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St. Pete City Council’s invocation highlights commitment to diversity

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete is a city of diversity. At a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is reaching a peak, St. Pete invited a Muslim Imam to deliver it’s invocation and no one seemed to think twice.

Meanwhile, people in the Muslim community are subjected daily to hateful rhetoric coming from mostly the Christian Conservative right. They’re compared to terrorists. They’re assumed to be either ISIS or ISIS sympathizers.

For years, they’ve felt singled out in airport security lines or had to listen to a bigoted passenger complain they didn’t feel safe because the woman behind them was wearing a hijab.

Not in St. Pete. Here the city schedules religious leaders of all faiths to deliver the traditional prayer at the start of each City Council meeting.

It’s a city whose mayor made national headlines when he joked about banning presidential candidate Donald Trump from St. Pete after the GOP front-runner said the U.S. should stop letting Muslims enter the country.

And in his latest move, Mayor Rick Kriseman refused to condone the hateful rhetoric of Baltimore minister Jamal Bryant who compares being gay to drug addiction or gambling.

In an article with a silly headline implying there may be a similar number of St. Pete residents OK with that type of hatred, the Tampa Bay Times highlighted State Rep. Darryl Rouson’s surprising yet welcomed step away from his previous support in which he said Bryant should no longer be allowed to deliver the keynote address at this month’s MLK leadership awards breakfast due to his divisive comments.

That article painted a picture of a rift between the black and gay communities (as if there’s no overlap,) but used only one concrete example to support it.

Why is that a big deal? Because it’s 2016, that’s why. There will always be racists and bigots in the world, but they have become the outliers.

Most people understand that Trump is a jerk, that it’s OK to be gay or transgender or black or Muslim. Being different is no longer really all that different even though there are still battles to be won.

St. Pete and its residents are a shining example of the progress that has been made in equality for all. Poor black communities in the city still need help. Their schools are failing, their people are poor and crime continues to outpace that of the rest of the city.

But leaders are working on it.

St. Pete’s LGBT community still has its problems too. There are some still on the wrong side of history who make faces or scoff or who publicly insult “alternative lifestyles.” But they’re the minority now and every time St. Pete raises the Pride flag it furthers that pro-equality progress.

So kudos to Imam Abdul Ali and to the city that respects him. Congratulations to a mayor who embraces diversity and a city whose residents overwhelmingly follow his lead.

And to those who read this and disagree — there’s still time to catch up.

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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