Hey Candidates, Support Same Sex Benefits In City Government

CSX Meeting

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Orange County all offer same sex partner benefits to their police officers, firefighters, and other city employees. Lakeland does not. It’s time for that to change.

There are many good reasons to change, the first of which is basic fairness and honor. The men and women who risk their lives on the streets or work to better our city in other ways deserve the same right to protect the people they love as any other employee.

But if that’s not a good enough reason, and you want to go Marshall Goodman about it, how many high-tech corridors do you know that are not gay-friendly? As a city, if we’re competing for top public sector managerial talent with St. Pete, Tampa, and Orlando, why exactly would we want to tell 5-10 percent of that talent they’re not as good as the rest of our staff. Why don’t we just refer them directly to Tampa?

If nothing else, commission candidates and city management, man up and take a position. Say to your employees, “we’re indifferent to your partners, who may also be the adoptive mothers and fathers of your children, cuz, you know, you’re icky” or “I’m too scared to do in public what I know is right.” If those don’t reflect your posiitons, correct this artifact of a different time and culture.

I asked incumbent commissioner Phillip Walker and one of his challengers, Chris Dobson, about this after a recent forum. Much uncomfortable facial contortion ensued. You would think I had shot them both with one of those stinging curses from the Harry Potter movies. Dobson talked supportively about fairness, etc, but would not say that he would offer a motion to establish benefits–which is all that matters.

Walker was worse. I’m not entirely sure what he said, and I pride myself on verbal comprehension. I think he started with sympathy for the concept and then caught himself and shifted gears mid-paragraph, ending with “I don’t support gay marriage.”

To which I said, “That’s not what I asked.” (And by the way, Jay Dennis, I’m still waiting for your all out legal and political attack on heterosexual divorce. You know, because marriage is so sacred to you.)

I think, in the end, Walker wants to continue to prevent lesbian police officers from using city government insurance to pay for emergency room care or chemotherapy. That’s lame. But if that’s what you want, at least say it clearly. And remember, it hasn’t been all that long ago that you could not have been a city commissioner. Times change. And improve. You have a role to play in paying it forward.

(And note to local media outlets other than LL, you might want to talk about this some. It’s an easy way to compare us other population centers on the I-4 corridor. It’s also a question of justice. Local media outlets are supposed to care about that for its own sake, not just because candidates do or don’t talk about it.)

One of the ongoing themes of life in Lakeland and Polk County as a whole–just ask J.D. and Goodman–is that we’re not just the backward little mascot of our overbearing urban relatives to the east and west. For the most part, that’s absolutely true. I would not want to live anywhere else.

But on the question of providing basic fairness to all of our population, we fit the stereotype. Period. It’s time to end that. And unlike most of the issues I’ve heard discussed in this campaign, this one is easy to fix.

I’m a Lakeland city taxpayer, and I approved this message.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuck Welch for Lakeland Local

3 thoughts on “Hey Candidates, Support Same Sex Benefits In City Government

  1. “But on the question of providing basic fairness to all of our population, we fit the stereotype. Period. It’s time to end that.”

    I suppose what this really means is that (in the eyes of local political leaders) you can be good enough to go in harm’s way to defend the country — but still not be “good enough” for equal treatment.  Even the most conservative bastion of government (the US Military) is coming to grips with this issue.  But there’s still a federal law (Defense of Marriage Act) in the way of a complete solution in the military.

    At the local level, we don’t have the complications of DOMA — and local officials will always tell you that the government closest to the people serves best, etc., etc, etc.  So why isn’t this fixed already?

    I think we’ve been down this road before with other minority groups — but bigotry and prejudice die hard and slowly.

  2. Al, I think it’s less a question of bigotry and hatred than the general unpleasantness of confrontation of things that are unjust. I honestly think  the vast majority of people would have no real problem if they woke up tomorrow and Lakeland had same sex benefits. The problem is that they also have no real problem waking up today without them. 

    So you get candidates and officials unwilling to do stir the unpleasantness to get from one state of not-caring to the other. The intersection of bureaucracy and injustice is a sticky one.

    It’s up to people like you and me to help cut through the inertia. I’ll start suggesting some ideas for that after the election.

  3. Billy,

    I don’t know which is worse –bigotry — which is rampant in a lot of our political discourse these days — or lack of the cojones to take on the tough issues and assure that we actually live what we say we believe in —  the Constitution, Declaration, etc. (regarding equal rights and the dignity of the individual).

    When a governmental body insists on praying during it’s meetings (implications of righteousness, godliness, etc. — for public consumption at least) and then refuses to treat all of it’s citizens equally, that’s bigotry in my book.

    Look forward to seeing your ideas.

Comments are closed.