Gay Hillsborough County Commissioner Hones Leadership Skills at Harvard Program

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Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner can negotiate a successful bipartisan decision. A passionate speech to fellow commissioners in June led to the unanimous repeal of a draconian ordinance that barred the county from recognizing gay pride events.

Still, Beckner says, no matter how long you serve in public office there is always more to learn. To that end, Beckner applied and was accepted to the 2013 Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University in Boston.

The prestigious Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program, held each summer, teaches seasoned public officials to become better leaders, including finding difficult consensus in government bodies.

“I am a lifelong learner and firmly believe in continuing education,” Beckner said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the academic excellence of Harvard alongside other talented leaders from across the world.”

Tuition to the program, held July 8-26 this year, is $12,000. Beckner was one of six people selected as a David Bohnett Leadership Fellow by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, which covered $7,500 of his tuition. Beckner paid the remainder of the travel, tuition and personal expense fees out-of-pocket.

“The knowledge I gained will ultimately benefit the citizens of Hillsborough County that I was elected to serve,” Beckner said. “It was a worthwhile lifelong learning experience.”

Leaders from the U.S., New Zealand, Ireland and Australia participated. They included state and local elected leaders, city and county managers and administrators and chiefs of police and sheriffs. Eighty people were chosen from 600 applications. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings was also part of the class.

The curriculum covers issues commonly confronted by government officials, and includes structured conversations that enable participants to develop tools for navigating constituencies, partisan environments and multi-party negotiations.

Beckner discovered there were 13 other LGBT representatives in attendance. The group’s camaraderie led to valuable discussions on human dignity and respect for constituents, he said.

“We talked about how LGBT officials can work to create inclusive policies to ensure everyone is recognized and protected,” Beckner said. “I returned believing it’s only a matter of time before Hillsborough County has a human rights ordinance that reflects our diversity.”

Kevin Beckner won his seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in 2008 and was easily re-elected in 2012. He is the county’s first gay commissioner.

From our media partners WatermarkSusan Clary

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