After two terms as Hillsborough’s first openly gay commissioner, Kevin Beckner is taking some time to rest before getting back into the ring

By : Jeremy Williams
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TAMPA – For eight years, Kevin Beckner has served as the District 6 Commissioner for Hillsborough County, coming in on the wave of President Obama’s first term of a country that wanted change.

“Like so many at the time, I was not satisfied with the direction our government was going, especially our local government,” Beckner says. “I started thinking of getting in after 2005 when the county commission put a ban on gay pride. That was a tipping point for me. I felt like our local government was not focusing on the issues that were most relevant to the issues of our community.”

Beckner was the first openly gay commissioner for Hillsborough County. While not the only reason he ran, it was one of the issues he felt wasn’t being addressed by the commission.

“They certainly were gridlocked when it came to transportation, infrastructure, appropriate planning for growth,” Beckner says. “But there was just a general lack of respect for the diversity in our community. That was the beginning of what really got me involved. If you want to really make a difference, you have to have a seat at the table.”

In his two terms as commissioner, Beckner saw a renaissance in the liberal movement, both locally and nationally.

“When I started in office, we had a ban on gay pride in our community; there were no protections for the LGBTQ community as far as employment discrimination; within government, there was no representation for the LGBTQ community; and certainly as a whole, we lacked benefits or recognition for the community,” Beckner says.

Beckner went to work getting the county ban on gay pride celebrations lifted, amending the Human Rights Ordinance to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, helping put a county wide domestic partnership program in place and assisting in getting all county employees equal healthcare benefits.

“We have made tremendous progress as it pertains to equality in our community,” Beckner says. “We have marriage equality. People can serve openly in the military. We have made progress, but there is still quite a bit more work to do.”

After last week’s general election results, Beckner says now more than ever is the time to fight back.

“I don’t know how the impact of this election in general for the LGBTQ community can be seen as great, but I don’t think we should lose sight of some of our victories,” Beckner says. “We elected a Democratic state attorney in David Warren, who I have gotten to know. I think that’s going to open opportunities now in fixing the criminal justice system. I think that was a win for our community. “

Beckner says after the results of this election, making sure we are able to protect the accomplishments we have made so far as a community is vital over the next couple of years.

“I foresee a lot of legislation that could come forward that could discriminate against based on religious freedom, so we have to watch for that,” Beckner says. “The same time I tell people we can’t live in fear for what might be, we have to live in the reality of what is. We have to be able to separate the rhetoric we heard on the campaign trail from what is coming into reality.”

As his term winds and Beckner hands the reins of District 6 over to his successor Patricia “Pat” Kemp, don’t expect him to go off quietly into the night.

“I right now am going to decompress, spend more time with my spouse and family, and then really look at where I can continue to utilize my experience, both in politics and life, and continue to have a meaningful impact on our community,” Beckner says.

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