TAMPA — Hundreds of people this week wrote to Hillsborough County commissioners protesting the December appointment of antigay rights advocate Terry Kemple to the county's Board of Human Relations.
The letters, prompted by gay-rights group Equality Florida, urge commissioners to replace Kemple with "someone who actually believes in the mission of the Hillsborough Human Relations Board."
The 13-member advisory board reviews complaints filed under the county's human rights ordinance, according to its website. The ordinance aims to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, disability or marital status.
Kemple is president of the Community Issues Council, a local group that promotes conservative values.
He ran unsuccessfully last year for the county School Board on a platform of abstinence, religion and opposition to Darwin-based biology. He also spearheaded the 2008 effort to pass Amendment 2, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Kemple was appointed to the Human Rights Board Dec. 15 by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, who is openly gay, in favor of someone other than Kemple.
"It makes no sense at all," said Equality Florida spokesman Brian Winfield. "To put somebody like Terry Kemple on a board … whose stated purpose on its own website is to encourage equality among all people, this is exactly what Terry has opposed for the last five to 10 years."
Winfield said his group only recently heard about Kemple's appointment, otherwise it would have fought it from the start.
Commissioner Victor Crist said he wasn't aware of Kemple's views or background until now. But had anyone spoken up during Kemple's appointment consideration, Crist might have questioned Kemple more closely to ensure that he would be open-minded and tolerant.
Still, "At this juncture, let's wait and see what kind of participant he is. He could very well bring a dimension to the board that helps bridge peace, you know, we don't know yet," Crist said. "But I do know one thing — everybody and all perspectives deserve a seat at the table, and to try to muzzle that would be muzzling democracy."
Kemple said a desire to serve the community motivated his application to the board. He balked at Equality Florida's suggestion that his views would make him an unfit participant, pointing out that the county's antidiscrimination policy doesn't even address sexual orientation.
Technically, complaints about gays being treated unfairly wouldn't come before the board, he explained.
"I really feel this is a tempest in a teapot," said Kemple of Brandon. "It's meaningless."
He said he wants to use his position to promote equal rights for all, not special rights for some. And he does not plan to step down.
"I have a mission in life," Kemple said, "and to allow some naysayers to deter me or sway me from my mission would be an inappropriate decision."
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.