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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
South Tampa News

GaYbor's 'recognition' in context

Published:

Let's not kid ourselves. The Hillsborough County Commission - even sans Topical Storms Ronda - is not undergoing some ideological makeover or morphing into the avatar of tolerance.

But, yes, it was newsworthy when the seven-member commission signed the proclamation saluting GaYbor Days, the annual event that promotes this area as gay friendly - to tourists as well as business owners. And, indeed, the commission, which still exceeds its quota of fundamentalist-fawning conservatives, has done the right thing. Finally. Actually, it has done the expedient, practical thing. Close enough.

This is not about diversity any more than it's about acceptance and tolerance. It's about the consummate commandment, found in neither the Old or New Testament, even for public officials who religiously practice pandering politics: "Thou shalt not pass up marketplace opportunities."

And for good measure: "How intolerably dumb will we continue to look if we don't make this nominal gesture of good will about recognizing community contributors after refusing to sign off for the last five years? Chambers of commerce have sent letters of support. So has the White House. It's our county and we as a commission can't formally recognize the value of an economic infusion? Why? Because it's incompatible with 'family values'? What 'families'? The Cleavers? The Waltons? The Osbournes? The Cheneys? The Khardasians? The Kemples?"

This is a group, mind you, that would proudly sign a proclamation saluting a paint ball tourney, an AK-47 show or a monster truck rally if it thought it would yield economic benefits.

The three-day GaYbor Days event, which included a film festival, stage shows, parties and shopping, is now hosted by a coalition of nearly 300 Tampa Bay businesses. It has become a marketing tool for Ybor as well as the Tampa Bay area. GaYbor Days now draws a weekend crowd of about 10,000, many of them out-of-town visitors. And they spend real money - not $3 bills. GaYbor's intent should also be Tampa Bay's and the Hillsborough County Commission's intent - seriously tapping into the $85 billion annual gay and lesbian travel industry. Economic diversity of the first order.

And while the unanimous proclamation saluting GaYbor gives shout-outs for economic vitality and neighborhood revitalization, perhaps a future one could add another whereas clause - one that includes a "thank you." Tampa has no shot at the burgeoning GLBT market without GaYbor as a catalyst and epicenter. That's because the commission still puts a governor on progress with its less-than-tolerant stance on gay pride displays and a domestic partner registry.

But, then again, a commission that has finally manned up to do the pragmatically obvious on GaYbor Days may be open to additional precedents that don't exactly require ideological U-turns. The political face-saving rationales would be familiar: Whatever image improvement helps promote economic development.

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Much has been made of the tourist boom in Pinellas County. In fact, March 2013 was the best tourism month in Pinellas' history. There were myriad factors, including an early Easter, an improved domestic economy and increased targeting of the New York market.

But the biggest percentage hike - 7.5 percent - was in European visitors, the ones we especially like because they don't come here on the cheap. And the biggest reason their numbers are up: The success of Edelweiss Air's nonstop flights from Zurich, Switzerland, to Tampa International Airport. It's the Tampa Bay area's first direct route to continental Europe in 15 years. As a result, local Swiss and Eastern European numbers have never been higher.

It's yet another reminder of how synergistic this market - from Ybor City to world-class beaches - truly is. And for all of our differences - from transportation approaches to facilitating a Rays' future - we need each other like never before.

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Unless plans change, this time next year Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor will be retired. The salutes and commendations for her watch will have been well earned. Key crime statistics continue heading in the right direction. The GOP Convention was incident-free. TPD is highly respected.

But while it may be old news and largely forgotten by then, you can bet the chief is less than pleased that too much of her time is spent working with the FBI on that notorious, Love Sponge-Schnitt alleged DUI-setup case. While this sleazy incident shouldn't reflect on more than the individuals directly involved, it can inevitably cast unfair aspersions on a department. No, it won't change Chief Castor's legacy, but, yes, you can bet she is not a happy camper right now.

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This may be a reach - but so be it. It's no secret that a key issue among teachers continues to be respect. As in, do they get enough for what they're increasingly challenged by, as society's issues accompany students through the classroom portals each day? The pay, arguably, is insufficient, the hours long, standardized tests overemphasized, autonomy lacking and professionalism unacknowledged.

Then I see a TV kicker or a newspaper photo of an educator kissing a pig or being "slimed" with green goo as some sort of motivational payoff for student accomplishment. And I think: This can't help. Surely there's a more appropriate - and certainly less undignified - way of motivating students to read more books or achieve better attendance than this. Surely.

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