Liberal and LGBT activists are condemning Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his former adversary, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for planning to speak at an “anti-LGBTQ” conference of 700 conservative pastors and spouses later this week in Orlando — exactly two months after the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Trump’s central appeal on the campaign trail to religious conservatives is his promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment, an IRS rule that prohibits churches from using their tax-exempt resources to promote political candidates.
“That’s a good first step,” said David Lane, the American Renewal Project’s founder. “But what about the religious liberty of Christian photographers, Christian bakers, Christian retreat centers, and pastors who believe same-sex intercourse and marriage is sin? These Christians were simply living out their deeply held convictions of their Christian faith when they politely refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding. Doesn’t the First Amendment give us all a right to our beliefs?”
Lane added: “Homosexual totalitarianism is out of the closet, the militants are trying herd Christians there.”
“Holding this event is an insult to the victims and families of those innocent people who were murdered barely two months ago. Decent people everywhere will be appalled. Stirring up homophobia and islamophobia is wrong at the best of times but to do so when the entire Orlando community is still grieving and recovering from the Pulse tragedy, is beyond distasteful. Donald Trump may have mentioned the LGBTQ community in his acceptance speech which some people interpreted as a positive signal to our community — despite the vehemently anti-LGBTQ views of his running mate Mike Pence and the Republican Party platform. But now Donald Trump and Marco Rubio plan to breathe the oxygen of publicity into an openly anti-LGBTQ event, joining some of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ people out there. Haven’t the people of Orlando had enough?” said Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, in a news release Tuesday.
Rubio’s Senate reelection campaign on Wednesday provided a statement to the Miami Herald denying the American Renewal Project event will be anti-LGBT.
“The event I will be speaking at in Orlando is a gathering of local pastors and faith leaders. Leave it to the media and liberal activists to label a gathering of faith leaders as an anti-LGBT event. It is nothing of the sort. It is a celebration of faith,” Rubio said in the statement. “Because I believe that a strong America is not possible without strong families and strong values, for years now I have participated in events hosted by faith leaders to speak about the cultural and social issues before America, including the importance of parents and families, religious liberties and combatting poverty.”
Rubio also said he still disagrees with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry.
“I have always supported a traditional definition of marriage. But I recognize that a significant number of Americans hold a different view. Because marriage is regulated by the individual states, they have the right to petition their state legislature to change the law. And those of us who support traditional marriage also have a right to oppose those efforts,” he said. “This debate should be conducted in a way that is respectful of the views and the dignity of those on both sides. That is the way I have expressed myself each time I have been asked to opine on this issue. And that is how I intend to continue to do so.”
The Task Force and other groups say Rubio and Trump will be speaking at the American Renewal Project conference alongside many religious and political figures well-known in the anti-LGBT rights movement.
“Among the speakers expected at the event include: Mat Staver, who has represented Kim Davis and Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and has denounced memorial gatherings for the victims of the Orlando massacre as ‘homosexual love fests;’ David Barton, an anti-LGBTQ extremist who thinks HIV/AIDS is a ‘divine penalty;’ Maine pastor Ken Graves who claims that LGBTQ people can’t raise happy families because they are ‘depressed;’ and David Lane who believes that basic rights for LGBTQ people will lead to ‘utter destruction’ and ‘car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Des Moines,’” according to a Task Force news release.
Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way, said in a statement “that the GOP standard bearer is choosing to rub shoulders with some of the most extreme anti-gay voices in the country speaks volumes about the Republican party today.
“These are people who revile gay people, calling them ‘demonic,’ and who claim that LGBT rights will lead to the ‘utter destruction’ of our country. But the GOP presidential candidate seemingly has no qualms about casting his lot with these dangerous anti-gay voices,” said Keegan, whose group was the first to report that Rubio would speak at the Orlando event.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT political group, also weighed in:
“Just when you think Donald Trump and Marco Rubio couldn’t go any lower, they announce plans to court anti-LGBTQ activists in Orlando. On Thursday, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are going to seek votes from people who fundamentally believe we are not equal, who support dangerous and harmful conversion therapy and who have worked to export anti-LGBTQ hate abroad,” said HRC Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “Donald Trump would put at risk all the progress the LGBTQ community has made over the last eight years. And we know all too well that Marco Rubio -- who has refused to stand up for LGBTQ Floridians time and again -- would be his loyal accomplice. Because of elected officials like Marco Rubio, LGBTQ Floridians remain at risk of being fired or denied a job because of who they are or whom they love.”
Equality Florida announced Tuesday that activists from that group, the GLBT Center of Central Florida, Organize Now!, The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, Human Link for Pulse, PFLAG - Orlando, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida would protest the American Renewal Project event.
From Equality Florida:
“On the eve of the two-month anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, presidential candidate Donald Trump will join U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a radical anti-LGBTQ event in Orlando. Equality Florida, joined by community partners and individuals directly impacted by the shooting, will gather Thursday, Aug. 11, for a peaceful rally and press conference to demand an end to the hate and violence perpetuated by Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and the religious extremists responsible for the event.”
Open Letter From Florida LGBT Leaders Calling on Marco Rubio to Not Attend Anti-LGBT Rally
Dear Senator Rubio,
Two months ago, the single largest mass shooting in American history occurred in Orlando, targeting the LGBT and Latinx community. LGBT Americans have overcome unimaginable obstacles in their fight for equal rights in this country, and the immense weight of this tragedy will have a profound impact.
In response to the Pulse attack, you focused on how to launch your reelection campaign rather than how you could help your LGBT constituents and their families. Now, as the two month anniversary of the tragedy approaches, you’ve chosen to commemorate the date by speaking at an Orlando rally that opposes equal rights for LGBT Americans.
Senator Rubio, your presence as a guest of honor at a conference featuring vehemently anti-LGBT organizations and speakers legitimizes their discriminatory efforts to deny equal rights to all Americans. Your decision to stand with those who would deny us equality after refusing to stand with your LGBT constituents adds insult to injury.
In the wake of the Pulse shooting, the need for more love, tolerance, and inclusion has never been greater. Your choice to return to Orlando and lend your voice to those who stoke fear and division is unacceptable.
As your constituents and members of Florida’s LGBT community, we urge you to act in the best interest of all Floridians and not attend this rally.
Terry Fleming, President of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus
Vivian Rodriguez, President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida
Carlos Guillermo Smith, former Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chair
Darden Rice, Vice Chair, St. Petersburg City Council