Planners of a Wednesday night interfaith 9/11 memorial service in Utica, N.Y., removed the scheduled main speaker from the program because of his advocacy of gay rights, according to the Utica Observer-Dispatch.
The Utica Fire Department threatened to withdraw from participating in the memorial, titled "One Region United," if the Reverend Fred Daley were allowed to speak. Firefighters reportedly were upset because Daley had announced plans to host a special 9/11 remembrance mass for gay and lesbian Catholics on Sunday.
"Basically, I wanted him removed as the speaker," assistant fire chief Russell Brooks said. "All these other issues and crusades should not cloud what this one day is all about. September 11 is supposed to be a day of uniting and healing. I think it's very inappropriate for [Daley] to bring this to light on that day."
Utica mayor Tim Julian and the event's publicist, Tracy Taylor, said the fire department was so greatly involved in Wednesday's service that event organizers decided they needed to ask Daley to step aside. "To have the lead speaker as someone who speaks out on a controversial issue is something this day was not meant for," Julian said. "If this was a rally, if it was gay pride day, then Father Daley would be very fitting to have as one of the main speakers. But again, this is a day for people who gave their lives."
Taylor said she is "heartbroken" about Daley's removal after all the work she and others have put into the event. "There's no room for bigotry of any kind in tonight's celebration," she said. "I do not support the decision. In fact, I'm appalled by it."
Daley said he does not believe the decision reflects the opinion of the greater Utica community but rather the homophobic views of a few city leaders and public employees. "I think it's a disgrace to our community," he said. "Gay and lesbian people will feel very hurt and once again experience pain and rejection. That is certainly not in any way living out the values that our nation is supposed to stand for."