Hillsborough County Diversity Council chair, vice-chair resign following Confederacy activist’s appointment

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Calendars may read 2017, but there’s been no shortage of controversy this year surrounding 1865’s Civil War, in which Confederate soldiers failed to secede from the United States to pursue the right to enslave other human beings.

Confederate monuments and their removal have taken on a refocused scrutiny following last month’s tragic murder of activist Heather Heyer by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va., to say little of the president’s repeatedly asserted appraisal that the fault lay on “many sides.”

It’s a scrutiny and controversy to which Tampa Bay is not immune. Aside from the area’s own proposed or completed monument removals, Hillsborough County Diversity Council chair Nestor Ortiz and vice-chair Gary Howell each resigned in late August following the appointment of David McAllister, a “commander” of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and a spokesman for “Save Southern Heritage.”

The 2010 census listed Hillsborough County’s population as 1,229,226 people. Its largest city is Tampa, and it’s the fourth most populous county in Florida. The diversity council was enacted to “facilitate communication between county government and its diverse populations, addressing matters related to diversity that are important to everyone.”

Membership is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners and is comprised of 24 members, with two representatives from each of the following categories: African American; Caribbean; Far East Asian; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender; Hispanic/Latino; Indian Asian; Middle Eastern; Native American; Northern & Southern European; People with Disabilities; and At-Large, which requires no specific demographic.

McAllister was appointed to represent the “Northern & Southern European” demographic, having frequently attended meetings in the past. According to the Tampa Bay Times, McAllister was “always in a red tie with the rebel stars and bars, often arguing for more county appreciation of Confederate history and the reinstatement of Southern Heritage Month,” which ended in the area in 2007.

“Mr. McAllister and the sons and daughters of the Confederacy have been nothing more than obstructionists and that is simply as a member of the audience,” former chair and founding member of the council Nestor Ortiz wrote in his resignation. “What more on the council itself? He has been rude as an audience member and has been asked on numerous occasions to refrain from outbursts. To place someone like Mr. McAllister on the council is in direct opposition to our core values of diversity and inclusion from those who are looking to unite this county.”

“This body is meant to engage the incredibly diverse communities found throughout Hillsborough County that have historically been marginalized, disenfranchised and oppressed,” Ortiz wrote, “by individuals with values similar to Mr. McAllister and his group.”

Vice-chair Gary Howell, also a founding member who had represented the LGBT demographic, concurred in his own resignation letter. “I am a psychologist, educator, LGBT advocate, and diversity training expert in the psychology field. I have presented at national and state conferences on multiple diversity topics and teach a diversity class in a doctoral program for clinical psychologists. I am very well aware of what constitutes ‘diversity and multicultural’ representation.”

“I know our council was almost not formed because the northern/southern European group was not included at the table, which would have been a disgrace,” Howell continued. “When we are talking about diversity, we are talking about marginalized groups and those who are oppressed. What the inclusion of this category meant was that White people needed a place at a table that they already sit at on a larger level.

“My identity as an openly gay psychologist allowed me to represent our community… however, I am very keenly aware of my privilege as a White man… I use my privilege to advocate for those who are oppressed.”

Howell further noted that “Charlottesville should be a wakeup call to Tampa and Hillsborough,” advising that despite Mr. McAllister’s argument in favor of the Confederate flag, “it is a symbol that is linked to oppression, murder, and bigotry in all forms.”

He wrote that he grew up in Texas, “where gay men were bashed by men who drove trucks with [Confederate] flags proudly flying and young African American men were also beaten or murdered with the same flag proudly flying behind the murderers.”

“My commitment to serving diverse, marginalized, and intersecting communities will continue,” Howell concluded. “I unfortunately cannot stay at the table and in good conscience represent the LGBT community or my colleagues, students, patients and friends of color.”

According to Tampa’s Fox affiliate, McAllister reportedly saw a seat at the council “as an opportunity be involved and participate on behalf of the indigenous southern Americans who were not represented.”

“Neither I, nor any group that I am affiliated with is in any way racist or white supremacist,” McAllister advised. His two-year term began September 1.

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