anti-gay agenda.

In 2008, DeVos contributed $100,000 to the campaign to pass Amendment 2. The Amendment, which passed with 62.7% of the vote, changed the Florida Constitution to ban same-sex families from marriage rights.

When asked by MLive.com why he chose to contribute to the defeat of same-sex marriage in Florida, DeVos responded by saying, “That’s just a sacred issue of respecting marriage. It was not an anti-gay thing.”

He went on to say that the LGBT community has targeted him since his tenure on President Ronald Reagan’s AIDS Commission.

“From that point on, that’s when [the LGBT community] were hanging me in effigy because I wasn’t sympathetic to all of their requests for special treatment,” DeVos said. “Because at that time it was always somebody else’s fault. And I said, ‘You are responsible for your actions, too, you know. Conduct yourself properly,’ which is a pretty solid Christian principle.”

He added that requests for equality voiced by the LGBT community were simply requests for “special treatment.

“I accept who you are. Live your life. I will respect you,” he said. “But don’t keep asking for favors. Don’t ask for a concession on the marriage issue, which is not vital to them, in my opinion. They’ve made it a vital issue because they want to. Call it something else. Call it anything you want to. But marriage is a sacred document, okay? A sacred sacrament in the church and in the world. Don’t mess with it. Go do something else.”

Amendment 2 brought out anti-LGBT voices on many levels of politics, even in school board races.

Before losing the primary race for Hillsborough County School Board to April Griffin, Terry Kemple campaigned for the amendment.

Kemple also asked donors to his campaign to sign an anti-gay pledge and continues to fight to eliminate all gay-straight alliances from schools. Despite the recent suicides of gay teens and college students, Kemple has still not changed his message.

The list of those in office standing in the way of LGBT equality could take pages upon pages of newsprint. But in Jacksonville this year, one standout politician feared by those seeking equality is Clay Yarborough.

Yarborough made news in April when he began questioning Jacksonville Human Rights Commission nominees—most notably University of North Florida professor Pervez Ahmad and Florida Coastal School of Law professor Susan Harthill—asking regarding gay marriage, God, Islam and prayer in public places. Hartnill refused to answer Yarborough’s questions, which both nominees said were irrelevant to the position they were nominated for, and found her appointment to the Commission blocked by Yarborough.

In an interview with the Jacksonville newspaper Florida Times-Union, Yarborough showed his hand by answering the same questions he posed to the nominees.

When asked if gay marriage should be permitted in Florida, Yarborough answered, “No, I don’t believe it should be permitted. I don’t believe its right,” he said.

He went on to say that his opposition to same-sex marriage didn’t mean he hated LGBTs, but he did add, “It’s not good. It’s not right.”

When later asked if homosexuals should be able to hold a public office in Florida, Yarborough simply responded, “I would prefer they did not.”

And finally, one of the most notorious examples of anti-gay politics lies in Bob Allen, former Florida State Representative for the 32nd district. Allen not only supported the bans on gay adoption and marriage during his time in office, but also advocated enhanced penalties for “unnatural and lascivious acts.” That stance would come back to haunt him in 2007 when he was arrested and convicted of offering $20 for the opportunity to perform fellatio on an undercover male police officer in the restroom in a public park. Allen resigned from the House of Representatives in November of that year.

It is a long history of intolerance, bullying, and denial of human rights that many Florida politicians and their supporters have perpetrated by advancing the agenda of “traditional values.”

It highlights that knowing who to support this November is just as important as knowing who to fear.

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