A contract between Broward County Public Schools and Celebration Church Fort Lauderdale has some members of the LGBT community accusing school officials of sheltering bigotry.
The school system has entered into a three-year contract with Celebration. In exchange for allowing Celebration to use Fort Lauderdale High School for worship services on Sundays, the church will install a $251,000 sound system at the school which will remain after the contract expires.
But local LGBT residents and activists are saying the contract should be rescinded because of Celebration’s viewpoints on homosexuality and transgender issues. Increased traffic and noise problems were also concerns.
Dave Mills, a gay Wilton Manors resident, said he was dismayed. “It appears to me, Commissioner, the School Board has sold out sexual minorities for the sake of some media equipment,” wrote Mills in an email to School Board Member Heather P. Brinkworth. “Tell me, Commissioner, how much is the well-being of a trans kid or staffer worth to you? $251,000? Will we also be seeing an increase in harassment of LGBT kids and employees? Will they demand teaching of 'Biblical' Creationism? Will they demand the School Board reject informative sexual education in favor of 'abstinence-only'?”
On its website, celebration.org, the church advocates that marriage should only be between one man and one woman and that “God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”
The church also writes that “We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with Scripture nor the doctrines of Celebration Church.”
Some of those against the church’s contract say that although Celebration may not look like well-known anti-gay bigots such as Pat Robertson and Focus on the Family, the message is essentially the same.
“This community will not allow bigotry,” said Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis, who remembers a time when real estate deeds could specifically spell-out restrictions against gays, lesbians, blacks, Jews and other minority groups owning homes. “We have, for too long, suffered discrimination. It’s important to stand up. Without that, we wouldn’t be here.”
Trantalis was one of at least two dozen people who packed Warsaw Coffee in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14 during a meeting of the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association. He was joined by Brinkworth, activists, residents, community leaders, and the pastor of Celebration, Layton Germann and his wife, Hannah.
At times, passions ran high but Colleen Lockwood, president of the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association, asked everyone to remain civil.
“I think it’s important the contract be rescinded,” said Steve Glassman.
Barbara Myrick, legal counsel for Broward County Public Schools, said the school district can’t discriminate against Celebration because of its moral beliefs. “By law, there will be no reconsideration [of the contract]. We have to accept everyone has freedom of speech.”
She also cited the case in 2000 where the Boy Scouts of America sued the school system after the youth organization was banned from using school facilities because of its policy against allowing openly-gay leaders to join its ranks. “We were taken to court and we lost,” said Myrick.
She added that the church is only legally guilty of discrimination if it stops someone from attending a service because of who they are, not just because of the language on its website. If it did discriminate, she said, that would be in violation of its contract and that would be cause for termination.
“Go ahead and learn from this,” said one man.
Brinkworth said the only way to keep controversial groups from renting school facilities in the future is to change the policy and stop rentals completely. “If we rent to one person, we have to rent to everyone.”
Activist Michael Rajner addressed Pastor Germann directly and asked him to keep in mind how the church’s rhetoric makes LGBT individuals feel. He also asked how someone who is gay or transgender is supposed to feel welcome if the church has spoken out against “our mere existence.”
Germann responded, saying that he heard the “thoughts, concerns, and fears” expressed and was not in favor of discirimation. “We are not for that.” He asked those in attendance to give his congregation time to prove “we can be a good neighbor . . . show you who we are.” As for the wesbite, Germann said the controversial language may be removed.