This week, Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) sparked outrage when they attended two Religious Right events brimming with homophobic speakers. These events took place very close to the two month anniversary of the Pulse gay nightclub shooting, in the very same city as the massacre. Trump and Rubio's presence at these events demonstrates callousness toward those who were injured and killed during the Pulse tragedy.
Rubio was scheduled to speak at the "Rediscovering God in America Renewal Project" event in Orlando, taking place on August 11-12 and hosted by the Florida Renewal Project (an affiliate of the American Renewal Project). Rubio appeared on the conference schedule alongside homophobes such as David Barton, Ken Graves, and Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver.
LGBTQ rights advocates blasted Rubio for agreeing to attend, but Rubio shrugged off their concerns. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Rubio insisted that the event was a "gathering of local pastors and faith leaders", annoyed that the "media and liberal activists" branded it an anti-LGBTQ event.
When Rubio spoke at the conference on August 12th, his speech combined the usual anti-gay rhetoric of the Religious Right with half-hearted nods toward the LGBTQ community. At the 6:07 mark of his speech, he condemned same-sex marriage and emphasized his support for "traditional" marriage.
"For over two-thousand years, Christianity has defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It is now undeniable that there is a growing number of Americans who seek to expand that definition to include the union of two people of the same sex. I continue to support the traditional definition of marriage, and I do so not because I seek to impose my views on others, not because I seek to discriminate against anyone. I support the traditional definition of marriage because I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship with an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful people."First of all, the Christian tradition has not always defined marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman. Second, multiple studies have demonstrated that same-sex couples are just as capable of raising successful, well-adjusted children as opposite-sex couples. Rubio fails to acknowledge this.
At the 7:15 mark, Rubio criticized LGBTQ rights advocates for having the audacity to demand equality. He lamented the divide this has created between LGBTQ people and the "American church", creating a false dichotomy between the two groups. American Christianity is not monolithic, and many American Christians support LGBTQ rights. LGBTQ people can also be Christians and are making their voices heard in Christian communities.
"Sadly today, the debate on this issue is one that's been marred by heated rhetoric, by heated rhetoric that often comes from both sides, which has created an unfortunate divide between LGBT Americans and the American church. For example, it's no longer uncommon to see support for traditional marriage defined as hate speech. Virtually any effort to support the right of Americans to not be forced to violate the teachings of their faith on this matter is routinely labeled as an anti-LGBTQ law. There's actually a growing effort to expel from the NCAA and to deny program funds to Christian colleges and universities that espouse Biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity. This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy."Speaking of hypocrisy, at the 8:57 mark, Rubio urged his audience to recognize the discrimination that LGBTQ people have faced, moments after condoning discrimination against LGBTQ people.
"When it comes to our brothers and our sisters, our fellow Americans, our neighbors in the LGBT community, we should recognize that our nation, while the greatest nation in the history of mankind, is one whose history has been marred by discrimination against and the rejection of gays and lesbians."At the 9:42 mark, Rubio encouraged the audience to empathize with LGBT struggles while also opposing marriage equality. He fails to realize that the LGBT anger and humiliation he describes is rooted in the discriminatory policies he endorses.
"To love our neighbors in the LGBT community, we should recognize that even as we stand firm in the belief that marriage is the union between one man and one woman, there are those in that community in same-sex relationships whose love for one another is real, and who feel angry and humiliated that the law did not recognize their relationship as a marriage."Well, which is it, Marco? Do you want Americans to treat LGBTQ people like human beings, or do you want them to support homophobic legislation and beliefs? Americans can't do both.
The homophobia of conference speakers, as well as the hypocrisy of Rubio's speech, did not escape notice. The Washington Blade and Orlando Sentinel report that demonstrators protested the conference outside of the Hyatt Regency Orlando on August 11th. Equality Florida organized the Rally to End Hate for the 49 rally and released a statement calling Rubio's speech at the conference "tone-deaf and spineless". Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf condemned Rubio for using the massacre as "political fodder" and "attempting to resuscitate his failed political career by using our pain as a step stool". Christine Leinonen, the mother of Pulse victim Christopher Leinonen, criticized Rubio for failing to take real action after the massacre. "He didn’t feel our pain enough or long enough to make some real action that we can live in a safer society," she told the Washington Blade.
If this was Marco Rubio's attempt at appearing compassionate, he failed. You cannot speak of LGBTQ people as your "brothers and sisters" while condoning anti-LGBTQ attitudes and policies. If you want to acknowledge the humanity of LGBTQ people, support equal rights. If you insist on clinging to bigotry, at least own your bigotry instead of sugar-coating it.
In part II, I'll share quotes from Donald Trump's speech in Orlando. Stay tuned.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The American Prospect: Rubio and Trump Head to Orlando for Anti-LGBTQ Event
Esquire: Marco Rubio and Trump Will See Each Other at an Anti-LGBT Conference in Orlando
Associated Press: Rubio pays lip service to LGBT people at Orlando Christian conference