Jack Seiler once served as the mayor of Wilton Manors, a Broward city with the second-highest proportion of same-sex couples in the whole country. Seiler, a Democrat, now serves as the mayor of nearby Fort Lauderdale, which has its own long history of LGBTQ support. In fact, South Florida as a whole has quite the reputation as a welcoming place for the queer community.
So it seriously angered residents when, in 2014, Seiler voted against a city resolution supporting same-sex marriage. And now — rightfully — South Florida's LGBTQ community is pissed at Seiler again.
On April 28, Seiler will host Fort Lauderdale's 55th Annual "Mayor's Prayer Breakfast," alongside Jim Daly, a virulently anti-gay pastor from the gay-hating group Focus on the Family. Daly and his organization are famous for opposing LGBTQ couples' rights to marry, adopt, and even be protected from employment discrimination. Daly's group still supports demonstrably harmful "gay conversion therapy" and claims transgender people are "mentally ill." Daly himself once said that same-sex marriage will lead to the dissolution of civilized society.
The CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (who is also the board president at Truth Wins Out, a national LGBT civil-rights group) called on Seiler to drop out of the event.
"Bigotry harms our brand and is bad for business," the CEO, Keith Blackburn, said. "It is a personal embarrassment to me as I travel to national and international destinations to promote Greater Fort Lauderdale as a welcoming LGBTQ destination."
But Seiler tells New Times he has no intention of skipping the breakfast and says he had no part in picking Daly. He said the speakers are selected by a host committee — and that, in the eight years since he's been mayor, he's never helped choose one of the guests.
"I will state that the committee has done an outstanding job selecting the speakers and honorees over the last eight years, and I have no reason to question their decisions," he said.
Asked directly what he thought of Daly's anti-LGBTQ views, Seiler refused to opine about Daly's longstanding issues with homophobia or apologize to constituents who've been actively harmed by that kind of rhetoric.
"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 said. "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."
The event's organizers — the National Christian Foundation of South Florida — said they could not immediately comment. The foundation is run by Stephan Tchividjian, the eldest grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham.
But given that the event is called the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, members of both the national and local LGBTQ communities are calling on Seiler to grow a spine and rescind Daly's invitation. Or boycott the event.
According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the LGBTQ-advocacy group, Daly and Focus on the Family have supported a litany of abuses against the nation's gay community. HRC says Daly's organization has raised more than $515 million over the last five years and donates tens of thousands of dollars annually to fight LGBTQ civil rights across the nation.
The group's political arm, CitizenLink, donated more than $200,000 to kill multiple same-sex marriage and civil-union bills in Washington state, for example. The group has also funneled money to scores of anti-gay candidates, nearly all of them Republicans. (Focus on the Family forked over considerable cash to the anti-gay Todd Akin, who famously left politics after saying that women can only get pregnant from "legitimate rape.")
Despite the fact that communities across the U.S. continue to pass bans outlawing so-called "gay conversion therapy," since it uses abusive tactics against LGBTQ people and has pushed many to suicide,
"Homosexual behavior violates God's intentional design for gender and sexuality," the website says flatly.
The group also fights giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, claiming that those children then become "human guinea pigs” in the “same-sex family experiment.” The group also believes that LGBTQ people shouldn't be given employment protections (something that queer people in Florida still don't
A letter the group sent out in 2009 said that employment protections for gay people would "keep religious employers from being able to hire and fire based on their moral convictions."
Daly himself has not shied away from straight-up insulting the queer community. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has criticized Daly for claiming in 2006 that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, "civilization goes down."
So, yeah, South Florida's massive LGBTQ community, which just celebrated Pride Day in Miami Beach last weekend, is pretty upset. Tony Adams, a reporter
That explanation hasn't convinced gay-rights advocates. On Friday, a national LGBTQ-rights nonprofit called Truth Wins Out called on Seiler to rescind Daly's invitation.
"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,'" the group's executive director, Wayne Besen, said in a news release last week.
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Seiler, who stresses he has nothing against the LGBT community, has not done much during his tenure to fight accusations that he's a homophobe. While Seiler says he's fought for gay rights in his political career, he's never quite lived down his choice in 2014 to vote down a ceremonial city resolution supporting same-sex marriage. At the time, he said he supported civil unions for LGBTQ people. But a year later, he shifted course, signing a proclamation celebrating the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide. But Seiler's statement wasn't a ringing endorsement.
"Now, the United States Supreme Court has ruled and has established and upheld the right to same-sex marriage. As such, the courts have now finally and conclusively resolved the marriage issue," he announced. "As a city, we will continue to absolutely and unconditionally treat all marriages as equal, and, where applicable, we will update our codes, ordinances, and laws to implement and enforce marriage equality. As to any newlyweds, we again extend our best wishes for many joyous years of good health, happiness, and love.”
Here's Seiler's full statement:
As everybody knows, I have not invited anyone to be the speaker at the Prayer Breakfast this year. In fact, I have never met or communicated with Mr. Daly. Further, during my 8 years as Mayor, I have never invited any of the speakers for the Prayer Breakfasts. There is a host committee made up of local houses of worship that organizes and manages this event, and they have done this for decades. The committee extends all invitations to the speakers, honorees, etc., and I am not a member of that committee. However, I will state that the committee has done an outstanding job selecting the speakers and honorees over the last 8 years, and I have no reason to question their decisions.
As Mayor, I am an honorary host and speaker, and I have prayed with and spoke to this group for the past 8 years. 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.
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.
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.