Olson, school leader and Catholic, defends gay adoption support

October 1, 2011
Tampa Tribune

When Candy Olson announced her support for gay adoptions, the 17-year member of the Hillsborough County School Board expected some attention.

After all, she's also a Roman Catholic and a Eucharistic minister divorced from a judge who came out as gay.

But in the week after her commentary appeared in The Tampa Tribune and landed on HuffingtonPost.com, the school board vice chairwoman known for candor on and off the dais says she is still surprised by how much interest she has generated.

She's also ready to put it behind her.

"I told my story," Olson said politely on the telephone. "I am what I am."

She concedes that she has received some comments, mostly positive, a few not.

"Candy Olson should be removed from all positions of authority within the Catholic Church until such time as she fully understands the teachings of Christ on the issue of homosexuality," wrote Lutz resident Mary Kimball in a letter to the Tribune's editor.

Reached this week, Kimball, a wife and mother and Catholic, said that while she feels compassion for Olson, she believes the politician's comments did a lot of damage.

"She really ought to retract her statements," Kimball said. "That's the only way she can remedy the situation."

Olson, 64, said she regrets including her church, historic Sacred Heart in downtown Tampa, in a footnote at the bottom of her commentary.

"In retrospect, I wouldn't have. I've gone to that church for a long time."

She wrote the Sept. 21 commentary as a mother, she said, and someone who cares about children. That's all.

Her words commemorated the first anniversary of the end of Florida's controversial ban against gay people adopting children.

"To me, a faithful Christian and a fiscal conservative, it made no sense whatsoever to deny any of these children a loving family because some people might not be comfortable with what the family looks like," Olson wrote.

She went on to lament the plight of hundreds of foster children waiting to be adopted, and said she knew firsthand that gay people could be good parents.

She and her husband, a bankruptcy judge in South Florida, raised two daughters. The couple divorced in 2008.

"I hope for a world where people like my former husband could be themselves and where good parenting is the only standard in deciding who can adopt," Olson wrote.

Reached this week, the Rev. George Corrigan of Sacred Heart said: "Candy is a public person. She can place her own opinions. That's sort of where we leave it."

The Catholic Church believes every child should have a mother and father, and marriage is between a man and a woman, said Frank Murphy, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

When it comes to issues such as homosexuality or divorce, "We approach it from a compassionate and forgiving and loving position," Murphy said.

"We are taught not to judge. I have seven kids. You just have to be loving. Condemn the sin, not the sinner."

As for Olson's position as a Eucharistic minister, in which she distributes what Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ, Murphy said she is free to express her opinions.

Tampa real estate agent Fran Costantino, who was raised as a Catholic, said she was shocked when she read Olson's commentary.

She got to know Olson about six years ago when Costantino pushed successfully to name a middle school after the late Don Giunta, a guidance counselor and longtime family friend.

"She put herself out there," Costantino said. "I think that was very brave and awesome of her. Religion is what you live in your daily life. Not a title."

School Board Chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb said she planned to send a note of support to Olson, whose District 2 takes in South Tampa and parts of south Hillsborough County.

Although the issue is not before the board — "and I don't think it should be," Edgecomb said — Olson "demonstrated a real sense of commitment to what she believed in."

"I do think it was courageous," Edgecomb said.

On HuffingtonPost.com, with a monthly national audience pegged at more than 13 million by The Nielsen Co., people thanked Olson for her support.

Olson also drew praise from Equality Florida, a local civil rights organization representing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"I thought it was really powerful," said the group's executive director, Nadine Smith. "I know a lot of people were touched by the honesty of it."

Honest because Olson, who says she hasn't decided if she will run for office again, shares a very private, painful story.

"She tells a story that many people don't usually tell," Smith said. "I think it was keeping with her faith and her politics."

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