UPDATE: With comments from Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
What’s being billed as a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast has some LGBT activists ready to gag.
On April 28, the 55th annual Fort Lauderdale Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast returns to the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center.
This year’s breakfast is already engulfed in controversy with the announcement of featured speaker Jim Daly of the conservative Christian policy institute Focus on the Family.
“Bigotry harms our brand and is bad for business,” said Keith Blackburn, President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, in a news release. “It is a personal embarrassment to me as I travel around the nation and international destinations to promote greater Fort Lauderdale as a welcoming LGBTQ destination.”
Focus on the Family has a documented history of anti-LGBT positions. Daly took over as CEO from founder Dr. James Dobson in 2005 but has, reportedly, worked with the Gill Foundation, an LGBT rights organization, to advance LGBT equality.
However, there’s more to the story, said Broward County human rights activist Michael Rajner.
Prayer breakfast organizers, Rajner said, “fail to acknowledge Focus on the Family’s core objection to an individual’s identity as being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or the fact that they feel you can pray away the gay to live a life for which they affirm." In a letter to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, Rajner also raises two red flags: FOTF's practice of conversion therapy and the city’s lack of an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.
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“In Fort Lauderdale, city ordinance is void of any city protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression,” Rajner writes. “While sexual orientation is included in the city manager’s policy manual, it fails to even reference protections in the Broward County Human Rights Act which Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis helped enact.”
Rajner is not alone is his opposition to Daly’s presence at the breakfast.
Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that stands up to anti-LGBT prejudice, is not convinced Daly is an ally either. TWO executive director Wayne Besen called Daly an extremist and is leading an effort for Seiler to rescind Daly’s invitation to speak.
“With all the good pastors who teach the lesson of ‘love thy neighbor,’ it is outrageous that Mayor Seiler has chosen an extremist to lead his prayer breakfast that preaches ‘loathe thy neighbor,’” said Besen, in a news release.
Chaz Adams, Fort Lauderdale public affairs manager, said the prayer breakfast is not a city event.
"No City tax dollars are expended toward the event nor are any City resources used in support of it," Adams writes in an email. "The Mayor does not invite nor does he select any of the speakers. He serves in an honorary capacity and looks forward to offering remarks that focus on compassion, kindness, tolerance, respect and inclusion."
While he does not have a hand in organizing the prayer breakfast, Seiler has participated in the past and will so again this year.
“As Mayor, I am an honorary host and speaker, and I have prayed with and spoke to this group for the past 8 years,” Seiler wrote in an email to SFGN. “My message is, has been, and will be one of kindness, compassion, inclusion, tolerance and respect. In the past, that message has been very well received at this Prayer Breakfast. In fact, over the years, this Prayer Breakfast has brought our community together, united individuals and houses of worship of different faiths, and had an incredibly positive impact on our City. Every year, it seems that a very diverse group leaves the Prayer Breakfast motivated, excited, and energized to assist others and build community.”
On the event’s website, FTLpray.org, Alan Pratt, lead architect for Church United describes the organization’s mission in a promotional video: “We recognize that we are part of a reality that is very broken.”
The National Christian Foundation of South Florida is sponsoring the breakfast, which also features comments from Brad Formsma of ILikeGiving.com and Immaculée Ilibagiza, a publisher author from Rwanda, Africa.
Church United’s mission is to “unite and encourage our community in fellowship and prayer,” reads its website.
“Together we can change the context of Broward County,” said Pratt in a video.
Single seat tickets cost $50. The breakfast is from 7 to 9:30 a.m.
A representative for the National Christian Foundation of South Florida told SFGN on Monday the prayer breakfast is open to people of all religions.
“From communications with a host committee member since this objection to Mr. Daly was first raised last week, I am led to believe that Mr. Daly's message will be about diverse groups working together, building partnerships for the benefit of the community, and uniting and encouraging our community in fellowship and prayer,” Seiler wrote. “Finally, I would hope that everybody (including all the organizers, speakers and attendees) will focus on all that lifts us up and unites us, rather than a few issues that divide us. Now, more than ever, we need to treat others like we would like to be treated.”