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Wednesday, Sep 03, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Rights report shows open Tampa


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For perspective, we need to periodically look at ourselves in ways that innately matter. Ways that can’t be directly quantified by dollar signs.

Who are we? How do we treat each other? Who else is the welcome mat out for – in addition to those promising good jobs, proposing skyline changes and planning Rays’ relo scenarios?

As important as they obviously are, we’re not talking building permits, trade missions, Amports implications, RNC-convention impacts or Jeff Vinik game plans for Channelside right now. We’re talking about values. That which defines us.

That’s why that recent Human Rights Campaign report was so timely, relevant and, frankly, reinforcing. It was a contextual reminder that we’re doing more than talking a good game of inclusion.

Tampa has long been recognized for being a notably diverse city – given our history and geography. But that didn’t mean we were a beacon of tolerance or exemplar of seamless integration. This is still Hillsborough County, after all, where diversity can still mean seasonal farm workers or a buzzword for feel-good tokenism.

It also didn’t mean that we weren’t making progress. And now the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index has recognized that reality by ranking Tampa first in Florida in the promotion of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

Tampa, which was the first regional city to create a domestic partnership registry, was singled out for its anti-discrimination laws, its recognition of same-sex relationships, it’s relationship with the LGBT community and its law enforcement policies. It hardly hurts that the Tampa Police chief, Jane Castor, is gay.

And by doing the right thing, that welcome mat fortuitously beckons to more than the LGBT community. Enlightened self interest also resides here.

“It’s a message that Tampa is open for business and welcoming of talent,” pointed out Nadine Smith, the chief executive officer of Equality Florida. Her comment underscores that Tampa is competitive and open to new thinking in all its manifestations.

And it’s hardly pure happenstance that within a week of the Municipal Equality Index publication, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released data showing Tampa economically ascendant. The Tampa metro area now generates $120 billion in gross metropolitan product – or more than 15 percent of Florida’s total gross state product. It’s projected to grow by 3.2 percent in 2013, making the Tampa metro area the fastest-growing area in Florida.

An open approach to those who are different – and those who have different ideas – doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen because of a single registry creation. It happens as a good karma spin-off because enough leaders have had a vision that is as pragmatic as it is idealistic.

Driverless cars coming soon

Apparently the real world application of driverless-cars technology is now upon us. Or as Ananth Prasad, the secretary of Florida’s Department of Transportation, puts it: “This technology is not 22nd century. It is here.”

Oh.

Anyone else feel equally amazed and, well, sort of uneasy? As in all of us who – on direction from driver-training instructors and parents – grew up with a “both hands on the wheel” mantra, no matter how tempting those one-handed, hairpin turns were. Now we hear that drivers won’t have to get a grip. I thought back to the future involved a cool DeLorean.

We also hear that Florida, which can’t get really serious about texting drivers, is one of three states that will allow automated vehicles to be tested on public roads. Presumably it will include those rural interstates where the maximum speed limit is likely to increase to 75 mph.

So what’s next for Sunshine State roads scholars? Maybe a rationale that texting-while-driving is really a driverless-car shake-down cruise.

A Harry Potter stamp?

Coming soon to a mail slot near you: the Harry Potter Forever postage stamp.

Sure, the U.S. Postal Service, which last year lost $5 billion, continues its budget bleeding apace. We all get the need to do, well, something. But you don’t have to be an outraged philatelist to be taken aback by the blatant, pop-culture commercialism. At least Elvis Presley, whose visage has seen its share of canceled markings over the years, made cultural as well as financial sense. He was a non-fictional, American original.

So, what’s the back story here? Did Lady Gaga turn down an offer? Why not LeBron James? How about 50 Cent? Hulk Hogan? Snookie? Sponge Bob? Was Whitey Bulger too generational?

But the Harry Potter Forever stamp could notably catch on in Florida, at least for its first year. At least while Lord Voldemort is still in office.

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