There were only 20 or so people gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square across from the Hillsborough County Commission chambers on April 16, but they had plenty to say. The small rally, organized by the ACLU and GetEqual, was in response to the county commission's ongoing refusal to adopt a domestic partnership registry granting a handful of rights to unmarried couples, both gay and straight.
Jarrod Scarbrough, State Lead with GetEqual, said he was happy with the turnout, even though numbers weren't as large as he had hoped.
“I think it's the time of day,” he said of the 4 p.m. gathering. “We weren't expecting a large crowd to begin with but I feel good about who was here.”
Scarbrough spoke to the gathered crowd and also introduced several speakers, among them Renee Warmack, Commissioner Kevin Beckner's legislative aide, who explained that Beckner was not unable to attend, and he sent her to represent him.
“Commissioner Beckner wants to ensure each of you that he supports the establishment of a Hillsborough County domestic partnership registry,” Warmack said. “This is an issue of fairness and basic human rights that transcends political boundaries and can positively impact the lives of all citizens who are in a loving, committed relationship.”
Beckner was the only commissioner to send a representative to the rally. He wasn't, however, the only commissioner mentioned.
Al Higginbotham, who many see as the commissioner most opposed to the registry and responsible for swaying three other commissioners to vote against it, was directly criticized by Ed Lally, speaking for Equality Florida.
“Al Higginbotham wants his rights and doesn't want to give them to us,” Lally said as he held a sign with the initials DPR on it, representing ‘We Deserve Protections and Respect.’ “The Hillsborough County Commission is holding the entire county back. We are tired of waiting for equality and if you don't do the right thing we will vote you out in 2014.”
Lally explained that Equality Florida's new slogan is “Tired of waiting for equality” and that the organization will continue to fight for equal protections.
The crowd showed a small sample of the diversity of the county, with attendees as young as grade school students on hand. Representing the younger generation was Lindsay Betros, an intern with the ACLU.
“I'm here to offer the students' perspective," she explained. “College students are aware of this and see it as hindering their rights. Those I've talked to can't believe the commissioners would vote against something that is written into our constitution. This is an 'everybody' issue, not just a gay or straight issue and we need to keep fighting for it, and we will win.”
The rally lasted about 45 minutes and local ABC affiliate WFTS filmed a portion for its evening news broadcast.
Pastor Joe Parramore of New Journey Fellowship and Ministries in Tampa is hopeful that someday the Hillsborough County Commission will follow the lead of so many other counties and create a domestic partnership registry. But he admits it will be a battle.
“This isn't the first challenge humanity has faced," he said, speaking of LGBT equality. "This is one more cycle we're forced to go through. Fellow human beings deserve the same rights as others. This DPR is very real to me and my partner of 24 years and I are entitled to the protections it grants us.”
From our media partner WatermarkSteve Blanchard, Watermark