Behind the scenes, I’m very opinionated and work hard to advance civil rights. In public, though, I’m a bit more guarded with my comments. I’ve been this way since my reporter days — I didn’t want anyone ever to doubt that I could be objective and fair, even though I didn’t side with many of the people and causes I was covering. Today, I’m much more vocal but still strive to appear impartial.
Right now, though, I’m not going to hold my tongue. Something happened in the Tampa City Council race on Monday that made me see red.
What’s the Background?
If you’re not a Tampeño, these bullet points will quickly get you up to speed.
- In the District 3 race, incumbent Lynn Hurtak is being challenged by former state senator Janet Cruz.
- Hurtak is an uncompromising progressive, which often puts her at odds with mayor Jane Castor.
- Cruz is virtually the mayor’s mother-in-law. I say virtually because she’s the mother of Ana Cruz, who is our mayor’s partner. They’re not married.
Got it? Good.
On Monday night, both Hurtak and Cruz spoke at a Hillsborough County NAACP candidate forum. Hurtak, not surprisingly, spoke against some of the mayor’s policies and priorities, such as the proposal to convert wastewater into drinking water. Cruz lashed back by accusing Hurtak of being homophobic.
Let’s go to the tape. Go to the 38:20 timestamp:
First, Cruz says, “I don’t know what Hurtak’s problem is with my daughter and the mayor.” At this point, the booing starts. She then turns to Hurtak and says, “Do you have a problem with gay people?”
What. The. Fuck?
My jaw dropped when I saw this. I had to go back and watch again to make sure I didn’t mishear. I didn’t.
Why Are You So Pissed, Dave?
You can now forget about all the political stuff I mentioned above. That’s just background information so you can put things in context. If this were about something Hurtak said to Cruz, I’d be just as mad.
Let me explain why this is a massive slap in the face for all LGBTQ Tampeños and their allies.
There are very real homophobic monsters in Florida politics that are actively destroying the rights, liberties, and dignity of LGBTQ people. Just look at what’s happening in Tallahassee. Trans kids are being denied healthcare that’s not just affirming but also life-saving. Age-appropriate LGBTQ books are being stripped from school libraries. And hate speech skyrocketed after the passage of the draconian “Don’t Say Gay” law.
In an environment like this, accusing someone of homophobia just because they’re your political opponent isn’t just careless. It’s dangerous. It dismisses the danger of homophobia — it’s no longer a grave threat, just an idle insult.
Where’s the outrage?
What if Cruz had called Hurtak a child molester? Compared her to Hitler? Said she hated Blacks? Everyone would be up in arms, saying Cruz had crossed a line.
But lumping Hurtak in with Fred Phelps, Omar Mateen, Rick Santorum, Timothy Dolan — and a growing list of grotesque bigots in Tallahassee and Washington — somehow gets a pass?
But, Dave, What If …
Let me cut you off right there. You’re wondering if Hurtak deserved the comment because she is actually homophobic.
Not only is that not the case, but everyone knows it’s not. Hurtak is one of Tampa’s top advocates for LGBTQ equality. The first time I met her, she told me how she and her husband flew to New York to get married because they didn’t want to get married in a state where LGBTQ people couldn’t. I, of course, shared the story of how the Complimentary Spouse and I had to fly to California to get married. Lynn was endorsed by the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus at both the state and local levels.
It’s bad enough to dismiss someone as a homophobe because you can’t defend your political position. But dismissing an ally as good at Hurtak makes it even worse. Hurtak has a problem with nepotism, not lesbianism.
FFS! Why Are You Making Such a Big Deal About This, Dave?
Someone has to make a big deal about this! Language has been used to attack and suppress LGBTQ people for too long, which only changes when we fight. If you say, “that’s so gay,” about something lame, I’ll push back. Gay is not a negative descriptor.
If you say “sexual preference” instead of “sexual orientation,” I’ll push back. Sexuality is not a preference.
If you say “gay lifestyle,” “special rights,” or “gay agenda,” — well, you’ve got the idea.
There are two other reasons why I make a big deal out of these things: because I can and because it makes a difference.
Whenever I think it’s time to shut up about LGBTQ issues, I come back to these two quotes:
The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.Armistead Maupin
There will always be LGBTQ people who can’t march, who can’t protest, who don’t live in places where they are safe enough to speak out. We need to speak for them.Richie Jackson, “Gay Like Me”
Any Final Thoughts?
Don’t @ me to defend Cruz or disparage Hurtak. As I said above, the political shadiness isn’t what makes me mad, and I’d be just as upset if the candidates’ roles were reversed. What would a political campaign be without some drama, after all?
What still pisses me off, two days later, is the cavalier way one candidate casually — and wrongly — accused another of homophobia to score some political points. In 2023, this isn’t acceptable political rhetoric. It can cause real harm. It minimizes what’s really happening to LGBTQ people.
I don’t want anyone who doesn’t understand this on the City Council. Period.