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Does a voice of inequality belong on a panel that works for equality?

Does an anti-gay rights activist belong on a citizens' committee created to promote "equality among all people"?

Or is Terry Kemple's hotly contested appointment to serve on Hillsborough County's Human Relations Board contrary to its very purpose?

Kemple has been front and center against gay marriage, gay-straight student alliances in schools and protection against discrimination of transgender people, among other things.

In fact, had you contributed online to his recent campaign for the School Board, you would have been asked to check a box to assure him your cash did not come from an entity that "in any way works to promote the normalization of homosexual activity." (And why such an entity would give money to Kemple is a question for another day.)

After his defeat at the polls, he applied to the Human Relations Board. (No surprise: State Sen. Ronda Storms was a top reference, she of Hillsborough County government's still-standing ban on gay pride events.)

So what is this Human Relations Board?

Say you felt you were denied a job or an apartment because of your race or your age. The committee, which meets monthly, helps decide if your case goes forward.

County commissioners who voted 5-2 to appoint Kemple were flooded with letters of protest fueled by Equality Florida, the gay and lesbian civil rights group. Human Relations Board member Patrick DeMarco called the appointment unconscionable and resigned.

Kemple calls it all hogwash. "A tempest in a teapot."

"For the people of Equality Florida to say my perspective, because it doesn't agree with their perspective, is invalid is more bigoted than anything they accuse me of," he says.

Now that's a neat trick: Anyone against what they consider to be your bigoted ways is clearly bigoted against you. But remember, this board's specific purpose is to encourage equality "among all people."

So does a bow-hunting carnivore have a place at the PETA table in the name of diversity? Does a white supremacist belong on a committee about equal rights? A man who thinks women are subordinate? Probably not.

"Equality Florida is one of the first to agree that on a human relations board, having diversity in the voices is important, including faith communities," says spokesman Brian Winfield. "That doesn't mean we should have people who are against the very thing the board is for."

Kemple makes another point: Gays are not specifically covered by this panel, which promotes fair treatment "regardless of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, disability or marital status." He's right — "sexual orientation" isn't in there, even if it should be. Point Kemple, if a technical one.

Then there's the spirit of the board's purpose: to make a level field for everyone. At best, Kemple's appointment looks like a clumsy choice, at worst, a message about to whom "equality" does and doesn't apply.

A footnote, from two commissioners.

Kevin Beckner, who is openly gay and did not vote for Kemple, and Mark Sharpe, who voted yes, agree on this: Wait and see.

Says Sharpe: "Perhaps Terry will see and hear things that will help him as he goes forward. Maybe it'll be a growing experience for everyone."

In the name of equality, wouldn't that be nice?

Does a voice of inequality belong on a panel that works for equality? 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 8:07pm]
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