City commission hopefuls discuss gay rights

They attended a Pride Community Center forum


Published: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:41 p.m.

Gainesville City Commission candidates weighed in on gay marriage as well as homophobia against a mayoral candidate last year at a forum Monday night, showing some divisions on local and state issues that impact a vocal minority in the city.

About 50 people showed up at the Pride Community Center on Northwest 13th Street for the forum, sponsored by the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida, to get a sense of the candidates in the relatively early days of the campaigns before the March 15 elections.

The state's ban on adoption by gays was overturned by an appellate court in the fall. Gov. Rick Scott remains opposed.

While the city has a domestic partnership registry for all couples, Abby Goldsmith, the moderator of the forum, asked the candidates if the state should recognize same-sex marriages. Most said yes.

"We're past time of granting full equal rights to marriage to anybody and everybody who wants to have them — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender," said Susan Bottcher, a candidate for the District 3 seat, representing mostly southwest Gainesville.

The other two District 3 candidates in attendance — Ozzy Angulo and Jimmy Harnsberger — agreed. Two others in that race, Ramon Trujillo and Rob Zeller, who said he was sick, didn't attend.

In the race for District 2, representing northwest Gainesville, Robert Krames said he stood by Floridians who in 2008 voted to ban gay marriage, though he said he was not opposed to civil unions.

His opponents, James Ingle and Lauren Poe, the incumbent, disagreed with him.

"I think it's absurd that we haven't moved past this yet," Poe said.

A fourth candidate in the race, Todd Chase, didn't attend.

In the at-large race, there was mostly agreement among candidates Jeffrey G. Fiedler; Thomas Hawkins, the incumbent; and Don Marsh. Marsh, though, said he supported civil marriages "as long as religious organizations aren't forced to violate their conscience."

Two candidates in that race also didn't attend — Dikassa Dixon and Richard Selwach.

Compared with 2009 and 2010, the city elections this go-around have little to do with equal rights on the surface, and candidates are sticking mainly to economic issues on their platforms.

Two years ago, voters turned out to vote against a referendum that would appeal the city's ordinance extending civil rights to transgendered people.

Last year, campaigns were waged against then-City Commissioner Craig Lowe, who was in a five-way race for mayor. Openly gay, Lowe was the subject of a number of anti-gay fliers that spread around town, not to mention the "No homo Mayor" sign the Dove World Outreach Center posted on its front lawn.

Mallory Wells, the public policy director of Equality Florida, a statewide organization advocating for civil rights for the gay community, asked the candidates whether they would pledge to speak out against them.

"The thing that was so disappointing about the last race, when those attacks were being made against Craig Lowe, was that no other campaigns came out and spoke against it," Wells said.

The candidates all agreed to the pledge, though Angulo, who was also running for mayor, said he opposed the attacks at the time.

Marsh was also a candidate in that campaign and said he called Dove World to have the sign removed.

"When the sign went up at that church, I was the one that called them up and said, ‘Please take that down. You're not helping me at all,' " Marsh said, adding that he thought the anti-gay campaign backfired and helped Lowe get elected.

Goldsmith asked whether the candidates supported the mission of the city's Office of Equal Opportunity, which is to "ensure equal opportunity/equal access to employment, housing, public accommodations and credit."

Hawkins said he was proud of the office's director, Cecil Howard, for "going above and beyond" his scope by reaching out to the community to create better access to housing and creating mentoring programs.

Bottcher agreed.

"What disturbs me is that in these hard economic times you often hear people — certain political forces and other voices — saying that it's fluff, it's not necessary," she said.

Krames said he supports its mission but would investigate whether it's a needed office or a duplication of other services.

Marsh criticized the office for cracking down on "ladies night" bar promotions.

"It sounds to me like they don't have enough real work to do," he said. "If they do, then it'd be nice if we heard about that."

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