Commission Impossible: Kevin Beckner raised the flag and our expectations of what we hope for from our politicians

By : Jeremy Williams
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The year 2016 saw the end of an era in Hillsborough County as we bid farewell to District 6 County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

Beckner was elected for his first term in 2008, and then won reelection in 2012, becoming Hillsborough’s first openly gay commissioner. The county was a very different place then.

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Kevin Beckner during the primaries of his first run for Hillsborough County Commissioner. Photo from Watermark archives.

“There was a lack of respect for the diversity in our community,” Beckner says. “That started to change when they elected me. To see them move forward and elect their first openly gay politician – coming together to break down barriers of discrimination and these walls that were up stopping progress –seeing those walls start to get broke down, it was exciting to be a part of.”

Beckner’s two terms saw a lot of change for the LGBTQ community. He was able to get the ban on Pride celebrations lifted, had sexual orientation and gender identity added into the county’s Human Rights Ordinance, assisted in getting equal healthcare benefits for LGBTQ employees and their families and worked to create a countywide domestic partnership program.

“I think we really accomplished a lot, and I think that is a reflection of what we have accomplished as a country,” Beckner says. “From the ending of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to marriage equality, I think the last eight years have been amazingly progressive as a community and a country.”

Beckner stepped up to the call from the LGBTQ community in June after 49 people were gunned down and another 53 were injured at Pulse in Orlando.

“I thought it was really important – not just as the LGBTQ community, but as the Tampa Bay community – that we come together to recognize and remember the tragedy that occurred in Orlando,” he says.

Beckner argued to have the LGBTQ Pride flag flown out front the Hillsborough County Center after the shooting and to keep it up for the remainder of June.

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Kevin Beckner’s supporters getting out the vote. Photo from Watermark archives.

“It was a way to symbolize the start of the healing process, I think,” Beckner says. “We are all one people and one community, and I think the raising of the rainbow flag appropriately represented that.”

Beckner had almost the full support of his colleagues. The measure to raise the flag passed 5-1. Beckner did not have as much luck in getting the commissioners to join him in recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride and History Month in Hillsborough.

“When I proposed recognizing June as a Pride and History Month, it was my expectations that we would have a robust conversation about that and I expected one of my colleagues to second that motion,” Beckner says. “It was quite a surprise to me that they had all succumb to the politics of it.”

For all its ups and downs, Beckner will remember 2016 as a year when he saw our community come together like never before.

“Leading up to that last day as a commissioner, I was reflecting on the work that we’d done,” Beckner says. “I realized what we got through as a community. We have really come a long way.”

Great communities are great because of remarkable leaders.

Gallery photos from Watermark’s archives over Kevin Beckner’s eight years in office.

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