This morning, despite pleas from several national LGBT organizations, President Obama and several members of Congress attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast hosted by The Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian organization that’s perhaps best known as “The Family.” This secretive clan has global ties to not only hate groups that advocate for and perpetuate anti-gay violence, but members also support legislation around the world that would kill or imprison LGBT people.
It’s the first time Obama has attended the event since coming out in favor of same-sex marriage. It’s also the first time the administration has attended since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her historic speech about the U.S.’s role in advocating for LGBT rights around the world. So for many in the community, the administration’s participation in the event has raised some very serious questions. Did Obama attend in hopes of discussing unity? That’s what the White House is saying. But surely there’s a better way to make a statement about unity than to endorse an evangelical organization as radical as this one?
Not only does “The Family” have ties to Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati, the sponsor of the anti-homosexuality bill that’s currently moving through the Ugandan Parliament – it’s legislation that’s better known as the “Kill The Gays Bill,“ which seeks to impose the death penalty on anyone found guilty of engaging in homosexuality.
“For another year, President Obama has chosen to set aside his stated values of inclusion in order to attend the National Prayer Breakfast – an event rooted in hatred of LGBT people and covered up by pastries and coffee,” says Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL. “There are so many communities of faith that fully embrace LGBT people and that are rooted in social justice – we really don’t understand why President Obama continues to give his permission for ‘The Family’ to support killing LGBT folks abroad. If the president is looking for ways to publicly demonstrate that he’s a man of faith, he needs to find ways to do so without simultaneously putting the lives of LGBT people in jeopardy. The ‘Kill the Gays’ bill has been moving through the Ugandan Parliament at the very same time that President Obama was speaking to the group supporting it – this practice has got to stop, and the president needs to understand the role he is playing in supporting the execution of LGBT people around the world.”
At a previous National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama said “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are – whether it’s here in the United States or … more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”
So what happened this morning?
Given the fact that President Obama recently made references to LGBT equality in his Inaugural speech and in an interview about the Super Bowl, his endorsement of the prayer breakfast comes as a surprise to many LGBT advocates.
“We’d like to see the President stop coming to events that are sponsored by people who are trying to kill and imprison us,” says Cathy Kristofferson, co-lead organizer with GetEQUAL Massachusetts and active supporter of LGBT Ugandans. “We’re disappointed that the president is sending mixed messages to our youth and to our friends abroad, by giving supportive speeches one day and then supporting those who was to murder us four days later.”
In December, GetEQUAL called upon American politicians who are known to be part of “The Family” – they include U.S. Senators Jim Demint (R-SC), James Inofe (R-OK), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) – to publicly denounce the bill and to urge Ugandan Members of Parliament to kill the bill. The call to action is especially important now that the “Kill The Gays” bill has again returned to the Ugandan Parliament’s agenda this week – and could be voted on this month.
It should be noted that for the past two years, GetEQUAL and other LGBT activists have staged protests outside the National Prayer Breakfast, calling on elected officials to boycott the event and support international LGBT rights. But this year, GetEQUAL did not protest. That’s because Michael Dixon, the lead organizer of the annual “Breakfast Without Bigotry,” which has taken place outside the National Prayer Breakfast, died just last week.
Meanwhile at the breakfast, this is what the President had to say, according to CBS: “In a democracy as big and as diverse as ours, we will encounter every opinion. And our task as citizens, whether we are leaders in government or business or spreading the word, is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds, to seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view, to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation and as a people to take real and meaningful action.”