Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Has the world moved beyond intolerance?

Once upon a time, an antigay, anti-Muslim, "pro-Christian" platform could do wonders for getting you elected in the conservative corners of Hillsborough County.

But the world keeps turning.

Slowly, state by state, people are being allowed to marry whom they want. Even here, miracle of miracles, county commissioners are warming to the idea that gay and transgender citizens deserve the same basic protections as everyone else.

Is the world leaving Terry Kemple behind?

At 67, running for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board, Kemple one-on-one seems an affable man. "I'm not a caricature," he insists. "I'm not some guy with flaming hair that is rallying people about tin-foil-hat issues."

Affability does not translate to open-to-everyone, however. His has been a loud voice against allowing a Muslim leader to speak at a high school and against prohibiting discrimination against gays. (Discriminates against Christians, he says.) Abortion restrictions (yes), school clubs that support gay students (no), sex education beyond abstinence-only (heavens, no), the Valrico bikini bar that resulted in his Community Issues Council — count on the Kemple quote.

He has written of his own demons — his former "self-imposed slavery" to drugs, alcohol and sex. He says he was headed to an early grave via those "unbridled passions" before he found his way. It's true that none are more fervent than the reformed.

Has the world changed? When he ran for School Board two years ago — that time, for a countywide seat — he lost overall but won in the east county district for which he is now vying by nearly 3,000 votes.

But there are other signs. Recently he witnessed a County Commission he once could count on for some like-minded thinking instead vote to move forward on extending basic protections to gay and transgender residents. (Really radical stuff, like preventing people from being denied a job or housing because of who they are.)

Kemple says he was only surprised the vote was unanimous. "All five of the Republicans on the commission have in one way or another supported the same position I support," he said. Change happens.

Kemple wanted to be on a county diversity board even though he said "diversity" was often code for advancing "the homosexual agenda" and the work wasn't important. Some commissioners worried about figurative hand grenades he might lob from that perch. And then, the board's openly gay member dropped his opposition to Kemple with a Pope-ly "Who am I to judge?" Kind of a nice moment, tolerating the intolerant.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, says you take someone as "dangerously divisive" as Kemple seriously. His message, she says, "continues to resonate with a rapidly dwindling but engaged segment of voters."

Kemple says (affably) that the list of those who want his issue-oriented emails and newsletters "continues to grow at a fairly steady and pleasing pace." He says what happens at County Center downtown is not reflective of "the moods and attitudes of the majority of people in eastern Hillsborough."

He says on election day, Aug. 26, we'll see. And on that at least we can agree.

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