OKEECHOBEE — In a four to one vote, the Gay Pride Month proclamation was voted down during the June 1 meeting of the Okeechobee City Council.
The council chambers was filled with local pastors and concerned citizens as the meeting began.
Mayor Dowling Watford explained why the proclamation was on the agenda. He said normally a proclamation is just signed by the mayor and presented during the meeting. It does not normally take council action, but in this case, Watford did not feel comfortable signing the proclamation. Out of respect to the council member who requested it, he felt it should be placed on the agenda and voted on by the council. “It’s important to him, and I respect that. I stayed awake all Friday night trying to determine what to do about it,” said the mayor.
The mayor went on to explain that in order for the proclamation to be considered, a motion would need to be made and then seconded to open a discussion about it. Rather than making that motion, Councilman Noel Chandler made a motion not to consider it, and this motion was seconded by Councilman Bob Jarriel.
Councilman Bobby Keefe asked the mayor why his name was not written beside the request on the agenda and he was not given the floor to explain the request as usually happens when council members add items to the agenda. He said the agenda said they would discuss and consider the proclamation not just consider it. Watford replied that they were discussing it at that time and that normally there was no discussion until they had a motion which was what they were doing.
Keefe said he was happy to see everyone in attendance at the meeting. Often he wonders if anyone cares what they do. “I might just have to bring up some controversial issues every month so we have a good turnout,” he said.
Keefe said he chose to put the item on the agenda despite knowing it would be controversial, because as a United States Marine veteran, an Afghanistan War veteran, who fought and almost died protecting the freedoms that most Americans take for granted, he chose to fight for the freedoms of his fellow citizens. He said his only intent with the proclamation was to recognize equal rights and equal protection provided to all citizens under the Constitution of the United States. “This is not a moral issue or a religious issue. It is an equality issue,” he said.
Keefe read the meaning of the word "bigot." He said a bigot is a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion or faction, especially one who is prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular group.
“I’ll admit. I used to be a bigot,” he said. “I used to be a hater of gay people until somebody who I loved dearly, my brother, shared with our family that he was gay ... I made a choice to be accepting of others ... Ye who are without sin, cast the first stone.”
As Keefe spoke, there were several outbursts from the audience, and the mayor had to ask everyone to be quiet each time.
After Keefe spoke, Watford said he appreciated Keefe’s concern and he has several gay friends himself, but it did not make him want to consider the proclamation.
A vote was taken NOT to consider the proclamation. The vote was four to one with Keefe casting the dissenting vote. The audience erupted in applause after the vote.
During council comments at the end of the meeting, Keefe thanked the council for allowing him to say his piece about something important to him and said he honors and respects everyone’s opinion and thoroughly enjoys being a member of the council.