An alliance of Texas LGBT-rights and faith-based groups plans to take to the streets in August to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s affiliation with the American Family Association in hosting a controversial Christian prayer and fasting event, already denounced by a number of organizations. AFA, a designated ‘anti-gay’ hate group, has made it a priority to combat what they describe as the “homosexual agenda,” leading boycotts against companies considered supportive of the LGBT lifestyle and censuring homosexuality as “immoral.”
“We are not against prayer – we are against the AFA, an extremist group who has made it a mission to spread lies about our community and distort true American values of justice and equality for all,” said Michael Diviesti, head of GetEQUAL, a Texas-wide, direct-action LGBT civil rights organization. “Their very presence at this event makes it no longer ‘apolitical’ because they have an explicit political agenda — to keep LGBT members in a place that they feel that need to be. This agenda, for a fact, will be broadcast throughout this event.”
AFA’s sponsorship guarantees hateful rhetoric geared toward the estimated 900,000 LGBT Texans, Diviesti said. Additionally, list-building hosted by the AFA website will be conducted at the event, meaning that even those that do not subscribe to the organization’s beliefs will be exposed to its message, he said.
Several groups, including the Texas chapter of The Secular Coalition of America and the Houston Clergy Council – who recently penned a letter condemning AFA’s involvementwith the event – have plans including a ‘Pray the Hate Away’ event (a jab at ‘Pray the Gay Away’ conversion techniques promoted by anti-gay groups) and protest outside Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6, the day of Perry’s prayer/fast. Diviesti projects that 10-15 grassroots organizations and some 2,000 people will join together in shared disapproval against the event. GetEQUAL will provide caravans to Houston for attendees from cities across Texas.
The group began an online petition Monday calling on Perry to exclude “extremist hate groups” and anti-LGBT organizations from the prayer/fast. It has attracted more than 200 signatures, but Diviesti is aiming for 100,000 online and hand-written names to be added to the letter before the August rally, a symbolic number representing double the amount of signatures AFA pulled in for their boycott of Home Depot for its “sponsorship and participation in homosexual events,” and corporate endorsement of a “dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle.” Diviesti and allies plan to hand-deliver the petition to Perry in mid-July.
“If you are going to host a statewide prayer event and call it ‘non-denominational and non-political’ then as our Governor, you need to welcome all faiths, which he did not,” said Diviesti, who served as a former Fort Hood chaplain assistant for the U.S. military, referring to recent comments made by AFA spokesperson and former Perry speechwriter Eric Bearse. On Monday, Bearse told radio listeners that anyone “regardless of their faith tradition or background” is invited to event to “seek out the living Christ” and feel the presence of Jesus, Right Wing Watch noted.
Diviesti said the coordination among the LGBT, faith-based and other groups is unlike anything he has seen in his years of organizing. “These are groups that decided on their own they were going to have a response to this. After everyone created their own protest, we all sort of found a way to incorporate these separate events,” he said.