For outgoing Councilor Barbara Banno, her last night on the dais Tuesday was bittersweet.
Early in the meeting she was thanked for her service to Gulfport residents, but by the end, a resident's public comment left her visibly shaken on an issue close to her heart.
The Gulfport City Council had just postponed a vote on whether to renew its lease with the Gulfport Lions Club, Inc for use of Scout Hall, where the club frequently hosts local Boy Scout troop meetings, in favor of a wait-and-see approach to Boy Scouts of America's upcoming decision on its anti-gay membership policy.
Many residents critical of the national organization's policy say the local troops are in violation of the city's Human Rights Ordinance, which is meant to safeguard citizens from all forms of discrimination, including sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status, and should not be allowed to use a city-owned building to meet, or at the least, have to abide by a lease adendum that spells out the Human Rights Ordinance.
Banno, who along with her wife Jeanne Kunkle was the first to signup for Gulfport's domestic partnership registry in June 2012, tried not to show emotion after the issue was tabled and a comment from the local Scouts liaison got under her skin.
Councilor Dan Liedtke made a motion to table the vote after two residents suggested waiting until the national organization makes a decision on the anti-gay policy.
The Boy Scouts of America is slated to vote on a new proposal that would end their national ban on gay participants this May.
"It doesn't make any sense to me to sign the lease when we don't know where they stand and that's how I feel," Gulfport resident Nancy Kelly said.
Cub Scout Pack 300 (Tiger/Wolf) and Cub Scout Pack 300 (Webelo) meet weekly at Scout Hall. The groups are sponsored by the Gulfport Lions Club, Inc, so the Lions Club would have to enter into a pending new lease agreement.
At recent council meetings, City Attorney Andrew Salzman said that legally, nothing could be done unless a report was filed against the organization. As of Tuesday night, no complaints were on record.
As previosuly discussed, it was suggested to add information about the Human Rights Ordinance in the new lease agreement, which was included in the proposed resolution tabled Tuesday.
Once the issue was tabled, council allowed public comment to continue.
About a dozen residents came forward, including Mark Grantham.
"In my opinion, as an experienced gay man, resident of Gulfport, former Boy Scout, this proposed lease, seems to me to be appeasing. And the proposed lease seems to be perpetuating the concept, separate but equal, I’m not separate. I'm equal," he said.
"We're trying to put the issue under the rug. For once, instead of putting out fires, maybe the city of Gulfport can be a little proactive," Grantham added.
A friend of Denise Lowe, wife of Jan Lowe, who is spearheading the movement against allowing the Boy Scouts to meet on city property, read a prepared statement from Denise because she couldn’t make the meeting.
"The BSA Membership policy is ignorant, hateful and discrimitory," Denise's statement read. "The bottom line here, the city is not enforcing it's own human rights ordinance.
"As a representative of the BSA and acting as a representative of the BSA, Mr. Frank Zigmund has told us he wouldn't acknowledge our same-sex marriage and that he is married to his wife and didn't believe in our marriage," the statement continued. "We have seen the true BSA culture from this man."
Frank Zigmund, Scout liaison for the Gulfport Lions Clubs, responded to Denise Lowe's statement.
"I have the same rights and liberties as every person in the City of Gulfport, as well as the state of Florida, and until the State of Florida has acknowledged it — that it is a right for somebody to be called married underneath the religious principal of a same-sex marriage — then I will still address it as my belief that it is a union," Zigmund said. "That's my right as a citizen and as a religious person."
At the end of public comment, Banno spoke, visibly disappointed that after all the advances she's seen for the lesbian and gay community during her time as councilor a person did not view her relationship equal to that of a married heterosexual couple.
"I ask you, as I step down tonight, to the future council of the City of Gulfport, please support the LGBT community, put this issue to rest and lets move forward as a community because it is splitting the city," Banno said, her voice cracking at times.
"Either let it die and lets vote it down or move forward with it," she said.
"At some point you need to take a stance. You need to let them agree to sign the HRO and move forward with this issue," Banno said.
The council will address the resolution at a later date, possibly in a workshop.
For more information, read the ordinance on the council's agenda online or watch the entire meeting on the city's website.
What do you think, Gulfport? Did the city make the right decision in delaying the vote? Do you think they should have voted Tuesday night?
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