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Polk County commissioners reject Pride Month proclamation

"When people start saying men can get pregnant and men can have babies — I want to protect as many people as I can from that," Commissioner Neil Combee said.

BARTOW, Fla. — Earlier this week, Polk County commissioners rejected a proclamation celebrating Pride Month, with one member saying, "I just want to get off the ride."

The discussion came Tuesday at a regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting. The proclamation was pulled from the meeting's consent agenda — a part of the meeting where multiple motions are lumped together for group approval — which was then approved after the proclamation's removal. 

After this, District 5 Commissioner Neil Combee brought up concerns about approving an LGBTQ+ proclamation for Pride Month now or in the future. While voicing these concerns, he referenced the June cover of Glamour U.K magazine which featured a pregnant trans man, denouncing the idea that trans men are men.

He also echoed what Gov. Ron DeSantis has said about "protecting" children from learning about or being exposed to these issues. 

“The truth of the matter is this issue seems to get more divisive by the day, certainly by the week, and by the month, but almost daily it gets more divisive, and I just want to get off the ride,” Combee said. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but there’s an opportunity we can continue the way we’re going or we can decide to get out of the business of proclaiming lifestyle and talking about sexual orientation."

He went on to say, "But it’s headed to a place that I don’t want to go and I think many others don’t want to go. When people start saying men can get pregnant and men can have babies — I want to protect as many people as I can from that. I want to protect my grandkids. I’m thinking there will come a day if I don’t that they will look back and say, ‘what was granddaddy thinking?’ Well, Granddaddy’s thinking that this is getting too far for me."

The commissioner's decision comes during a time when Florida leaders implemented measures including limiting grade school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity and denying gender-affirming healthcare to transgender youth.

Other Tampa Bay-area counties and cities have adopted proclamations declaring June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. This includes Hillsborough County, the city of St. Petersburg and the city of Lakeland, which is in Polk County.

In recent months, DeSantis signed legislation into law that is seen by critics as anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+. It prompted at least one Florida city to cancel its pride parade. Still, many cities across Florida are going ahead with their celebrations, although some modifications are being made, mainly affecting drag shows.

In response to Florida's new laws, several national gay rights and activist groups have issued "travel advisories" for the LGBTQ+ community.

"We are disappointed. The ignorance and personal biases of these commissioners has no place in serving their constituency. Their responsibility is to represent everybody," Scott Guira, president of Polk Pride, said in a statement, in part. "...The opinions of Combee, Braswell, and Wilson are a reminder as to why we have pride. It serves as motivation for us to continue pushing for progress. Polk County is a community where all are welcome and we won’t let them tell us otherwise."

In defending his position, Combee contends Polk County is comprised of 800,000 people "with different wants and different needs, different lifestyles, [and] different likes and dislikes." He went on to say he didn't know what all the letters in LGBTQ+ meant, "so, for me to celebrate or proclaim something to be good or okay or embrace it when I have no idea what it all means, I’m just not interested in doing it." 

"I do know that people expect us to provide leadership. So, we can lead one way or the other on this and I want to be on record as I said for my grandchildren saying that I can’t go along with men getting pregnant and men having babies," Combee said. 

To conclude, the commissioner said "I believe we shouldn’t be adopting proclamations regarding lifestyle choices from this point forward. So, I’m voting no.”  

Two other commissioners voiced support for Combee's rejection. 

"It's at the point of being silly," District 3 Commissioner and Vice Chairman Bill Braswell said in part, agreeing that LGBTQ+ issues continue to be divisive and noting he had heard from many of his constituents and he didn't think any of them were in favor of a proclamation like the one proposed. 

“We got a lot of bigger things in this county to really work on and try to make right,” District 2 Commissioner Rick Wilson said, citing flooding and other infrastructure and community issues.

“I’m going along with Neil on this – I’ve had about enough of this. I don’t think it's our place to be doing whatever to promote this – do your thing, but we got a job to do here in this county and the people of this county to make this county work better, and I’ve probably done said enough already, but I just get riled up,” he continued.

The remaining two commissioners, Chairman and District 1 Commissioner George Lindsey and District 4 Commissioner Martha Santiago said they didn't oppose adopting the proclamation in future consent agendas. 

Lindsey said he didn't find the text of the proclamation "offensive" and regarding LGBTQ+ issues added, “we make it as divisive as we choose to make it divisive, or we can choose to make it as homogeneous as we need to.”

On Saturday, Polk County Pride held its first event of the week. It leads up to its main event Pride In The Park to be held at Munn Park next Saturday, followed by Pride After Dark.

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