Dear Mayor Seiler,
If I was invited to share the stage with someone who called your marriage a fraud, described your children as illegitimate and endangered by your presence, and who advocated that you should be fired, denied housing or denied service at a restaurant or other public accommodation, I can tell you without hesitation that I would decline the invitation and denounce those who presumed my consent in doing you harm.
Equality Florida joins many others in asking you not to lend the credibility of your office to legitimize someone with a long history of advocating harm to the LGBT families and our community, many of whom live in your city.
I am aware that you did not organize the event. I know you did not select the speaker. You have told me directly that you had no knowledge of his history and do not share the abhorrent views espoused by his organization. Consequently, you have said that the criticism feels unfair to you. I understand. I’ve yet to meet the person who enjoys being called out publicly.
But the event is the called the “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast,” and your presence is sought because it lends the credibility of your office to the gathering.
You have asked that I hear what you say at the breakfast to know your heart on these matters. I have no doubt you will invoke a need for unity, respect, and civility. I have no doubt Mr. Daly will issue a similar call. Given the outrage that has followed the announcement of him as speaker, I’d be shocked if he served up any of the incendiary rhetoric he has used previously.
But the problem isn’t the words that will be uttered on that day under heavy scrutiny. It is the words leveled routinely over decades that have done great harm. It is Mr. Daly and his organization’s long history of advocating positions that strip LGBT people of legal protections, deny our children legal recognition and reinforce animosities that lead to harassment, discrimination, and violence.
You say you often attend events with people with whom you disagree. I do too. In fact, I often speak with people from all walks of life including politicians and faith leaders with whom I disagree. Some of the richest conversations have come from honest exchanges in the spirit of understanding. If you want to convene a true community dialogue, Equality Florida will be happy to assist. But this event is not that.
I am certain that there are some people whose beliefs or behaviors you find so abhorrent that you would never allow them to be a part of a prayer breakfast that bears your title and imprimatur. Which raises the question, what criteria are you using? How much pain and suffering must someone inflict, how much bigotry must they espouse, how many people must they hurt before you would refuse to participate with them?
When it comes to the LGBT community Mr. Daly’s record and that of Focus on the Family are consistently atrocious.
Mr. Daly has said that marriage equality is a threat to civilization and that two loving gay parents add no value to parenting. He has built a career out of making the world more discriminatory and more dangerous for millions of LGBT people across the globe, particularly children, through his endorsement of dangerous and discredited, psychologically abusive practice called conversion therapy.
Of late, I am told Mr. Daly has softened the tenor of his rhetoric but has not renounced his anti-LGBT positions or political aims to deny or take away basic legal protections. That gentler language may be a sincere step toward a better path or a PR stunt in an environment where anti-LGBT rhetoric doesn’t play as well. Either way, more polite language does not perfume over the stench of discrimination any more than a robber saying “Thank you” after snatching your wallet would lessen the violation.
How can you, in good conscience, share a platform with someone who advocates harm to your LGBT constituents? Can you truly not understand the deep sense of betrayal felt by those who entrust you to defend their right to be treated with dignity and respect and equality under the law?
That you did not plan the event, invite the speaker or know the virulently anti-LGBT reputation are insufficient to absolve you of responsibility for providing visibility and, by proximity, lending the credibility of your office to this organization’s history of harm.
I hope on Friday you will reflect on the path to repair the damage.
— Nadine Smith, Executive Director