Protesters: Perry Should Not Stand with Group that "Permits Hate Speech"
Houston’s Reliant Stadium can hold more than 71,000 people, but organizers of Gov. Rick Perry’s Day of Prayer said on Wednesday, Aug. 3, that they expect less than 10,000 people to show up for The Response, a Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Many religious groups have criticized the event for its lack of inclusiveness. And a growing number of them are planning to attend counter rallies with LGBT organizations outside the event.
The protests are largely the result of organizers’ decision to partner with the American Family Association, a Christian group that promotes conservative positions on moral issues. The AFA has also urged supporters to boycott what it calls the "homosexual agenda."
"We don’t like that they try to pray us away," says GetEqual Texas organizer and Austin resident Michael Diviesti. "AFA has put money behind backing political figures that would fight against marriage equality."
Joining GetEqual and other LGBT organizations are more than a dozen people from Fort Worth First Congregational Church, UCC. Deacon Marvin Vann told EDGE that he is also disturbed by the event’s association with the AFA.
"The fact they have engaged in hate speech and continue to do so is a misrepresentation of the gospel," he said. "We think it is wrong for the governor to collude with a group that permits hate speech."
Political analysts have concluded the low projected turnout is just one way that the governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate has backed himself into a corner. Perry’s recent statements that the 10th Amendment allowed New York to legalize marriage for same-sex couples and others in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment and the Defense of Marriage Act have only added to his political predicament.
Republican strategist Alex Castellanos recently told Associated Press reporters that any candidate who establishes his identity on the fringe when the economy is in shambles risks becoming unacceptable to independents and ultimately unelectable.
Speaking to EDGE from her Austin home, Human Rights Campaign board member Meghan Stabler said she doesn’t expect the prayer event will live up to either the AFA or Perry’s expectations. She also said the low turnout, combined with recent backtracking on statements added up to messy situation for the governor.
"Rick Perry has created enough controversy with his words in the LGBT community, but also inside of the GOP," said Stabler. "People are looking beyond the faith perspective and looking at the political elements Perry is trying to bring to the event. I think rightly people are standing back from it and that sanity is going to shine through."
Perry’s recent statements against marriage equality and the event’s AFA affiliation may serve to energize his conservative Christian base, but changing public views could hurt him in the general election.
A recent Benenson Strategy Group poll indicates more than 50 percent of Americans support marriage equality, with a dramatic increase in recent months. Diviesti cautions, however, that this increased support does not mean a candidate who opposes nuptials for same-sex couples cannot win.
"Americans may support same-sex marriage rights, but not necessarily vote on that issue," noted Diviesti. "Rick Perry can scream all day long that marriage is between one man and one woman, but he would still have a chance at getting elected if his message on the other issues resonated."
A rally will take place in Tranquility Park in Houston on Friday, Aug. 5, from 7 - 8 p.m. State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) will deliver the keynote speech, while protests will take place outside Reliant Stadium itself on Saturday.
Organizations that plan to participate in the counter-demonstrations include GetEQUAL Texas, Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies, Positive Brothers United. Freethought Oasis, Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, Resurrection MCC, Out and Equal, Healing Out Loud, Equality Texas, HRC, the Houston GLBT Community Center and the Transgender Foundation of America.