TAMPA — Hillsborough County finalized its Diversity Advisory Council on Wednesday, giving socially conservative activist and School Board candidate Terry Kemple a spot on the panel after all.
The unanimous vote capped months of controversy and discussion about whether Kemple's inclusion would undermine the council's goal of making the county more welcoming to all.
Kemple's appointment came after Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Les Miller stated their concerns about his inclusion. Beckner, who is gay, said previously that he would go along in the interest of having the committee get to work.
On Wednesday, Beckner referred to Pope Francis while making the point that everyone in the community deserves respect and freedom from discrimination.
"When he was asked how he felt about homosexuality, he said, 'Who am I to judge?' " Beckner said of the pope's recent statements. "And his response stuck with me."
Beckner said that, while he is not Catholic, he would take the same approach in considering Kemple's application to serve on the committee representing people of northern and southern European descent.
Miller made it clear he wasn't keen on Kemple's appointment, adding that he doesn't like those who foment trouble or discrimination in the community. He warned that any attempt by Kemple to use the position as a platform to promote discrimination or bigotry will have consequences.
"If you come across as you have in the past, I will do everything in my power to dissolve this committee or remove you," Miller said.
Kemple, a Valrico resident, opposes gay equality measures and has repeatedly sparred with Beckner. In 2012, he led a protest against school appearances by speakers connected to the Council for American-Islamic Relations, which he accused of having terrorist ties. The organization denied the allegation and called Kemple anti-Muslim.
In emails to supporters of his Christian advocacy group, the Community Issues Council, Kemple has said the diversity council is part of Beckner's campaign to "forward the homosexual agenda."
Kemple is seeking the School Board seat in District 4, which includes the Brandon and Valrico area, in 2014.
Commissioners actually took the step of voting separately to approve the ethnic category Kemple would represent to ensure the panel was created with or without his participation. As it turns out, both votes were unanimous.
"I'm glad I'm on it," Kemple said. "I represent a large constituency in this community who deserve to have a member on that panel who isn't afraid to speak with clarity and courtesy, to express their position on things that come before the board."