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Okeechobee City Council votes against recognizing Pride month

'It's nothing against any person or group of people,' Mayor Dowling Watford says
Okeechobee City Hall sign, June 3, 2021
Posted at 1:30 PM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-03 21:34:11-04

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Leaders in the city of Okeechobee won't recognize June as Pride month.

The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday in opposition of a proclamation recognizing the monthlong celebration of the LGBTQ community.

"He was unwilling to put his name and signature to a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month," said Bobby Keefe, council member, who called for the proclamation.

"Because of the controversial nature of the proclamation and because of some of my religious beliefs, I did not feel comfortable signing the proclamation, so we put it on the agenda for the council to make the decision if the city wanted to make that proclamation," Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watford told WPTV NewsChannel 5 reporter Derek Lowe.

WATCH: Mayor addresses decision not to issue proclamation

Okeechobee mayor discusses decision not to pass Pride month proclamation

Watford said Thursday that proclamations don't typically require public discussion, but given the controversy within the community, he thought it would be best for the council to decide.

"Unfortunately, the school board had tried to issue a very similar proclamation a few months ago, and they actually pulled it from their agenda because (there) was so much outcry from the community not to pass the proclamation," Watford said.

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City Councilman Bobby Keefe, who proposed the proclamation, was the lone vote in favor of recognizing Pride month.

"It's sad to me that in 2021, we all just don't agree that everybody is equal," Keefe said.

Keefe said he used to be against the gay community until his brother revealed his sexuality and that it changed his perception on many things in his life.

Watford said "out of respect" for Keefe, the council listened to what he had to say but ultimately made the decision not to pass the proclamation.

"If the council had agreed, we would have issued the proclamation, but the council did not agree," he said.

Watford said the city is an "extremely conservative community and a very Christian community."

"It's nothing against any person or group of people," Watford added. "It's just the idea of what it represents."

Keefe said he worries for the community moving forward.

"What would happen if they peacefully assembled in the park and had flags or maybe information booths? A picnic?" Keefe said. "How would that be perceived in this community? And I fear it might not go over so positively, maybe even violently, and that's sad."