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Fort Lauderdale’s gay mayor, Dean Trantalis, is under fire after signing a proclamation honoring a religious ministry with a history of maligning the LGBTQ community.
City Commissioner Heather Moraitis introduced a proclamation to honor Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Westminster Academy, a church and school created by Dr. D. James Kennedy, the now-deceased senior pastor of Coral Ridge Ministries, which has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Fort Lauderdale-based Coral Ridge, which has since been renamed D. James Kennedy Ministries, has attempted to sue the SPLC for that designation, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in late 2019. The ministry has since appealed that decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kennedy, one of the nation’s prominent televangelists, frequently railed against LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage — even penning a book, What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage?, using Scripture to justify those arguments, in 2004.
In the 1980s, he endorsed a comic book that criticized the LGBTQ movement that claimed “we’re all gonna DIE because of those homos,” referring to the AIDS crisis. Kennedy also alleged in a newsletter that homosexuals prey on children and endorse sex with underage minors.
Coral Ridge Ministries also allegedly performed conversion therapy on minors who were experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria in the 1980s and 1990s.
The late Justin Flippen, the former mayor of Wilton Manors, Fla., had said he was one of those youths who was referred to Coral Ridge Ministries and subjected conversion therapy to try and “cure” his homosexuality.
Moraitis, the director of development at Westminster Academy, the school established by Kennedy, said she is proud of her church, and simply wanted to honor its mission of living out their faith through their actions.
“I’m not here to judge anybody,” she told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “There’s enough hate in this world, and I don’t want to have a part of that.”
Despite D. James Kennedy Ministries’ anti-LGBTQ past, Trantalis signed the proclamation establishing March 21 as a day to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, noting he was attempting to reach out to faith communities and saying that it is time for the LGBTQ community to move beyond its resentment of the church’s past actions.
“Times have changed and so have their leaders,” he said. “It’s time to build a future based on love and not hate. And it’s time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it. I know I have. And I know our community is better off for it.”
But Trantalis’ decision sparked outrage from LGBTQ advocates, who bombarded City Hall with emails, calls and texts protesting the decision to issue the proclamation and questioning whether the church had changed its ways.
Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor and Commissioner Steven Glassman told South Florida Gay News that “it is important to note that for many in our community, the name of Dr. D. James Kennedy and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church still brings forth many bad memories and a lot of hurt and pain. The wounds are still there.” He accused the proclamation of having “whitewashed” the church’s past anti-LGBTQ actions.
Equality Florida didn’t outright denounce the decision but expressed skepticism that the ministry had taken steps to address its hostility towards the LGBTQ community.
The advocacy group Truth Wins Out called Trantalis’s decision to sign the proclamation “outrageous,” with the group’s executive director, Wayne Besen, saying: “Praising Coral Ridge with a proclamation, is the equivalent of honoring the Proud Boys or the KKK. It shocks the mind and offends the senses.”
Unfortunately, it appears Trantalis’ critics may have been correct. On a Facebook Live broadcast, Dr. Frank Wright, the president of D. James Kennedy Ministries, compared same-sex marriage to marrying a car.
“I hate to break it to them, but many of our gay and lesbian friends, they’ve just been used by the left to destroy the historic definition of marriage and changed the criteria to only be that of love,” Wright said. “If two people love each other, or some guy and his Volkswagen, he loves his Volkswagen, he ought to be able to marry his Volkswagen.”
Wright also attacked Trantalis’ motives for offering the proclamation, accusing him of seeking to advance his political career.
“He’s trying to build bridges to another part of the community by showing his reasonableness,” Wright alleged. “But even hidden within that reasonableness, even within the velvet glove is still a fist.”
Following Wright’s comments, Besen, the executive director of Truth Wins Out, penned an editorial for LGBTQ Nation criticizing Trantalis.
“Trantalis was duped. His kumbaya was contradicted by facts on the ground. [Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church] showed their true colors, and it wasn’t a rainbow flag,” Besen wrote, accusing Trantalis of betraying his own political base. He also pointed to more recent rhetoric by D. James Kennedy Ministries attacking LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed curricula, and Westminster Academy’s requirement that married parents of students must be “a legally married man and woman.”
“Aside from creating a false equivalency–blaming LGBTQ activists for not being kind enough to their chief tormenter — Trantalis didn’t do his homework. Had he done so, he would have learned that Coral Ridge hadn’t changed its wicked ways,” Besen said.
“The hard truth is that the mayor badly miscalculated. He elevated and celebrated a church that is still actively discriminating against LGBTQ people. As we saw on their Facebook Live broadcast, Coral Ridge demonizes and dehumanizes gay and transgender Americans to this day,” he added. “They have yet to apologize for past sins, nor offered tangible policy changes. The Southern Poverty Law Center was correct when it said yesterday that the proclamation ‘is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ residents that call the area home.'”
Besen then said Fort Lauderdale residents would forgive Trantalis if he admitted his error and rescinded the proclamation. But, if he can’t, Besen argued, the mayor should resign from office.
“While it’s nice to have a gay mayor, it’s even more important to have one with character who represents the values of his constituents,” Besen concluded. “Mayor Trantalis should rise to the occasion and do what’s right, not what’s expedient to further potential ambitions for higher office.”
In response to a request seeking comment on Besen’s op-ed, Trantalis issued a statement reiterating the need for moving on from past grievances.
“The LGBT community has been the victim of the religious right for many years. My activism to defeat their efforts began over 30 years ago. We have made significant progress in our community. Since then, their leaders have changed, and so have their attitudes towards us,” the mayor said in the statement.
“For the past few years, I have organized meetings between our faith community and theirs, and we continue to find common ground. Erasing the atmosphere of hate is key to my attempt to bring communities together and embrace the diversity which have enriched us,” added Trantalis. “My goal is to build a future based on love, not hate.
“As a longtime activist, I am prepared to let go of these once negative feelings, and I know many in my community seek that out as well,” he concluded. “When my fellow commissioner asked if we could do a proclamation regarding her church and school which she attended, I believed that doing the proclamation commemorating these institutions served both as a courtesy to her and as an opportunity to open the door for change. My efforts will continue for the betterment of our community.”
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