Conservative Terry Kemple appointed to Hillsborough County diversity council

10/02/13 Seán Kinane
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Tags: LGBT, Muslims, Hillsborough County Commission, Terry Kemple, Kevin Beckner, Les Miller, islam, Victor Crist, diversity


Terry Kemple (April 2008).

photo by Seán Kinane / WMNF News

Hillsborough County Commissioners created a Diversity Advisory Council Wednesday morning and unanimously appointed conservative Christian Terry Kemple as one of its members. That’s despite the push from some commissioners in the past to exclude him because they say he has anti-diversity views including against Muslims and gays. Openly gay Commissioner Kevin Beckner said his change of heart came from something Pope Francis said this summer.

"Actually was a response to, when he was asked of what he felt, how he felt about homosexuality, he responded 'who am I to judge?' 'who am I to judge?' His response stuck with me and I continue to ask myself that question. When it comes back to this particular issue, I did indeed judge Mr. Kemple's actions by his actions, certainly not by him as an individual person. But it is not for me to judge his intentions on wanting to serve on this board. I think only he knows what his intentions are and would certainly hope that he is intent on being a productive member of this group. But I would also hope that by serving on this board that Mr. Kemple and his supporters would ask themselves that same question. 'Who am I to judge?' "

Before the vote to appoint specific people, including Kemple, to the Diversity Advisory Council, commissioners unanimously supported adding two positions to the diversity group. These would be open to people of Northern and Southern European background. Commissioner Victor Crist argued this would enhance the diversity on the Diversity Advisory Council.

"There are generally significant differences between Northern and Southern Europeans in culture, in religion and in a variety of different lifestyles and I just wanted to make sure that they understood that they had a seat here in the diversity council, that they weren't being ignored or left out of this process. I know that one's argument could be 'well any one of the other groups could represent these individuals'. Yes, they could, they may or they may not. And not to be specific means that we leave the door open for them not to have a seat at the table. So, at this point, I ask for a second in support of ensuring that we have true diversity here."

Terry Kemple was appointed to one of the seats for people of Northern and Southern European background. Before the vote, during public comment, he made the case for being included on the diversity council.

"If it wasn't such a tragedy the fact that there will be two votes on the diversity advisory council today might humor us. To divide out the European category for a separate vote so that any commissioner who chooses to vote for the diversity council but wants to vote against the inclusion of Terry Kemple without mentioning my name seems to me to be extremely hypocritical. Any commissioner who chooses to vote for the diversity council but votes to exclude an entire people group including the other representatives of that group in order to keep a man who has different opinions on issues from being on that diversity council needs to do a personal assessment of just how committed to diversity you really are."

But even though Commissioner Les Miller supported the nominations, including Kemple’s, he warned he would face scrutiny.

"Mr. Kemple, let me tell you this. I don't agree with you on anything you say. You came to my office and I don't agree with what you told me in my office, and I don't agree with you with the email I saw you sent out since that particular point in time. I don't know what your problem is with certain people in this community. I don't know how you can serve on a diversity committee with the type of inflammatory attitude you have in your emails. I really, really don't. But I'm not going to hold up this committee because of one person. But be ever mindful that in any way during the discussions or the deliberations of this committee to bring back something that's going to be constructive to this community, and you come across with the way you come across in the past I will do everything within my power to either resolve that committee or take you off."

The county’s Diversity Advisory Council will have 22 members. It had faced months of delay because of the controversy over Kemple’s appointment.

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Soothing the ego of one more white male conservative is not the best way to create diversity. They'd have been better off appointing my father. And he's dead.