Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

A surprising vote for diversity

A funny thing happened on the way to forming a diversity committee intended to make all sorts of people feel more welcome here in Hillsborough County, Florida:

Something that looks suspiciously like a step toward diversity.

Our story so far: Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough's first openly-gay commissioner, and yes it is relevant to this story, proposed a committee of citizens from varied backgrounds to give them a voice in how things get done around here. We're talking various ethnicities, the disabled, men, women, gay and straight.

Now, if you have been reading about Hillsborough County government since back in the day of Ronda Storms and the famously fractious board on which she sat — stories of speeches about which religious holidays do and do not belong on the school calendar or whether county government should be banned from even acknowledging gay pride events — you know those varying voices have not always been heard.

But hey, it's a new day in Tampa Bay, with commissioners who actually want to work with the mayor of the big city that sits within it instead of the scratchy relationship of the past. This new-day commission voted down that ban on gay pride and even sent over a nice proclamation for the GaYBOR Days event, signed by every one of them.

So a diversity committee for Hillsborough County? Why not?

Enter activist and School Board candidate Terry Kemple, a man who has campaigned against speakers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in schools and pretty much any advancement in gay rights. Not exactly the poster-guy for inclusiveness, but he wants on that committee nonetheless.

Beckner objected. But when the matter of Kemple came before the commission, he passed 4-3 on the argument that diversity includes even someone who thinks like him.

This might have made a thimbleful of sense had Kemple not outed his own thoughts in an email to his Christian advocacy group. He opined that "diversity" was usually "code for some effort to forward the homosexual agenda" and that wasn't the "important work" the commission should be doing.

A ruckus followed, the whole thing got tabled in a procedural move, and it looked like there might not be a diversity committee after all.

Until Beckner recently said it's a priority, given the state of the world. So when it comes back before the board on Sept. 18, he said, "I'm not going to do anything to block (Kemple's) confirmation if that's the will of the majority of the board. The work is way too important." Even with Kemple in the mix.

No, a citizen diversity committee will not change the world, or even the county, in big and fast ways. But every step is a step away from how we used to think of this County Commission.

Sure, certain commissioners could have epiphanies, could rethink the panel's true purpose and the motives of the people they put on it.

But no matter what, there's this:

In the name of inclusiveness, diversity and the greater good, Beckner is willing to accept someone with whom he most definitely does not agree.

And maybe Kemple could take a lesson.

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