TAMPA — A second person has resigned symbolically from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the appointment of a known activist of Confederate causes to the panel.
In a letter to the county, Gary Howell, the director of practicum training & associate professor at Florida School of Professional Psychology, said he was stepping down after three years on the council, most recently as vice chair. Howell called the appointment of David McCallister to the diversity council ” inconsiderate, disrespectful, and inappropriate,” especially after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
The council’s chairman, Nestor Ortiz, resigned last week. The terms of both Ortiz and Howell were set to expire at the end of the month.
McCallister is the commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Judah P. Benjamin Camp and a spokesman for Save Southern Heritage. McCallister will represent Northern and Southern Europe on the council.
That there is a European representative on the board came after a divisive fight that nearly threatened the formation of the council. Howell, an LGBT advocate, said, “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.”
“Shame on them for this slap of invalidation to a council that was created to advise them on issues of diversity,” he wrote. “Now, this council, with such amazing potential to be a national model of its kind, has appointed someone from this (Confederate) community to serve as a diversity representative. What does this communicate to the people of color or other marginalized groups in Hillsborough County?”
McCallister attends nearly every county commission in a Confederate battle flag tie to advocate for recognition of Southern heritage and of Confederate veterans of the Civil War, which he calls “The War Between the States.”
Four commissioners selected McCallister on Wednesday for the Diversity Advisory Council. The decision came moments after commissioners voted 4-2 to tie the fate of the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa to the success of a private fundraising campaign.
The same four commissioners — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White — who voted to put the conditions on the monument’s relocation also nominted McCallister.
McCallister called the criticism of his appointment “ridiculous” because his group and its supporters are also part of the fabric of the county.
Read Howell’s letter below:
“I have been a proud founding member of the DAC since its beginning stages of strategic planning and formation of the very first subgroups. I am honored to have served on this council for 3 years as a member and Vice-chair. My term is officially over at the end of this month, and I did not reapply for consideration. However, at the request of staff, please consider this my official resignation. 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. We sat through meeting after meeting enduring a man talking about the sons and daughters of the confederate. 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. 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 on the DAC; however, I am very keenly aware of my privilege as a White man — in fact, two intersecting identities of privilege! I use my privilege to advocate for those who are oppressed.
The timing of the BOCC to add David McCallister to the DAC was inconsiderate, disrespectful, and inappropriate for this council! I was shocked to learn of such news via Facebook and not have the courtesy of a discussion with DAC and BOCC. I respect the BOCC as our elected officials; however, shame on them for this slap of invalidation to a council that was created to advise them on issues of diversity. This has been a contentious issue since the inception of this council. Clearly we were left in the dark about advising on an issue like this. Charlottesville should be a wake up call to Tampa and Hillsborough—the torches and chants alone should have been enough to make our BOCC reconsider. Despite Mr. McCallister’s argument about the confederate flag, it is a symbol that is linked to oppression, murder, and bigotry in all forms. I grew up in Texas where gay men were bashed by men who drove trucks with those flags proudly flying and young African American men were also beaten or murdered with the same flag proudly flying behind the murderers. I have patients of color who have visceral reactions to the offensive flag flying near interstate 75. Now, this council, with such amazing potential to be a national model of its kind, has appointed someone from this community to serve as a diversity representative. What does this communicate to the people of color or other marginalized groups in Hillsborough County?
My commitment to serving diverse, marginalized, and intersecting communities will continue. You may see me at a DAC event to voice my concerns very soon. I unfortunately cannot stay at the table and in good conscience represent the LGBT community or my colleagues, students, patients and friends of color.”