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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Joe Brown Columns

You can take pride in being open minded

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The annual St. Pete Pride parade will take place this weekend, and it’s no longer a big deal. I don’t mean in attendance, which runs in the tens of thousands. I mean the outcry expressed by some before and after the first event in 2003 has all but vanished.

In the past, many city leaders kept their distance from Florida’s largest gay pride parade. This year Mayor Rick Kriseman not only endorsed it but actually will take part in it. It only makes sense in a city that has three openly gay city council members.

Kriseman, along with many other elected officials, probably decided he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history. That’s how things always have advanced in this nation. First there’s fierce opposition based on things like “states’ rights” or “traditional values.” Then today’s big deal becomes tomorrow’s shameful past, and we wonder what all the fuss was about.

Since June 1970, gay pride parades have been an annual event in many cities. That year, activists held a rally in New York City’s Central Park to commemorate the Stonewall riots that took place a year earlier after police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village (at that time, raids on nightclubs catering to homosexuals were common in many cities). It became a catalyst for similar events across the United States and the world. St. Petersburg will be only one of many host cities.

I was talking to a friend the other day about how far we and the nation have progressed when it comes to gay rights. He commented that we’ve advanced faster in five years on gay rights than we did in 100 years on civil rights. Both of us agreed that the hot-button equal rights issue of the day, same-sex marriage, will become the law of the land in our lifetimes, and that we’ll have to accept it. Twenty years ago neither of us could imagine such a thing, but today we’re okay with it.

As has been the case historically, not everyone will be on board the progress train. My immediate family provides a good example.

A few years ago, one of my nieces came out (maybe in a few years we can get rid of that term). My mother, a very Christian woman, accepted it with no problem. My niece’s father, my brother, is a different story. In his delusional thinking, he believes it’s a temporary lifestyle choice and that she’ll get over it. When she graduated from college last month, he refused to attend, which still has me upset. When I try to talk to him, he doesn’t want to discuss it. Hopefully he, along with the rest of the nation, will see the light.

Not that it came that easy for me. The first time I was really challenged on the issue was 13 years ago while watching the premier episode of the HBO series “Six Feet Under” when about halfway through the show two guys kissed each other very passionately. I gasped and wondered if I could continue watching the show, which had about a dozen more airings. I ended up watching the entire season and those that followed. I’ll admit still to being uncomfortable at times watching two guys making out, but tolerance isn’t about likability.

In 2002, by a 6-2 vote, the St. Petersburg City Council added sexual orientation to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance, which protects gays, lesbians and bisexuals from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Mayor Rick Baker opposed it, but didn’t veto it. The addition didn’t mean you had to like homosexuality. It simply mandated they had equal rights under the law.

I’ve talked to some folks who were uncomfortable with some of the debauchery that’s gone on during past St. Pete Pride parades. I reminded them that I’ve seen much worse at the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa. In both cases, it takes some getting used to.

Years ago the Gasparilla parade came under fire for its lack of diversity. St. Pete Pride, on the other hand, celebrates it to the max. You don’t have to embrace it, as the mayor is doing, but it’s a reminder that change is inevitable whether you like it or not.

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