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Pinellas Stonewall Democrats president Susan McGrath celebrates marriage equality ruling

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

This is a monumental weekend for the LGBT community. Same-sex couples can now get married in all 50 U.S. states and those who were already married in one of the states who already overturned bans on same-marriage will have their marriages recognized in the 14 states where it was still against the law.

Susan McGrath, president of the Pinellas County Stonewall Democrats – named after the 1969 Stonewall riots that serves as the kickoff of the American gay rights movement – spoke to this reporter on WMNF’s MidPoint about the decision Friday.

McGrath celebrated the decision and commented on President Barack Obama’s commitment to marriage equality.

“It is noteworthy to think that he has appointed two of those justices and were he not elected and John McCain or Mitt Romney elected, today would have not likely happened,” McGrath said. “Elections have consequences.”

The Stonewall Democrats nationwide work to elect LGBT-friendly leaders to office. The local group was successful in ushering three openly gay City Council members to City Hall including the two most recent – Darden Rice and Amy Foster.

“There was a little bit of conversation that was trying to be used against them about their sexual orientation, but when the votes were counted the people of St. Petersburg didn’t care,” McGrath said. “They don’t care what your sexual orientation is. They care about how well you can serve in that roll.”

And that represents the next LGBT battle. While the marriage issue is behind them once and for all, there is still a very real climate of hate and intolerance that exists in the LGBT world. McGrath said the more people who come out; the more conversations that are had and education distributed, the faster labels will drop away.

Then maybe someday instead of “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” it will just be “marriage.”

Imagine a time when people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual no longer have to “come out.” After all, when is the last time a heterosexual teen felt compelled to tell friends and family which sex they prefer.

Imagine a day when it doesn’t matter.

McGrath likened the battle to the Civil Rights movement and strides made to bring equality to African-Americans who, not so long ago, were forced to use different public restrooms and drinking fountains simply because of the color of their skin.

It’s a correlation often made by the LGBT community and its allies. Sharing a public restroom with an African-American was once the unthinkable for white people. Now most look back at that time and wonder how Americans could have ever been so hateful?

And that’s where the LGBT community is. They are picking away at barriers one by one. They savor little victories here and there, but there is still hate to defeat.

But that correlation didn’t go over well with some black radio listeners who called in to complain the analogy was offensive.

One listener argued the two fights are inherently different because black people didn’t choose to be black. In his opinion, gay people make a choice to be gay.

Another said he didn’t care if same-sex marriage was legal, but he didn’t agree with it because that’s not what God wants. He based his distaste for the comparison between gay rights and minority rights on the bible.

That listener used the same book used to condone slavery to condemn lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Another listener threw transgender individuals into the mix with a similar argument – they chose to alter their sex.

Each of those callers skirted around the issue of prejudice and oppression, but clearly implied a moral distaste for “alternative” lifestyle “choices.”

Regardless, McGrath will celebrate the win with thousands of LBGT bretheren and allies this weekend for St. Pete Pride.

“The timing could not be better,” McGrath said. “People are overwhelmed.”

Some 250,000 people are expected to flood Central Avenue in the Grand Central District of St. Pete throughout the weekend. That number may end up being even higher as people rush to celebrate the landmark Supreme Court decision.

“I think they will increase because allies will want to come and show support and be part of the victory and celebration,” McGrath said.

St. Pete Pride festivities begin Friday night at 7:00 with a free concert along Central Avenue. The parade is Saturday from 5-10:00 p.m. Be sure to look for this reporter tossing out beads.

Central Avenue will remain buzzing with Pride Sunday with a street festival from 11 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

St. Pete Pride is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which occurred on June 28, 1969.

Two other landmark court rulings for the LBGT community are also this weekend. Lawrence v. Texas declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional and the Windsor ruling overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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