A Florida congressman is attacking his progressive challenger in the Democratic primary for past anti-LGBTQ statements, including claiming that the gay rights movement was “the devil.”
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, denounced past Facebook comments that recently came to light that one of his opponents, Albert Chester, a doctor and former quarterback for Florida A&M University, had made in recent years.
Specifically, Chester commented in 2013 that he was starting to “not be an Obama supporter anymore” because of the former president’s support for LGBTQ equality, sharing a meme that lamented the praise heaped upon NBA star Jason Collins for coming out, but claimed that former University of Florida and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow was supposedly “bashed” for professing his Christian faith.
“This country has faaaaaar more important things to worry about than people ‘coming out of the closet,'” Chester wrote. “Coming out is not a major step for this country…Sorry no parade nor party needed…Ur business is your business.”
He also claimed “Satan is busy” and urged his fellow Christians to “strap up for battle.”
In another comment from 2013, Chester denounced the gay rights movement as “the devil,” and calling it a “proud stand for unnatural lusts and desires,” the news website Florida Politics reports.
In 2014, Chester made a post claiming he was “coming out too,” denouncing openly gay football player Michael Sam’s decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation prior to being drafted by the NFL.
“Is [coming out] the new badge of honor? I don’t care what u do in your free time as long as you are not hurting anyone…my thing is…can you ball? Can you help my football team?” Chester wrote.
“This stuff is going way overboard. I mean I had gay teammates, as long as they didn’t try that stuff I didn’t care,” Chester added, noting that he takes offense to people comparing the LGBTQ rights movement to the Civil Rights movement. “Bottom line, what in the hell do you expect to receive for announcing that you’re a man who likes men? These parades, flags, and all this bull.”
Chester has gained traction in the primary due to his progressive stances on issues, advocating for Medicare-for-All as a way to fix the country’s health care system, supporting legislation like the Green New Deal to improve the environment, and strengthening the social safety net.
But Lawson, who previously served as a state representative and state senator prior to his election to Congress in 2016, pounced on the comments as a way to attack Chester from the left.
“Albert Chester’s homophobic and bigoted comments are unacceptable,” Lawson said in a statement. “His hateful rhetoric has no place here — not just in Florida’s Fifth District, but across our nation. This is about fundamental decency. LGBTQ Americans face discrimination in employment, housing and other areas of life daily. They need representation by a candidate who will fight to bring our nation closer to equality for all, not one who is detrimental to the progress we have made.
“These public statements show that he doesn’t understand the role the federal government must play in creating safe spaces for our most vulnerable,” Lawson continued. “This type of language incites violence and further divides our communities.”
Lawson attacked one of his previous opponents, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, for using a similar tactic during the 2016 Democratic primary, when he pointed to Brown’s refusal to support pro-LGBTQ legislation while in office. Since being elected, he has amassed a generally pro-LGBTQ voting record.
In that statement, Lawson touted his support for the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, credit, public accommodations, and a host of other areas. That bill passed last year with the unanimous support of the Democratic caucus.
“We must pass laws that protect transgender individuals, allowing them to thrive in a non-discriminatory environment,” Lawson said. “I reaffirm that I will continue to advocate for a more inclusive America, and work to ensure that the LGBTQ community has the opportunity to live openly and free of discrimination and violence.”
In response, Chester issued a statement apologizing for the “ignorant, insensitive, disrespectful, and hurtful” comments he made, while also saying that he no longer holds those beliefs.
“I want to use my power to hear your concerns,” he said. “I am fully committed to an inclusive platform that promotes gender equality and strengthens human rights.”
On Thursday, Chester issued a longer statement, saying: “When these old posts were brought to my attention, I immediately reached out to those affected in good faith to apologize and make clear those old posts do not reflect my current views. I also volunteered to appear in an independently-organized forum of LGBTQ+ activists to discuss these issues openly and reaffirm my apology and changed views. That forum was this past Sunday. The Tuesday after, I released a formal written statement reiterating my apology and changed views.”
He continued: “I have made it clear that I support the Equality Act and other federal protections for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. As the sole Progressive in this race fighting for Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, cancelling student debt and more, I say unequivocally that I will fight endlessly for equality for all, particularly the LGBTQ+ community.”
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