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Wednesday June 19th 2019

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Hill’s Anti-LGBTQ Hill

By Jeremy Morrison and Rick Outzen

Inweekly’s report on how State Rep. Mike Hill (R-District 1) and others at a meeting held at Pensacola City Hall joked about passing legislation that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death (Inweekly, “The Gospel of Mike Hill,” May 30) has generated controversy statewide, with Republicans and Democrats calling for Hill to apologize or resign.

Hill has disputed the audio from the May 23 meeting of Women for Responsible Legislation (WRL), which was released by both Inweekly and the Pensacola News Journal, and called the issue “fake news,” akin to a “social media lynching.” He has claimed the controversy has strengthened his support among his base.

At the WRL meeting, Hill criticized fellow Pensacola lawmaker Rep. Alex Andrade for supporting a bill that offered protections for the LGBTQ community against discrimination in employment, housing and public places. He said that bill was “not the value of Northwest Florida.”

When a man in the audience said, “In I Corinthians, it says that a man that has an affair with another man will be put to death,” Hill replied, “Says that in the Old Testament, too.”

The crowd proceeded to joke about proposing legislation that would make homosexuality a crime. Neither Hill nor the WRL leaders corrected the situation.

Belated City Response
It took three tries and criticism from Inweekly and the Pensacola News Journal, but Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson did finally condemn the statements made at the WRL meeting of at Pensacola City Hall.

In a statement received a little before 4 p.m. on Friday, May 31, Mayor Robinson said, “The recent comments made by Rep. Mike Hill are absolutely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values of the City of Pensacola in every way.”

He continued, “We are a diverse community that embraces everyone, including the LGBTQ community, and to make comments even implying that any individuals in our community should be killed is appalling. This does not reflect who we are in Pensacola, and I’m embarrassed that this happened here. We welcome everyone in Pensacola, and we want all members of our community to feel safe and supported.”

Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen was the first to question on his blog, ricksblog.biz, whether the statements made at WRL meeting truly reflected this community’s values and why the city council policy manual had a section that lists explicitly WRL along with four other “Outside Agencies/Groups” that can hold meetings at city hall: West Florida Regional Planning Council, Community Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, Chamber of Commerce and Pensacola Navy League.

Outzen asked, “Do these attacks on the LGBTQ community represent the views of Northwest Florida? Of the City of Pensacola? Of the Pensacola City Council?”

Inweekly followed the post with a series of podcasts of the meeting. The podcast of the LGBTQ community discussion has had nearly 27,000 listeners as of Tuesday, June 4.

Mayor Grover Robinson responded to Outzen’s post defending the group using city hall.

“All City of Pensacola buildings, community centers and parks belong to the citizens of Pensacola, and we welcome public use of all of these valuable community resources,” said the mayor. “Our facilities are used frequently used by a variety of organizations for meetings and other events, and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the City of Pensacola.”

He continued, “However, free speech is a fundamental right as Americans that we value greatly, and we do not discriminate against or prohibit anyone from using city resources based on their views or opinions.”

His public information officer, Kaycee Lagarde, told Outzen that the WRL was only listed as an example.

“It’s important to note that the five agencies you listed are not the only outside agencies that use city hall, but they are just included in the policy as examples of agencies that regularly meet at city hall,” Lagarde wrote in an email. “Other outside agencies are welcome to contact us if they are interested in meeting here.”

Feeling Robinson and Lagarde were missing the point of the criticism, Inweekly pushed for the mayor to comment on the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric at the WRL meeting.

“Hate speech should be condemned, in my point of view, but the mayor may have another opinion,” wrote Inweekly’s publisher in an email to Lagarde. “Either way, the LGBTQ community needs to know where the mayor stands on the issue raised in that meeting.”

The mayor’s office followed up with a second statement on Friday, May 31.

“The City of Pensacola values the fact that we are a diverse community, and we strongly believe in inclusivity for all people,” said Mayor Robinson. “My objective as mayor is to find ways to bring our diversity together and work inclusively to make our community better.”

He continued, “I am discouraged and disappointed any time comments are made to disparage a part of our community, especially by an elected leader. However, with diversity comes differences, and the City does not expect everyone to agree. We simply expect those who disagree to be respectful of each other and work together to create an inclusive community.”

Inweekly didn’t hold back its disappointment in the mayor’s statement. Outzen published on his blog, “It’s a Wonder Bread, non-committal, weak rebuke with little concern for those under attack. He just as easily could have been talking about a disagreement over whether Florida or Florida State has the best baseball team.”

He added, “Sadly, Mayor Robinson has missed the point.”

Statewide Rebuke of Hill
Meanwhile, the Pensacola News Journal picked up the story and posted the audio of the LGBTQ discussion with a transcript. Newspapers from the state, including the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Bay Times, reported on the incident.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers from around the state condemned State Rep. Hill—some calling for him to apologize, others for his resignation.

House Speaker Jose Oliva and Rules Chairman Chris Sprowls, both Republicans, issued a joint statement.

“We unequivocally condemn both the question asked of Representative Hill and Representative Hill’s laughter and refusal to push back and remind his audience that this is America and we don’t stone people to death we disagree with,” wrote the GOP leaders. “Such callous indifference to an outrageous question is unacceptable, runs contrary to our founding principles and in no way reflects the beliefs of the Republican caucus in the Florida House.”

They differed with the Northwest Florida lawmaker’s view of Scripture, “Representative Hill would do well to remember that the only story in the New Testament involving stoning involved Jesus putting a stop to it and saying, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’  “

Speaker Oliva added, “I believe he owes his colleagues an apology, and he owes the Republican caucus a better example of political courage.”

Rep. Carlos Smith, an openly gay Orlando Democrat, tweeted, “I’m shocked & disgusted to discover a colleague who I’ve worked closely with would joke about punishing me by death for being gay. As a survivor of anti-gay hate violence, I know the consequences of homophobia are real. @MikeHillfl should apologize to LGBTQ Floridians or RESIGN.”

Rep. Hill has blocked Outzen from his Twitter. However, he did tweet a response to Rep. Smith.

“Fake news, Carlos! And you know it,” wrote Hill. “I never said I wanted to kill anyone! Instead, I am being attacked because I have made a strong stand to protect the pre-born in the womb.” (Editor’s note: At the same May 23 WRL meeting, Hill had told the audience that God had told him to file an anti-abortion bill that had no exceptions or restrictions.)

Hill’s Spin
While he refused to talk with Inweekly and PNJ reporters, he did appear on local radio stations on Monday, June 3 to give his version on what happened at the WRL meeting.

On “The Bernie Thompson Show” on Pensacola FM Talk 103.7, Hill attacked PNJ editorial cartoonist Andy Marlette for “a slanderous hit piece,” which Hill claimed was “completely out of context of what was said during almost a 90-minute presentation.”

Hill gave his version of what transpired at the meeting: “So there was an eight-second little part there, where someone in the audience yelled out that in Corinthians, it says to kill homosexuals or something to that nature. I corrected him and said, ‘That’s in the Old Testament.’ And then someone else in the audience yelled out, ‘Why don’t you sponsor a legislation to do that?’ And that’s when I kind of chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s going to go over. Anyway, let’s move onto something else.’”

The lawmaker continued, “That was the entire conversation. And now here, this Pensacola News Journal guy is trying to make it out that I laughed at (it), and he said I want to kill gays. Furthest thing from the truth.”

In his May 31 column, “In musing about executing gay Floridians, Mike Hill proves himself unfit for office,” Marlette criticized Hill for not challenging the WRL member on his interpretation of the Bible and Hill and the group “giggling about killing gay people.” The cartoonist did not write that Hill wanted to “kill gays”

Hill also appeared on Andrew McKay’s morning show on News Radio 1620 and accused Marlette of trying to turn the WRL incident into “a social media lynch mob.” Hill said that the cartoonist used the words “plan” and “lynch” several times in his column.

“That was a dog whistle to those on the rabid left because I have received threats who used the word ‘lynching,’ that I’m serious enough that I had to call the sheriff’s department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” said Hill. “They are all aware of this and are investigating.”

When McKay pointed out PNJ reporter Jim Little only used the word “lynch” when quoting Hill’s tweets, the lawmaker said, “No, no. You’ve got to read Andy Marlette’s original article. He was the one who brought up the word ‘plan’ and ‘lynching.’”

For the record, Marlette didn’t use either word in his May 31 column. Little did quote Hill using “lynching” on his Twitter account in a June 3 article, “Hill says he’s victim of ‘social media lynching,’” but didn’t write the word “plan.”

When asked why he didn’t deal with the comments at WRL meeting differently, Hill said, “Andrew, it’s because it was so absurd, I didn’t even entertain it. And no one in the audience took it serious either. You heard the laughter. Now, in my response, which I’m going to be releasing here pretty soon, you will see me pushing back and calling this disgusting, and a terrible thing to even suggest.”

McKay did pushback on Hill’s assertion that he was correcting the man for misquoting the New Testament.

“When I listened to your answer to his first question, and then I listened to the interview that you did with Brian Lewis with our station on Friday, you made the point that you were correcting him that it was not in the New Testament, that it was in the Old Testament, but you didn’t correct him in the audio,” said the radio host.

McKay continued, “A correction could have been stronger, or a correction could have been more clear that the New Testament does not say this, right?

Hill replied, “The New Testament says, what he was trying to refer to, was that sodomites will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s what it says. What I was trying to correct him, and that was my intent, was to say, ‘No, that’s in the Old Testament.’ I added the word too, but what I meant was it’s in the Old Testament.”

He continued, “Again, caught off guard by the statement in the first place.”

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Topical Tweets

State Leaders & Media React
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a statement last Friday: “Part of America’s promise is the freedom of opinion. But public service is a public trust. We must hold the conduct and opinions of our public servants to a higher standard. In furthering the suggestion that LGBT Floridians should be murdered under Florida law and that reproductive rights and immigration mean “extermination” of white Americans, Representative Hill and Senator Baxley failed to meet that basic standard. Whatever their motivations, their remarks were beyond unacceptable. They must apologize, be reprimanded by their legislative chambers or resign from office.”

She followed it with this tweet: “Freedom of opinion is American. But public service is a public trust. Public servants are held to a higher standard. Rep. @MikeHillfl & Sen. @dennisbaxley failed to meet that standard. They should apologize, be reprimanded or resign.”

Here are some more statewide responses that we found via Twitter:

Florida House Victory, Florida’s House Democratic Caucus: “Inciting and validating hateful violence against our LGBTQ community is disgraceful and unbecoming of a state official. @mikehillfl, you are unfit to be a member of the FL House. We fully stand with our LGBTQ Floridians now and always.”

Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa): “Nothing about this “exchange of jokes” is conservative let alone Christian. As a Christian who unapologetically believes in religious liberties, this exchange is nothing short of theocratically fascist, unconscionable and indefensible.”

Rep. Kionne McGhee (D-Miami-Dade):”@MikeHillFL should Resign immediately. We are calling for protest and calls to his office. This is not a laughing matter. It’s hateful and doesn’t represent Florida’s values. We stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”

Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami), replying to @CarlosGSmith and @MikeHillfl: “umm…how about just resign…i just finally listened to the audio. how do you apologize for something like that?”

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami): “Thank you @CarlosGSmith & others for taking action. Homophobia & transphobia are real and wrong. If @MikeHillFL is doubling down on homophobic violence & won’t step down, Florida House should look at censure or even removal. There are better ways to begin #PrideMonth2019.”

The Advocate: “LGBTQ activists are calling on Rep. Mike Hill to apologize—or resign.”

Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times columnist: “It’s no laughing matter @MikeHillfl for a #Florida lawmaker to laugh along with a “joke” about killing gays. The Legislature deserves better. Humanity deserves better. Resign.”

Hill’s Anti-LGBTQ Tweets
In addition to condemning Hill on Twitter, lots of his old Tweets also surfaced. The Florida Democratic Party sent out an email calling his Twitter account a “Homophobic dumpster fire.”

The state representative’s tweets on his official Twitter account—@MikeHillfl—over the past four years appear to demonstrate that he has a history of demeaning the LGBTQ community and what he has called the “homosexual movement” and “Gay Agenda.”

Here are some examples:
While apparently watching the 2014 Rose Parade, Hill tweeted, “Rose Parade Subverted to Promote Gay Agenda.”

On Feb. 5, 2015, Hill commented on a series of tweets about “America’s idolatry” and “banning God.” He tweeted, “America is already being judged. Witness the homosexual movement and abortion.”

When Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced that he was removing the Confederate flag from the city facilities on June 25, 2015, Hill responded to the tweet, “You think a Confederate flag offends the black community? Watch how well they tolerate gay marriage…” with, “Gays will not demand that a black church marry them. Watch.”

Four days later, in response to tweets regarding America’s Loss of Sovereignty, Hill responded first, “We are living in the last days. So apparent,” and followed it up with, “Yes a curse. And homosexual movement is God’s judgment. Along with absorption*.” (*We assume he meant abortion)

On July 13, 2015, Hill tweeted, “Let’s replace LGBTQ with a ‘?’ That covers the whole thing.”

On October 1, 2016, when someone posted two men embracing at a Trump rally and asked, “Will the media ever show this?” Hill posted, “They might if they are gay.”

On October 14, 2016, Hill commented on a post of a photo of the European Union panel, “They all cross their legs like they are gay.”

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‘We Should All Feel Safe’
By Jeremy Morrison

Under the flutter of rainbow flags and protest signs, people gathered late Monday afternoon in downtown and called for State Rep. Mike Hill’s resignation following the lawmaker’s recent comments regarding the notion of putting gay people to death.

“No one jokes about executing gays,” said Brian Heike. “Obviously, it’s just not funny. And it’s more than being disrespectful. It can encourage people to take out their anger on members of the LGBT community. And we don’t want that happening. There’s been far too many deaths over the years as it is.”

Heike, president of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida, said he organized the rally in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza because he thought it was important to speak out on Hill’s comments. During an event last month, the state legislator responded to a man’s statement that the Bible suggested gay people be put to death by noting the statement was contained in the Old Testament as well and then laughing at the suggestion of proposing similar legislation.

“We should all feel safe in this country of ours,” Heike said during his remarks to the 100 or so people assembled in the plaza.

Also, among those addressing the protest was Franscine Mathis, who wants a shot at Hill’s District 1 House seat in Tallahassee. She said she hoped Hill’s comments didn’t make anyone “feel like that they are afraid to visit the area,” adding, “It’s not about straight, gay or what you are. You are love, and we do need you here in Pensacola. We want you here in Pensacola.”

“I can’t understand why he would laugh and say the things he said,” Mathis told the crowd, “because he could be implanting stupidity in somebody’s mind that’s already ignorant.”

During his public remarks, Heike recounted coming out as gay in 1974 and the progress the community had seen since that time.

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the past 50 years. We have marriage equality, and we don’t want to see the clock turned backward,” he said.

After the protest ended, Heike spoke a bit more about what he sees as a fragile time and environment for the LGBT community.

“I was really at the point where I almost thought we were really making progress. You could almost see—I use this word—‘the promised land’ in the not too far distance,” he said. “Lately though, there’s been people who are trying to turn back the clock. And we can’t let that happen.”

Heike continued, describing an environment where the LGBT community was at risk of “slipping backwards” when it came to the civil rights progress that had been made.

“There’s a new climate in this country where people feel emboldened to attack people, and they attack the most vulnerable, and among those vulnerable people are LGBT people,” he said.

The Gay Grassroots president said he didn’t know if Hill’s comments were indicative of a pervasive viewpoint in Northwest Florida but noted that he sometimes hears comments of a disparaging nature.

“People don’t necessarily know I’m gay, so they’ll say things within earshot, things I don’t want to hear, and it really saddens me to hear people say them,” Heike said. “And it does make me feel like I’m an island sometimes in a sea of intolerance.”

As for Hill’s assertion that his comments have been misread and distorted, overblown and weaponized in a “social media lynching,” Heike disagrees, feeling that the state legislator “bought that into the conversation.”

“Obviously, he chuckled and snickered at the man’s suggestion that being gay should be punishable by death,” he said, adding that the legislator’s reaction and remarks should also be placed in context, as they directly followed his comments about how the LGBT community did not need protections against discrimination.

Heike said, “If you forget that part, you can say, ‘Oh, maybe he was just laughing at the end,’ but in the context of what they were talking about, I don’t read it that way.”