Kevin Beckner led the way in Hillsborough’s evolution toward LGBT acceptance

By : Steve Blanchard
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Tampa – With remarkable leadership by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough County took steps in 2014 to distance itself from the awkward socially conservative stereotype it had held near and dear for more than two decades.

At Beckner’s request, the commission voted unanimously to approve a domestic partnership registry—which failed in 2013—add gender identity and sexual orientation to its human rights ordinance and provide healthcare benefits to legal spouses and domestic partners of county employees.

Those changes, Beckner contends, came from approaching issues of equality from a business aspect. Many times, he found those businesses to be ahead of the government when it comes to LGBT issues.

“There was a lot of research, and work and outreach within the business community,” Beckner says while researching these issues of equality. “It was a humbling experience. I would talk to these businesses and ask about the importance of diversity and they’d look at me like, ‘Don’t you already get [the importance of diversity]?’ A lot of them laughed.”

With the support of the business community—90% of Fortune 500 companies support LGBT equality issues—Beckner was able to unite the Hillsborough County Commission on all three equality issues he presented this year.

“What was always absent before was the business community,” Beckner says. “These measures would fail on the sole platform of equality and what would happen is the LGBT activists would come out and so would the Christian right.”

Presenting things in an economic development light was the missing piece, and Hillsborough County is suddenly progressive in a way that was unimaginable for many when Beckner first took office in 2009. Beckner says that with the county’s human rights ordinance, there was never even a moment where the county considered dropping the amendment including discrimination based on gender identity.

“We were too far along with it,” he says. “The City of Tampa already included it in their ordinances and what we had was people being treated differently within the same county. People in Tampa were protected and then you had people living in the unincorporated county that were treated differently. The main goal was to make sure every single citizen is treated equally with dignity and respect, so the ordinance had to include everybody.”

With 2015 fast approaching and with equality issues finally settled in Hillsborough County, Beckner hopes to focus on the county and region’s transportation woes, and initiatives for at-risk youth.

“We have to solve this transportation crisis,” Beckner says. “It’s a crisis in the county and in the region. I also have a violence prevention initiative called Safe and Sound Hillsborough that is a five-year pilot. It’s to make the county a safer place.”

Personally, Beckner has some goals for the new year—mostly health and fitness related. When asked about marriage equality possibly coming to Florida in January, he was optimistic. If marriage is legalized, he and his spouse, Gil Sainz, will finally be legally recognized. The two were married in Canada in 2005.

“With the Windsor case in 2013, we were kind of swept in with everyone else,” says Beckner, adding that the couple filed their federal income taxes jointly for the first time this year. “Originally we wanted to get married symbolically in Canada and then get married in Florida. But since we’ll be recognized, we can’t get married again unless we get divorced. That part was never part of the plan.”

He’s also excited about a Pride event returning to Hillsborough County when Tampa Pride holds its inaugural celebration March 28.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says of the festival. “I certainly plan to support it and will absolutely be a part of it. With the right people at the helm and the right organizations supporting it, I would expect that it will slowly grow and regain the prominence it once had. But that will take time and a lot of dedication and commitment from the LGBT community here.”

For more on Beckner’s initiatives for 2015, visit CommissionerBeckner.com.

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