6.20.13 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
Comments: 1

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UPDATE: Since this column was published, Mayor Foster has signed a proclamation recognizing Pride month in St. Petersburg.

I’m disappointed in Bill Foster, and the LGBT community as a whole should be too. The St. Petersburg Mayor has again declined to sign a proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride month in his city. It isn’t a surprise, mind you, since he nor his predecessor Rick Baker ever signed the proclamation before.

That’s 11 years straight, no pun intended, that the mayor of the city hosting the state’s largest LGBT Pride festival has essentially ignored the festival’s existence.

This year, I expected more from Mayor Foster. There has been a rash of equality measures moving through the country and the state. Marriage Equality has seen a historic push in a growing number of states and communities around the state – including St. Petersburg and Pinellas County – now have domestic partner registries for unmarried couples.

It’s past time to recognize the history of the LGBT community and its impact – socially, culturally and economically – on St. Petersburg.

But Foster continues to ignore the importance of LGBTs. Instead, he waffles on issues of equality and shows up at fundraising events simply for the photo ops. He spoke at the Equality Florida Gala earlier this year held within the Dali Museum and spoke about the cultural diversity of St. Petersburg and the importance of opposing discrimination. But Foster always seems one step shy of fully supporting the LGBT community.

On June 13, the St. Petersburg City Council made history when all eight officials signed the Pride proclamation. I was in the council chambers and witnessed the proud moment when councilman Jeff Danner noted the historical significance of a council that fully supported St. Pete Pride. Then, when Pride representatives posed with the supportive council for a photo, Foster positioned himself with the group, smiling broadly for my camera.

How can you celebrate a Pride proclamation but directly oppose it by not signing it yourself? A glance at the photo indicates his support. A look at the proclamation clearly says otherwise.

Following the council meeting, Foster spoke briefly with the group of Pride representatives outside of the chambers. He shook our hands and noted that St. Pete Pride was just too “adult-themed” for him to sign the proclamation. He didn’t elaborate. Maybe one “kid zone” full of bouncy castles on Central Avenue in previous years just wasn’t family-friendly enough.

There has been much made about the mayor from across the Bay recognizing St. Pete Pride this year. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has signed a proclamation recognizing Gay Pride Month and as this issue of Watermark was going to press, St. Pete Pride announced that Buckhorn plans to participate in the annual parade on June 29.

Say what you will about the “unofficial rivalry” between St. Petersburg and Tampa. But it says a lot when a mayor is willing to cross the water and participate in a Pride festival that’s not even held in his own city – especially when that city’s own mayor doesn’t plan to attend.

St. Pete Pride brings 100,000-plus people to Central Avenue and has grown to become one of Tampa Bay’s largest festivals. Reaching out to elected officials throughout the region is an important step for the growth and health of the festival, and just because St. Petersburg’s own mayor doesn’t recognize the LGBT community’s value doesn’t mean other mayors can’t join the fight for equality in a very public way.

Fortunately, a nearby mayor has done just that.

Foster should be embarrassed. Never mind that St. Pete Pride brings in nearly $11 million to his city every summer, which is typically a slow season for Florida. And maybe even overlook that St. Pete Pride puts a spotlight on his city that earns positive national – even global – attention.

But to shun the responsibility of recognizing an important segment of society and leaving it to “some other mayor” is incredibly arrogant.

Pride is about celebrating diversity, combating discrimination and recognizing the contributions and history of a part of the community that has struggled to have its voice heard for decades. Foster has turned his back on those principals of Pride, and no number of photo opportunities can hide that.

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