Florida County Commissioner feels threatened by Pride invitation

Brandon (FL) – A simple invitation to a gay pride meeting has a Florida county commissioner calling the leader of a Florida pride group “a threat to national security”, and prompted her to request investigations by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, Tampa Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms said she felt threatened by inviations to the pride meetings, which were sent by Mark Ferguson, president of Brandon Pride.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department Information Officer and Detectective Harold Winsett refused to comment on the case.

“We cannot comment on a case that is ongoing,” Winsett said.

Ferguson said he had been told by a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department detective that there was no basis for an ongoing investigation.

Similar invitations were sent to all Hillsborough County Commissioners. No other complaints have come to light.

Brandon Pride has a variety of events lined up for their annual festival in June 2006.

“On June 15, 2005, Hillsborough County Commissioners made the decision that gays are not welcome in Tampa, Florida. Six out of seven commissioners, voted in favor of banning all county support of any pride events,” Ferguson said.

Local reactions in East Tennessee to the recent developments in the continuing struggle for GLBT right in Hillsborough County are consistent.

“Local commemorations of Stonewall or Pride Week are extremely important to not only those people who live in larger urban areas, but more importantly to those of us who reside in more suburban and rural areas. They are the beacons in the storm. Shining the light of freedom and liberty for all this country's citizens,” said Gary Elgin, leader of the local Rainbow Community Awareness Project and rejuvenator of Knox Pride.

Local Rights-for-all Meet-up leader and Tennessee Equality Project board member Todd Cramer expressed his dismay with the situation in Brandon.

“As evidenced by the recent National Coming Out Day celebrations worldwide, the importance of living openly and honestly as who you are has never been more important,” Cramer said. “Interacting with neighbors, co-workers, politicians and our families on a daily basis lends a personal perspective that will continue to move us away from prejudice and discrimination and toward the full recognition of our civil rights.”

Ferguson’s initiation into the fight for GLBT civil rights began with a bang in 1996. After coming out to himself and selected friends, he attended his first pride festival in Indianapolis, Indiana. Coincidentally, filmmakers associated with televangelist Pat Robertson were also there as part of the process of making an anti-gay documentary. Ferguson was filmed kissing his partner.

After the release of the documentary, backlash against Ferguson included a major repercussions regarding his position as president of the Student Religious Council at Ball State University along with the horrible experience of having the message ‘die fag’ painted on the front of his home in pig’s blood (verified by a forensics laboratory). Ferguson’s home was later burned to the ground along with a cross in his front yard.

“That was a while back, and I want everyone to know that this is not about me. It’s about the struggle for our civil rights in Brandon, Tampa, Florida, and the rest of the country,” Ferguson quickly points out.

Assisting Brandon Gay Pride with the situation in Hillsborough County is a list of supporters that is as deep as it is long. The roster includes Equality Florida, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Pride Diversity Buycott, MC FILMFEST, QueerTampa.com, Equality Mall Walk, Brandon GSA, Mimi's Cafe in Brandon, Tampa/Brandon Gay Couples Meet Up, StPeteBoys.com, and Brandon Equality Meet Up.

Brandon Gay Pride was also involved in the massive 2004 “Turn Out the Vote” voter registration effort, managed in large part by TurnOut.org, the Human Rights Campaign, Rock the Vote, Equality Florida, and the League of Pissed Off Voters. They were able to successfully register 365,000 new voters for that election.

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