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  1. Opinion

Carlton: When does including all kinds of voices become an everyday thing?

This year, for the first time, a Star of David graces the outside of Tampa General Hospital alongside the traditional light-up Christmas trees, at the suggestion of some doctors and hospital employees. {Photo: Sue Carlton]
Published Dec. 13, 2018

Four years ago, Tampa General Hospital topped its rather unlovely cluster of brown buildings at the edge of Davis Islands with big, light-up wire Christmas trees resplendent in red, white and green.

This has since become a glowing holiday tradition that can be spotted from afar, perhaps even from space.

This year, a notable change.

At the suggestion of some doctors and rank-and-file employees to the hospital CEO — and just in time for Hanukkah — a big, blue Star of David joined the Christmas trees in a show of inclusion.

Which brings up a question.

When does recognition of other religions, of other races, genders, even general views not our own, get to be just an everyday thing around here and not particularly remarkable?

Maybe when it happens all the time?

No, we're not there yet. But consider some quiet signs of progress:

The persons who currently serve as chairmen and chairwomen of both the Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissions, the Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils and the Hillsborough County School Board all happen to be black.

And since last month's election, much has been made of the Hillsborough Commission, the most powerful political entity in the county, now consisting of a majority of Democrats for the first time in 14 years.

But also interesting: The county commission is now made up of more women than men. As is the St. Petersburg City Council.

You want diversity? You want inclusion?

The current race for Tampa mayor is almost comical on this point. It's like the writers of some wacky sitcom threw together the most unlikely bunch of characters for maximum potential high jinx.

You've got candidates male and female — okay, only one woman, but she's a front-runner — younger and older, black, white and Hispanic, Christian and Jewish, gay and straight, of more modest means and one so super-wealthy that his art collection alone has been estimated as being well into nine figures.

You can't say voters won't have a rainbow of choices in that March city election.

So these are small but notable steps.

But let's not applaud ourselves too loudly yet for forming diverse elected boards that might actually reflect the people they serve.

In Clearwater, the council just voted to replace a female member who resigned with a man instead of a woman the mayor himself believed was more qualified.

By doing so, they made themselves into an all-white, all-male, all-over-60 government entity to represent a population that most certainly isn't.

And what decade is this?

Because sometimes it's hard to tell.

When it comes to inclusiveness in America, it is an understatement to say we are not in a good place.

This week we saw in court the man who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., killing a woman who was an anti-racism demonstrator and hurting others. Race relations have taken a giant step backward. The fight over immigration gets uglier by the day. The #MeToo movement continues to expose how sexism and worse have managed to thrive. Transgender issues are the new battleground.

Miles to go.

When does a star on a building, or a government that looks like the people it governs, become unremarkable?

I guess it matters until it doesn't, until it's just who we are.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com .

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