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Sam Henderson releases Stonewall Democrats questionnaire

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Sam Henderson is releasing his responses to the Stonewall Democrats questionnaire that led the organization to endorse him for Mayor of Gulfport. The endorsement from the pro-LGBT group may have come as a shock to some and did shock Henderson’s opponent, Barbara Banno.

Banno is openly gay. Henderson is not.

Henderson’s release comes after Banno issued a public call for Henderson’s questionnaire in a blog on her campaign website. In it she claimed she has been a leader on LGBT issues while Henderson has been a follower. The blog seemed to imply that Henderson’s questionnaire responses could indicate the group wrongfully issued its endorsement.

Comparing the responses shows there are some areas where the two differ, however, nothing stands out to fully discredit the endorsement.

Henderson explains, in depth, his lifelong support for the LGBT community as well as social equality and human rights. He also reminds that he is a “past and current” associate member of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County.

He was also endorsed by the group during Gulfport campaigns in 2009 and 2013.

“Politics and behind-the-scenes relationships have deeply tainted the Stonewall Democrats’ recent decision to endorse my opponent,” Banno wrote in a blog post on her campaign website last week. “I clearly have demonstrated, publicly and repeatedly, my commitment to lead the fight for LGBT equality. My opponent has merely ‘followed’ on this journey — and not even consistently.”

She said she initiated Gulfport’s domestic partnership registry while Henderson merely followed along. In Henderson’s Stonewall questionnaire he doesn’t necessarily disagree, but adds that he also encouraged other cities to do the same.

“The county followed suit within a matter of months,” Henderson wrote.

Banno also criticized Henderson’s delayed support for a city resolution supporting marriage equality. Before voting in favor of the resolution, Henderson instead originally recommended writing a letter and allowing City Council members and officials sign it if they so wished.

Henderson didn’t address that specific claim in his questionnaire, but he did weigh in on the issue of marriage equality because the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the matter favorably. However, Henderson wrote that he would continue to fight for equality.

“I know that as a society and particularly as a state, we have a long way to go. I am proud to be a part of Gulfport leading the way,” Henderson wrote.

Banno also said Henderson failed to step forward with a take on her efforts to ensure the Boy Scouts of America, notoriously anti-gay, be held to the standards laid out in the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

“The decision of the Stonewall Democrats to endorse only my opponent is discouraging not only to me, but to any future LGBT activist who actually puts themselves directly in the line of fire as a true leader and now sees that sacrifice could be overlooked when it matters most,” Banno wrote.

According to the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats, the endorsement includes more than just a candidate questionnaire. That part of the process is considered more of a conversation starter for candidates seeking endorsement. The group also conducts one on one interviews and considers past experience as well as interactions with the group.

Banno has not been an associate member of the group.

“Sam Henderson has a strong record on LGBT equality and has supported the work of the Stonewall Democrats both on City Council and as Mayor,” said Jane Morris, Vice President for Political Action. “We do not have a litmus test of being gay in order to receive our endorsement. We would not be able to do the work we do without allies like Mayor Henderson.”

Where Banno’s questionnaire did stand out compared to Henderson’s was in her personal annecdotes. Banno wrote in one response about her attempt to adopt a child with a previous partner. The two were told only one could actually adopt the child and that they would have to “hide their lifestyle” in order to proceed. Such a story tugs at the heart strings of any LGBT equality supporter.

Henderson, as a straight man, lacks any such personal insight. However, he did have an anecdote of his own to share in the questionnaire.

“When my nephew came out to family and friends a couple of years back, some people started acting differently toward him, not discriminatorily or unkindly, but differently – even the ones who had no issue accepting it, Henderson wrote. “Somehow the fact that he liked boys made people think that he was different than he had been the day before his announcement. What struck me was that he was just the same young man we’d always known, it was everyone else who changed in that moment.”

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 Patch.com 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 janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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