I arrived at Sarasota’s City Hall on Monday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. to support the creation of a Domestic Partnership Registry for the city, but I decided to take a trip around the block before parking to see if red shirts (supporters of the registry) were gathering at any other access points. To my surprise, my instincts were right: A sea of red shirts were sitting at the tables outside one of the entrances — “my people” had arrived.
My people aren’t gay or lesbian. They aren’t liberal or conservative. They don’t fit easily into stereotypes, classes, race or gender. They are just people who support my right to pursue happiness. In essence, “my people” are the Americans the average person thinks of when they picture a good neighbor, an honest friend or a kind stranger. (I’m not saying I’m all those things, but I do aspire to be part of that bunch — I’ll leave it to you to poll my neighbors, friends and acquaintances!)
My people showed up in red shirts to this city commission meeting because they support the creation of a domestic partnership registry in Sarasota, and because someone told them that wearing red and being visible would make a difference. In my opinion, one red shirt would have made a difference, but I’ve been told I’m an optimist. Even the pessimists in the crowd must have been impressed, though, because the place was packed with red shirts.
The city commissioners walked into a room filled with red, and after a few minutes moving through the agenda, they called former city commissioner Ken Shelin and public relations expert Grace Carlson to the front of the auditorium to begin their presentation regarding Domestic Partnership Registries. Ken greeted the commissioners and thanked Mayor Atwell for wearing her red outfit (the audience applauded and smiled, and Mayor Atwell posed perfectly for my slightly out of focus photo).
Ken and Grace then went on to present a succinct and “spot-on” presentation. They discussed the many rights denied unmarried couples, gay or straight. Point by point they addressed the legal concerns the commissioners might have, and very importantly they called attention to the room full of red shirts. I was glad to stand up when supporters of the Domestic Partnership Registry were invited to rise, and I stuck my chest out, proud to see “my people” standing there with me, strong and proud — hopeful and excited.
The format of the meeting meant that there was only a presentation at the first meeting about this topic — no comments from the public. The room quickly emptied after the presentation ended and the commission moved on to the next topic. In fact, it was a bit noisy, and the commissioners actually stopped the speaker to ask the red shirts to quiet down with their exit. I left shortly afterward, and on my way out was surprised to see a police officer at the door directing traffic for the red shirts mulling about in the lobby. I was also very happy to note his smile and demeanor — I think he’d wear a red shirt too if he wasn’t in uniform!
The highlight of the comments from the comissioners, in my opinion, was Commissioner Shannon Snyder’s comment: “I understand the problem that arises out of the six rights that they are trying to preserve. My concern would be if there is a dramatic enforcement cost. The other thing I would also bring up, is that with everyone who was here tonight, I guarantee that probably like every other time we have an issue here, at least half of them don’t live in the city. So, [there are] a lot of folks who think that they’re going to have a right that they’re not going to have — it’s only going to be provided for our residents.”
He went on to say, “Is that an issue we want to transmit to other governments in the county? To say: ‘Listen, we have this issue that’s been brought to us’ — that was a good presentation that Ken brought — I would hope that he’d bring that to the county, and maybe even the city of Venice. Are we reinventing the wheel, or could we also spread the ‘wheel cost’ out to everyone else?”
Mayor Atwell agreed that it is a larger issue than one for the city alone, and said she’d research further. Snyder also pointed out a very real possibility that someone who might benefit from a registry within the city of Sarasota might be denied those same benefits when traveling to another community (such as if ones’ partner was injured in Venice and is brought to a hospital there instead of one in Sarasota — would your rights as a domestic partner transfer past the city limits?)
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo seemed to agree with Commissioner Snyder’s concerns about cost, but he pointed out that many of those concerns were already addressed in the presentation. He said, “I think this an idea worth pursuing, but that’s my biggest concern as well, because we need to make sure that there is not some potential process that could compromise us that way [financially]. But outside of that, I would be in favor of drafting something instead of making it a two-step process — assuming Mr. Fournier [the city attorney] discovers he doesn’t see anything that would [compromise us].” Caragiulo essentially asked to fast-track the process, and I was very happy to hear such a strong endorsement after his reservations were made clear.
After the discussion ended, Mayor Atwell asked if there was consensus to direct Mr. Fournier to begin investigating Domestic Partnership Registries and to place a future report and discussion with him as an agenda item for a future meeting. There was a seemingly unanimous consensus, and they moved on to the next topic. It was not made clear when the discussion and presentation by the City Attorney will take place, but rest assured that when I have the dates and times, I will be sharing it with everyone and anyone!
The culture of my community, Sarasota, is one that values fairness and acceptance. I know this to be true because I’ve worked in and with local organizations and programs such as the Coalition for Inclusion and Diversity, the Manasota Diversity Conference, Community Youth Development and the Unity Days programs at area high schools. I’ve seen adults, youth, seniors, and even “tweens” discuss the issues in great detail. The vast majority would put on a red shirt in support of fairness if they were informed about the issues.
These are “my people,” and I’m so glad that we call this beautiful place “home” together. I’m looking forward to the passing of a Domestic Partnership Registry and a party in the streets with everyone who supported it or who comes to know the wisdom of treating everyone with respect, dignity and equality. I’ll let you know when the time comes in Sarasota — hopefully you won’t be waiting long!