Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Florida must end bigotry against gays and lesbians

by Tony Plakas
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 10, 2010

Florida is the only state that still bans all gay men and lesbians from adopting children, although they can serve as foster parents. Even though the ban is most likely to be overturned in the courts soon, the Lake Worth City Commission was correct last week to unanimously direct state legislators to overturn the 1977 law that prohibits children in need from being adopted by gays.

Last year, a Monroe County circuit judge declared that the 1977 law "arose out of unveiled expressions of bigotry." Anita Bryant, a woman who once served our nation orange juice, began using her prominence to sell fear, waging a successful campaign that brands her to this day as an early and vocal opponent of homosexuality. However, few are aware that the groundwork to make Florida's government unfriendly to gays and lesbians was laid more than a decade before her rise and fall.

The 1963 Florida Legislature mandated a Legislative Investigation Committee to report on "the extent of infiltration into agencies supported by state funds by practicing homosexuals, the effect thereof on said agencies and the public, and the policies of various state agencies in dealing therewith."

In January 1964, taxpayer money was used to print and distribute a dark and ugly pamphlet, "Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida," "to be of value to all citizens; for every parent and every individual concerned with the moral climate of the state." The late Palm Beach Circuit Judge Marvin Mounts gave a rare copy of the document to me before he retired so I would always remember how far we have come. But it has been more a reminder of how far we have to go and how much we need to educate.

The booklet is a veritable Nazi-like propaganda piece, complete with obscene pictures and a "glossary of homosexual terms and deviant acts" that serves as a list of epithets that unquestionably intertwine homosexuality with pedophilia. Most of the bibliography cites research stemming from the Holocaust, and the leaflet ends with recommendations to "radically reduce the number of homosexuals preying upon the youth of Florida."

And it continues to this day. In January, a bill filed in the Florida House and Senate would revise the state's financial incentive program to provide tax credits to the film industry if filmmakers avoid certain subject matters, including the depiction of "nontraditional family values."

The time has come for the Florida Legislature to address continuing policies that demonize the gay community and atone for nearly a half a century of state-sponsored bigotry. However, it doesn't look like it is going to stop anytime soon, particularly when so many wish to gain politically for their stances on homosexuality.

Tony Plakas is CEO of Compass Inc., a gay and lesbian outreach center in Lake Worth.

E-mail Tony at

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