Despite pleas from local LGBT activists, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler is forging ahead with plans to attend an evangelical prayer breakfast this week.
The Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the National Christian Foundation of South Florida, is scheduled for Friday morning at the Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. Focus on the Family Chief Executive Officer Jim Daly is one of the event’s three featured speakers and his involvement has LGBT activists crying foul.
“Focus on the Family actively advocates against marriage equality, LGBT couples adopting children, LGBT civil rights protections and more,” writes Broward County human rights activist Michael Rajner in a letter to Seiler. “They oppose the right for same sex married couples, such as my friends Ed and Pedro, Fort Lauderdale residents in Commissioner Romney Rogers’ district, to be in a committed, loving, marriage and who are raising two beautiful children.”
Per its website, Focus on the Family is celebrating 40 years of global Christian ministry. The Colorado based organization says it “provides resources and help for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.”
Daly is the author of a new book, “Marriage Done Right: One Man, One Woman.” Wilton Manors Commissioner Julie Carson, a lesbian, said Seiler should rescind Daly’s invitation to speak.
“Creating hate and ideas that cripple so many people is just not good for us,” Carson told ABC affiliate Local 10.
Seiler maintained he has no hand in organizing the prayer breakfast, entering its 55th year. The event having the Mayor’s name attached, however, is a validating signal, Carson said.
The Broward Democratic Party issued a statement last week calling Seiler’s decision to attend the breakfast a “disappointing development” that calls into question the mayor’s “beliefs and values.” Seiler, Fort Lauderdale Mayor since 2009, is rumored to be considering a statewide run for Attorney General.
In an email, Seiler said his involvement in the prayer breakfast is an honor that he looks forward to every 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. “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.”
For many LGBT activists, Daly’s placement on the prayer breakfast platform is a red flag. Terry Fleming, President of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus said “Pastor Daly has long been a purveyor of anti-LGBT activism, including promoting dangerous ‘conversion therapy,’ and called LGBT people a ‘threat to civilization.’”
“It’s sad that the Mayor just won’t admit how harmful it is to the gay community,” Rajner said.
Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that stands up to anti-LGBT prejudice, 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 TWO Executive Director Wayne Besen.
Patrick Rogers is the senior pastor for United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale. Rogers is gay and his church is welcoming of all.
“Because of my sexual orientation, I had been a victim of prejudice and hate throughout my life,” Rogers said. “Sixteen years ago, I refused to live as a victim any longer. I now embrace my sexuality as a gift from God and a citizen of our country. I am an advocate for equality and respect for all people. Not only is that the foundation on which our country was built (my Dad served in the Navy and fought on the beach in Normandy) it is also the foundation of my Christian religion.”
Rogers said Seiler’s response to the prayer breakfast is empty political rhetoric.
“I don't book the special soloists who sing at our church on Sunday morning but if a singer was booked is openly racist and runs an organization who promotes racism sang at our church and promoted racism, those in attendance would feel that our church endorses racism,” Rogers said. “His explanation is not acceptable. His attendance at the MAYOR's breakfast sends the clear message that he endorses the message of intolerance, exclusion and division.”
Along with Daly’s distraction, the issue of separation of church and state has been raised. 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."
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis told SFGN he’ll be there to hear it. Trantalis, a gay man, said he, like Seiler, will be attending the prayer breakfast.
“This is our home,” Trantalis said. “I’m going to hear what he (Daly) has to say. It’s amazing that in this day and age there are still people that espouse anti-gay hate and discrimination continues to rear its ugly head. We still have work cut out for us.”
The prayer breakfast is from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 28. Tickets are $50. For more information, visit www.ftlpray.org or call 954-771-0110.