1. Opinion

Column: A diversity council is no place for bigotry

There is much discussion in the community regarding the Diversity Advisory Council and my objections to the appointment of Terry Kemple to that council. Some find it hypocritical that I would purposefully exclude a prospective member from a council designed to promote diversity and inclusiveness.

My strong objections to Kemple's appointment are not ideological or philosophical. I question his motivation and intention to serve on this committee, as well as the gross misrepresentations he made in the application and essay he submitted to the county.

On Sept. 13, Kemple distributed an email attacking my sexual orientation, warning readers of the homosexual agenda of the council and my attempts to create county law with special rights that exclude heterosexuals. He asked readers to tell the Board of County Commissioners that "we don't think this is the 'important' work they should be doing!" He suggested that if recipients failed to apply for a seat on the council, it would result in the County Commission being "pressed by council members who don't have any concern for the thoughts of God."

Some individuals would have you believe that Kemple's assertions are examples of ''diverse'' or ''differing'' opinions that need and deserve a voice on the council. This is laughable. Kemple's actions do not exemplify respect for diversity but rather blatant discrimination and bigotry.

Kemple applied for an appointment to the Diversity Advisory Council on the same date he circulated his hate-filled email. His response to the application question about the experience that qualifies him for the Diversity Council: "I have been an activist in Hillsborough County for 17 years working to insure equal rights for everyone." In a supplemental essay he wrote, "My method is never to denigrate those who disagree with me."

These statements could not be further from the truth, and Kemple knows this. He has opposed the rights of students to form Gay/Straight Alliances, recognition of Gay Pride events, and equal protection under the law for members of the GLBT community. He has fought to keep representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations from speaking in public schools, and he has fear-mongered about those who are Muslim or practice the Islamic faith.

What would motivate an individual to apply to serve on this council if he or she does not believe that its work is important or necessary? When asked by another commissioner at the May 15 board meeting to clarify his use of certain terminology in the email, Kemple replied: "And typically, whenever I've seen any kind of council or commission that had the word 'diversity' in it, the basic purpose of the council or commission was to promote governmental or societal recognition or approval or promotion of homosexuality and homosexual behavior."

The purpose of this council is to promote multicultural diversity, understanding and inclusivity. Members serve as ambassadors to facilitate communication between Hillsborough County government and diverse populations, and develop programs and activities to promote a better understanding of diverse populations and issues.

The concept of diversity is more than tolerance for individual differences that exist among people. It encompasses acceptance and respect for human characteristics such as race, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, religion and sexual orientation. Diversity cannot be promoted in the absence of protections from discrimination and prejudice.

Differing viewpoints and opinions are not only welcome on the Diversity Advisory Council, they are necessary in any truly collaborative process. However, it is inherent that individuals appointed to serve embrace the principles and spirit of our country's founders that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This includes the right to live a life that is free from discrimination.

When Kemple's behavior and words demonstrate that all of the citizens of Hillsborough County deserve to be treated equally, I will reconsider supporting his appointment to the Diversity Advisory Council.

Kevin Beckner is a Hillsborough County commissioner elected countywide. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.