State Department employees allegedly balked after members of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s advance team discovered overtly anti-gay flyers ahead of a planned speech before a conservative Christian group that promotes conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals.
Pompeo, who was scheduled to speak at an event hosted the Florida Family Policy Council on Oct. 3, ultimately addressed the group of 700 people virtually due to a desire to socially distance following an outbreak of COVID-19 that infected several Trump administration insiders and allies, including President Trump.
But prior to the event, the speech was flagged by members of his advance team, who expressed concerns about the flyers, and other State Department employees also complained after learning that the Florida Family Policy Council website says the group offers LGBTQ people “help leaving the gay lifestyle,” reports McClatchy.
The event was opened by Jannique Stewart of Missouri, a speaker who described her work as training others in opposing abortion and in “countering some of the agenda when it comes to LGBTQ.”
According to McClatchy, a source within the State Department described several aides as “appalled” that the event took place despite their concerns, and surprised that Pompeo — who has his own history of anti-LGBTQ statements and votes from his time in Congress — touted his appearance in his latest “Miles with Mike” message to State Department employees.
While the State Department frequently condemns conversion therapy abroad in its human rights reports, classifying it as “acts of violence, discrimination, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Florida Family Policy Council has opposed efforts to ban or restrict the practice.
The organization also argues on its website that the term “conversion therapy” is an ideological term used to discredit those who believe in offering the therapy to individuals struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction.
Under a tab labeled “Leaving the Gay Lifestyle,” the website contains links to multiple religiously-based organizations that offer such therapy, and, in another section on conversion therapy bans, links to a video by What Would You Say?, an online web series created by the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, titled, “If Conversion Therapy Is Bad, Why Is Sex Reassignment Good?” That video accuses LGBTQ activists of changing the meaning of words to push a radical anti-Christian agenda.
“Conversion therapy bans disguise themselves as bans on ‘abuse,'” the Florida Family Policy Council writes on its website. “Rather, such bdwonans place unconstitutional limits on freedom of speech because they do not consider the patient’s (or minor patient’’ parents) right to pursue avenues of therapy consistent with their beliefs and choices.”
A spokesperson for the State Department downplayed any alleged upset over Pompeo’s participation in the event, but did not address the group’s views or answer whether the secretary supports conversion therapy.
“The Secretary was asked to speak to this group about the mission of the State Department and he did. The Secretary believes that organizations like Florida Family Policy Council are entitled to hear from him on important national security policy matters,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The Secretary was not made aware of any concerns with respect to speaking before this group given that other major leaders have addressed this event.”
John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, pushed back against reporting that there were flyers at the event venue indicating support for conversion therapy, saying that the State Department never asked about the issue, and noting that the organization does not directly provide any therapy or counseling to people struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
But LGBTQ advocates denounced Pompeo’s decision to participate in the event, seeing it as a signal that the State Department embraces or condones the Florida Family Policy Council’s views on LGBTQ issues.
“I’m stunned that our secretary of state would be spending his time going to local organizations whose actions drive kids to suicide, to drop out of school, to otherwise dangerous behaviors because the adults around them are trying to force them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is not something that can be done,” Tom Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, the leading LGBTQ rights organization in Pompeo’s home state, said in a statement.
“The Florida Family Policy Council is an anti-LGBTQ extremist group that has sought to undermine and attack our community’s most vulnerable at every opportunity,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement. “The highest levels of the State Department clearly knew about FFPC’s extremism and yet, even over the objections of staff, chose to embrace it anyway.”
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