Anti-LGBT Activist’s Appointment to Fla. County Board Sparks Controversy
For Florida’s LGBT activists, the name Terry Kemple is a familiar one that heads a resume pages-deep in the state’s socially conservative-and even anti-LGBT-politics. So when Equality Florida learned of his ironic appointment late last year to a board charged with ensuring fairness and equality for Hillsborough County residents, it took immediate action.
Equality Florida said it has collected nearly 1,000 signatures urging county commissioners-which voted 5-2 in favor of Kemple’s appointment-to remove Kemple from the county’s Board of Human Relations. Equality Florida spokesperson Brian Winfield told EDGE his organization is hopeful commissioners will dismiss Kemple.
"I think the commission is in a place right now where they need to recognize they made a mistake by appointing such a controversial person, who has made it their life mission to not treat people equally, to this position," he said. "The right thing to do is to take corrective action and remove him from the board. There are so many great people out there who can really appreciate and add to the mission of the human relations board and Kemple is not one of them."
Before his appointment; Kemple was best known as president of the Community Issues Council, an organization whose mission is to "promote and protect Judeo-Christian values." Kemple has fought against students’ efforts to organize gay-straight alliances in the county, which includes Tampa. And he also encouraged a boycott of Pepsi soda machines at the Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, of which he is a member, because it sponsored LGBT events and supports domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.
During his unsuccessful campaign for the county school board last year, Kemple required campaign donors to check a box on his Web site indicating they did not support equal rights for gay people.
Long-time board member Patrick DeMarco, who lives in Riverview with his wife, resigned earlier this month over Kemple’s appointment.
DeMarco told EDGE he chose to step down because of his past experience as an educator and voracious reader and his interest in the various social movements that have taken place over the course of American history. He said the message he said Kemple’s appointment sent to county residents concerned him.
"There is no rational, sane, compelling state interest to deny equal rights for all citizens, including gay men and lesbians, in our community," said DeMarco. "It sends a message of bigotry and discrimination that we’d allow a person of this velocity to sit on a board committed to the value of equal rights for all people. It makes a mockery of what the board is supposed to stand for."
In response to criticism, Kemple and his supporters have argued his appointment does not pose a conflict of interest because the county’s human rights ordinance-under which the Human Relations Board is responsible for reviewing discrimination-related complaints-does not include LGBT-specific protections. The ordinance previously included them, but former commissioner and current state Sen. Ronda Storms [R-Brandon] and others removed them in 1995.
Winfield described Kemple’s defense as a red herring. Beyond reviewing complaints filed under the human rights ordinance, the board plays an advisory role with the County Commission to "ensure all people are treated fairly."
"The fact that one particular group maybe doesn’t have protections as we sit here right now doesn’t change the fact that that is the mission of the board," added Winfield. "We agree that this kind of board should have a great diversity of voices, but they should not include people who are bigots, intolerant and prejudiced against any particular minority group, not just LGBT people."
He also believed some commissioners may not have been aware of Kemple’s anti-LGBT positions when they approved his appointment; this thought gives Winfield further hope they will dismiss him.
DeMarco also stands by his resignation, and he remains hopeful other board members may follow his lead. "This was simply a private act that I’m glad has become public, a visceral reaction to the denial of equality for all citizens," added DeMarco.