I was surprised when I began to tear up prior to the press conference on Tuesday announcing The American Prayer Hour. The purpose of the APH, which is Thursday, February 4, is to offer an alternative to the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which takes place on the same day and is run by the secretive fundamentalist organization known as The Family. This shadowy group is directly tied to the notorious "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda.
In the past, I have worked press conferences that included hate crime victims and their families. So, I've become somewhat inured to the daily horrors that are inflicted on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
But, today really got to me.
Moses, a young gay man from Uganda, spoke at our media conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. He is seeking asylum in The United States, because he fears for his life in Uganda. The Ugandan media sometimes publishes the photographs and addresses of LGBT people, placing their livelihoods at risk and their lives in imminent danger.
I usually prep speakers by reviewing talking points. On this day, however, two staff members for the Human Rights Campaign prepared Moses to face the national media by obscuring his face. They stood in a corner fitting his head with a paper bag.
We had two different size bags, and he tried on each, as if they were shirts at an Old Navy store. We had to ensure that it was a snug fit, lest it fall off, reveal his identity and put his life in jeopardy.
It had been a three-day trek by car for Moses and a friend to get to Washington. This heroic journey would not end in magazine covers, book deals or fame as a talking head on the cable networks. All Moses had to gain was the opportunity to share the truth in anonymity, and he did so with remarkable equanimity.
As Moses stood in front of the podium, the juxtaposition of the American flag and this courageous young man wearing a bag to blur his humanity was jarring. I felt pride for living in a free country where we could hold a press conference to denounce The Family's role in Uganda. But, there was also shame that America, famous for its innovation, had been exporting a virulent and violent strain of religious extremism to far away lands.
In front of the cameras, Moses recounted how he had been forced to marry a woman, was assaulted at school, raped by a policeman, and fired from his job because he is gay.
"One would rather die than come out of the closet," Moses said at the press conference.
Many people at the National Prayer Breakfast have no idea about the radical and unorthodox, cult-like beliefs that The Family is passing off as Christianity. With little transparency and regard for democracy, this organization, which believes God favors powerful elites, spreads its influence throughout the world.
Prominent members of The Family in America include: Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mark Pryor (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), John Ensign (R-NV). Key House members include: Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn) Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Heath Shuler (D-NC) Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA).
"Would you like a glass of fresh blood with your bacon?"
Perhaps, if this were the question asked the rich and powerful attending Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, they’d finally understand that the group behind this event was also serving up extreme ideology that wasn't on the menu. They'd realize that while they dined in an opulent ballroom at the Washington Hilton, there were gay Ugandans who were running for their lives.
While some members of The Family have denounced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, the group's leader, Doug Coe, usually a loquacious man, has been strangely silent. On Tuesday, Religion News Service reported that, "the Family has not officially denounced the bill, and did not return repeated requests for clarification of their role in its development."
One would think that publicly opposing a potential slaughter would be high on Coe's agenda, considering the sponsor of the bill, David Bahati, is a key member of The Family.
President Barack Obama will speak at The National Prayer Breakfast. Hopefully, he will denounce the Uganda bill and make a statement that could affect the dire situation in Uganda.
In the meantime, you can help by attending one of 17 American Prayer Hours across the country, including one in Washington DC. (http://www.americanprayerhour.org). It is time to unmask the horror and create a world where people are free to be themselves.
(Moses, pictured left, is a gay Ugandan seeking asylum in the U.S. who had to hide his face at today's press conference. He feared persecution and even violence if his identity were known.)
Religious Leaders Urge America's Leaders to Speak Out Against Event’'s Connection to Abhorrent Ugandan "Anti-Homosexuality Bill"
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Key religious leaders held a press conference this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to announce the formation of The American Prayer Hour, a multi-city event to be held in two days on February 4, 2010, with key events in Washington, D.C., Dallas, Chicago and Berkeley and to call on organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, Members of Congress attending and the President to use the opportunity to send a clear, unified message against the horrendous Ugandan "Anti-Homosexuality Bill".
The American Prayer Hour was announced as an alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast which is sponsored by The Family (aka The Fellowship), a group with disturbing ties to those spearheading Uganda's oppressive "Anti-Homosexuality Bill." The Bill proposed by Parliament Member, David Bahati, adds an array of criminal punishments for gay people--including the death penalty.
Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith for the Human Rights Campaign,(pictured left) opened the press conference and said, "Tax documents from The Family show millions of dollars have gone into programs run by David Bahati, Ugandan Parliament Member who wrote the anti-gay legislation for Uganda. With that kind of influence, we call on the head of The Family, Doug Coe, to publicly speak out against the proposed anti-gay bill in Uganda. Our nation's public officials, religious leaders and civil and human rights champions must speak with one, clear voice that the proposed execution of a group of people for no other reason than because of their sexuality is immoral and will not be tolerated or condoned through silence. Members of Congress and other elected officials attending this event cannot turn a blind eye to the obligation they have to speak out against such inhumane proposals such as the legislation being proposed in Uganda."
Metropolitan Community Church pastor, the Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, (pictured) said, "MCC is an international denomination at work in dozens of countries so we know firsthand that hatred of gay people is not limited to Uganda. Sadly, conservative groups like The Family continue to spread lies and foment rejection of people based on perceived or real differences in sexual orientation and gender identity. In the name of protecting families, they tell parents to reject their sons and daughters. Implicitly they ask families to imprison their own people and inflict the death penalty on them, whether on the streets or in the jails."
Moses, a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in The United States said, "It breaks my heart that I have to leave my family and loved ones to seek asylum in this country simply because I am gay. Even as I speak, gay people a are being persecuted as a result of this proposed law against gay people. I can only imagine how bad it will be if the bill is actually passes."
Bishop Gene Robinson, (pictured left) the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church said, "I spent time in Uganda to help set up HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs many years ago. Ugandans are a generous and hospitable people. But because of an unholy alliance between conservative religious groups in this country and anti-gay forces overseas Ugandans are turning on their own Ugandan sons and daughters who happen to be gay. This proposed law is a threat to LGBT people in Uganda and everywhere. Around 35% of Ugandans are Anglican and 45% are Catholic. Although many faith leaders have stood by silently, today we speak out on behalf of the marginalized. Faith leaders of all traditions should speak out for the most vulnerable in Uganda before it's too late."
Bishop Carlton Pearson, (left, with collar) interim senior pastor at Chicago's Christ Universal Temple said, "As a straight ally, gay and transgender people come to me and say 'thank you for speaking out.' In Uganda, gay and transgender people cannot even say 'thank you.' They are being silenced by the threat of imprisonment and death. In the yawning silence, we must speak and we must pray. Both religious and political leaders must pray for gay people in Uganda and stop preying on them."
Frank Schaeffer, (pictured left) son of pre-eminent conservative theologian, Francis Schaeffer said, "As a person who was raised in the heart of conservative Christianity, it took me years to realize that anti-gay beliefs are wrong and not inherent to Christianity. Today, fundamentalists are exporting anti-gay beliefs because fewer and fewer people here believe the lies. It's time to stop using gay people as political pawns and understand that we are all children of God."
Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans for Separation of Church (pictured below) said, "We are heartened to note that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the State Department, under President Obama's direction, have been actively working against the proposed anti-gay law in Uganda. These efforts have led Ugandan President Museveni and MP David Bahati to signal that they are considering changes to the legislation. But, now is not the time to ease up the pressure but to continue to push for full decriminalization of gay and transgender people. We ask that President Obama to take the lead on human rights for everyone, everywhere, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."