Polking Around

by Kemp Brinson

Tell Polk County to Support Pride Week

Email the Polk County Commissioners

A few weeks ago, the Polk County Commission refused to even consider a proposed resolution recognizing Polk Pride week beginning on June 13, 2016. At the time, I chalked it up to typical Polk County backwards thinking and elected to do nothing. I think a lot of us did. We were wrong.

At least one person was not silent — Polk Pride vice president Kerri McCoy went to the podium and read the proposed proclamation herself. The commissioners sat there and said nothing. Shame on them, and shame on us for not speaking up.

Ms. McCoy asked them to address the failure next year. But that is too late.

In light of the tragedy in Orlando, now, as always, the LGBTQ citizens of Polk County need to know that they are welcome here. As I type this, the community is coming together at a vigil to show solidarity with the victims of the Orlando attack. The cities of Lakeland and Winter Haven are behind them, and I applaud them for it. There is no reason why the commission should not admit it was wrong, and retroactively adopt the proclamation recognizing LGBTQ Pride Week in Polk County.

Please, write you county commissioners and let them know that you encourage them to adopt the Polk Pride resolution.

My letter is below. I chose to focus on the economic aspects of this, because I think that that message will resonate the most with the commission. But please make your voice heard in your own words. Make our leaders know that we want Polk County to be a place that is welcoming.

Our County Commissioners are:

Here is my letter.

Commissioners:

I was appalled at your recent failure to adopt the proclamation recognizing the upcoming Polk Pride celebration. I wish that I had written much sooner.

This should be a straightforward economic issue for you. We have a new high-tech university in town, and, presumably, you want our region to benefit from it. You want high tech businesses here. You want Florida Poly graduates to remain here when they graduate.

Where do those businesses and graduates stand on the issue of LGBT acceptance? You should already know that young college graduates and high-tech businesses overwhelmingly support the LGBT community. You know it is an important issue to them. Are you helping encourage them to locate here or discouraging them?

I recognize that some of you may have strong personal convictions about the moral implications of homosexuality. I disagree, and that’s fine.

I believe that you fundamentally misunderstand what gay pride is all about. It’s very simple. All you have to do is recognize that here in Polk County, all people are welcome. That’s it. You can maintain your personal convictions while still supporting Polk Pride.

In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, I imagine that the Polk Pride festivities will be bittersweet. The gay community will grieve for a long time over this.

So stand with them. Stand with the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, and children of those who were senselessly murdered. Stand with the gay and lesbian police officers, firefighters, civil servants, and business-people in Polk County who have been reminded that it is still sometimes not even safe to go out and have a drink if you are gay. Let them know that you welcome them in our community, and that you support the solidarity that Polk Pride stands for.

The message you have sent thus far is that gay people, those who support them (including me), and, crucially, the high tech businesses that employ them, will be more welcome somewhere else.

You are on the wrong side of history on this issue. You are hurting the long-term economic future of our county, and telling the victims of this horrible tragedy to look elsewhere for solidarity.

Don’t blame your failure, as Ms. Bell recently did, on a fear that the KKK or some other hate group will want you to pass one of their resolutions. Unlike, say, an advertisement you sell, Polk Pride is asking you to engage in government speech. As a government speaker, you are free, under the first amendment, to condemn hate groups and condone love. I am sure that Mr. Craig will tell you that you do not have to adopt resolutions from hate groups over this, and this excuse certainly has not stopped you from adopting many other resolutions for non-profits that ask you for your solidarity.

Fix your mistake. Please don’t make me ashamed to be a citizen of this county. Pass the Polk Pride Resolution. It is better late than never.

Sincerely,

Kemp Brinson

Winter Haven

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