Author slams gay pride challenge

In a USF lecture, he calls out Ronda Storms, who led the county's push to ban gay pride displays.

Published April 11, 2007

TAMPA - Author and family therapist Chris Crutcher called politicians like state Sen. Ronda Storms, the former Hillsborough commissioner who successfully spearheaded a ban on county government's recognition of gay pride, an embarrassment to their communities.

"We have to always go after people that make decisions like these that leave people destroyed in their wake," Crutcher said. "When the Ronda Storms of the world show up, people get together and start talking about what we have to do to get rid of bigotry."

Crutcher traveled from Spokane, Wash., to speak at the University of South Florida on Tuesday.

Though he's heterosexual, Crutcher said he took the ban personally. He authored two of the books on the gay pride display at the public library that captured Storms' attention and spawned the ordinance.

Crutcher has written books about a range of topics that young adults, gay and straight, struggle with, and said his books are banned or challenged at least six times a year.

Crutcher singled out one comment Storms made during discussions about the countywide ban, when she said she didn't want to have to explain homosexuality to her then 6-year-old daughter had she seen the library display, which was in recognition of gay pride month.

"Give me a break," Crutcher said. "What am I gonna tell my daughter? Nothing. There is nothing scary for a 6-year-old kid on that display. But there is something scary for a 6-year-old kid when she's 20 to have to say there is a hater in her legacy."

Attempts to reach Storms Tuesday evening were unsuccessful.

Crutcher said that parents with beliefs like Storms make themselves unavailable when their children face situations in their life that deal with sexuality. Children would rather talk with a stranger because they are afraid to disappoint their parents, he said.

Crutcher, 60, spoke for nearly two hours to the crowd of close to 50 inside USF's alumni center, many in the group librarians. He shared stories about the struggles he hears from young people who come to him for counseling, and talked about the need for making books available that have diverse characters. It's important for people to read about people they can identify with, he said.

When a local filmmaker debuted a documentary titled un!BANNED last fall that highlighted Storms, the then-Hillsborough County commissioner told the St. Petersburg Times that she stood by the vote.

"I am more convinced today than I was then that that was the appropriate action for the board to take," Storms said at the time.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook, distinguished professor at USF in the School of Library and Information Sciences, said the effects of the ban have extended beyond the gay and lesbian community.

After it was passed, the Florida Library Association voted to no longer hold any meetings in Hillsborough County.

"The ramifications have truly been like ripples on a pond because it continues to clutch at the heart of people," she said.

De la Pena McCook then took up for the city of Tampa, calling it the "good guy" because the city has been more welcoming and accommodating to gays and lesbians than the county. Still, more needs to be done, she said.

"Tampa needs to stand up to the county that it's in," she said. "That's what needs to happen."

Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.