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Fort Lauderdale Honors Anti-LGBTQ+ Church; Gay Mayor Under Fire

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

Mayor Dean Trantalis and the Fort Lauderdale City Commission presented a proclamation honoring a church and school founded by anti-LGBTQ+ minister D. James Kennedy.

The gay man who's mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is getting a barrage of criticism for a proclamation honoring an anti-LGBTQ+ church and school.

Mayor Dean Trantalis presented a proclamation at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting recognizing the 60th anniversary of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the 50th anniversary of its affiliated private school, Westminster Academy, the South Florida Gay News reports. Both were founded by anti-LGBTQ+ minister D. James Kennedy, who died in 2007. The proclamation designates this coming Sunday as Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Day and Westminster Academy Day.

Trantalis acknowledged the institutions' homophobic and transphobic history but said it's time to move on. "Times have changed and so have their leaders," Trantalis said, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "It's time to build a future based on love and not hate. And it's time for those who still harbor resentment to let go of it. I know I have. And I know our community is better off for it."

Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, also a gay man, objected strongly to the proclamation. "This proclamation makes no mention of the past or present anti-LGBTQ+ actions of the church, no mention of any apologies," he said. "It is a sanitized and whitewashed history of Dr. Kennedy and the church."

Trantalis noted that he'd protested at the church due to its anti-LGBTQ+ stances, including support of conversion therapy, but Glassman responded that those issues have not gone away. The vice mayor said he'd received many messages denouncing the city's plan to honor the church and school. Trantalis, however, said he's been trying to build bridges to faith communities.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and D. James Kennedy Ministries (formerly known as Coral Ridge Ministries), which shares its message through radio, TV, and other media, were once the same entity but broke into separate organizations in the late 1990s, the Sun Sentinel reports. They still share a campus.

The Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is part of the Presbyterian Church in America, a more conservative denomination than the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The latter performs same-sex marriages and allows LGBTQ+ clergy, while the former considers homosexuality a perversion. A tweet from the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church before last year's election urged the faithful to use their vote "to protect the biblical model of marriage."

Kennedy was notorious for his anti-LGBTQ+ activity. He was a founding board member for the Moral Majority, the influential Christian right group formed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1979. He wrote many books, including What's Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage? in 2004, in which he claimed "a tiny fraction of our population is on the verge of redefining the institution of marriage for all of us," the South Florida Gay News reports. He endorsed a comic book titled Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle and wrote in his newsletter that gay people approved of sex with children.

The website for Kennedy Ministries still includes much anti-LGBTQ+ content. There is a banner calling on Bethany Christian Services, a national nonprofit child welfare agency, to reconsider its decision to place children with LGBTQ+ adoptive and foster parents. A site search for the term "homosexuality" turns up articles with titles such as "Freedom From Homosexuality Through the Gospel," "Sexual Anarchy Puts Religious Liberty at Risk," and "Why Should Transgender 'Equality' Overrule Feminine Modesty?"

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive organization that monitors hate-related activity, has designated Kennedy Ministries a hate group. The ministry has sued over that label, but in 2019 a federal judge upheld SPLC's right to use it. The decision is being appealed.

The SPLC denounced the Fort Lauderdale proclamation. "SPLC is appalled that the Fort Lauderdale City Council even considered, let alone approved, a proclamation honoring anti-LGBTQ activist Dr. D. James Kennedy and his legacy," said a statement issued by Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for LGBTQ rights and special litigation. "Fort Lauderdale is known as 'Florida's Gay Capital' and was one of the first to make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and the vote is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ residents that call the area home. It's particularly egregious that Mayor Dean J. Trantalis, the first openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale, refused to condemn the effort to honor someone who for years spewed hate-filled views.

"Kennedy's D. James Kennedy Ministries, formerly Coral Ridge Ministries, has actively campaigned against same-sex marriage and has a history of maligning the entire LGBTQ community. Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry. In an especially nasty 1989 edition of a newsletter, Kennedy ran photographs of children along with the tagline, 'Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!' It is unconscionable that the Fort Lauderdale City Council chose to commend Kennedy and those connected to him for '60 years of prayer and service for in our community' and extended its 'best wishes for its continued success.'"

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