Three weeks after they sparred on a live Miami radio program following the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida’s first openly LGBT state legislator and the president of Florida’s most-powerful conservative organization have escalated their public war of words.
“Since your election to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012 until now, I have always known your reputation as a legislator to be one of nothing but respect for the dignity of the institution, for the legislative process and for your fellow colleagues. Even those who firmly disagree with you on matters of public policy speak highly of you, of your talents as a legislator and the unique perspective you bring to the process,” Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger wrote Tuesday in an open letter to state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach.
“However, after the tragic and despicable acts of evil which took place right down the street from my offices in Orlando on June 12, I was shocked to learn of your repeated statements accusing your fellow legislators of creating an environment that gives rise to such horrible violence when they speak out against any LGBT bills as bad public policy in the Legislature,” Stemberger continued.
Richardson responded Thursday on the same website, FloridaPolitics.com:
“You have misrepresented my position, selectively quoted me, and mischaracterized the world as it exists. It is both clever and sad that you have chosen some of my words to include in quotes, and then encircled those comments with your own rhetoric to confuse your audience as to my statements and intentions. If your supporters look at your letter carefully, they may notice this trick.”
Just after the Pulse Nightclub shooting — in which 49 people, mostly LGBT and Hispanic, were slain — Stemberger told the Christian Network Moody Radio: “The fact that this is a gay bar, it makes no difference. We’re all sexually broken at some level. These are human being that were innocent, and had their lives taken.”
Stemberger, who led campaigns to keep gays out of the Boy Scouts and same-sex couples from marrying in Florida, told the radio network he was “physically sick to my stomach” by the shooting.
Richardson shortly after told radio station WSFU about the political realities of being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person in Florida.
“It doesn’t help when they go to Tallahassee and spew hatred and rhetoric that is harmful to our community,” Richardson said. “I really wish we could get to a place where everyone can get along and respect the rights of everybody.”
On June 17, Stemberger and Richardson were among guests on WLRN’s The Florida Roundup program.
“We need to restore civil discourse,” Stemberger said on the program. “And the way gay rights leaders are communicating, they’re trying to suppress the free exchange of ideas. ... You look at the totality of the statements made by gay-rights leaders, there’s more criticism toward people like myself who did nothing but call for prayer and respect and dignity for these folks.”
Richardson on Thursday: “I stand by my original comment: ‘I absolutely do think that people are emboldened by the comments of certain lawmakers, whether they react in a violent way or not.’ And, I was not just referring to Florida lawmakers.
“I was speaking of all lawmakers — both federal and state. Remember the actions against the LGBT community in Indiana and North Carolina over the past few years.”