I was surprised when I began to tear up prior to the press conference on Tuesday announcing The American Prayer Hour. The purpose of the APH, which is Thursday, February 4, is to offer an alternative to the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which takes place on the same day and is run by the secretive fundamentalist organization known as The Family. This shadowy group is directly tied to the notorious “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.
In the past, I have worked press conferences that included hate crime victims and their families. So, I’ve become somewhat inured to the daily horrors that are inflicted on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
But, today really got to me.
Moses, a young gay man from Uganda, spoke at our media conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. He is seeking asylum in The United States, because he fears for his life in Uganda. The Ugandan media sometimes publishes the photographs and addresses of LGBT people, placing their livelihoods at risk and their lives in imminent danger.
I usually prep speakers by reviewing talking points. On this day, however, two staff members for the Human Rights Campaign prepared Moses to face the national media by obscuring his face. They stood in a corner fitting his head with a paper bag.
We had two different size bags, and he tried on each, as if they were shirts at an Old Navy store. We had to ensure that it was a snug fit, lest it fall off, reveal his identity and put his life in jeopardy.
It had been a three-day trek by car for Moses and a friend to get to Washington. This heroic journey would not end in magazine covers, book deals or fame as a talking head on the cable networks. All Moses had to gain was the opportunity to share the truth in anonymity, and he did so with remarkable equanimity.
As Moses stood in front of the podium, the juxtaposition of the American flag and this courageous young man wearing a bag to blur his humanity was jarring. I felt pride for living in a free country where we could hold a press conference to denounce The Family’s role in Uganda. But, there was also shame that America, famous for its innovation, had been exporting a virulent and violent strain of religious extremism to far away lands.
In front of the cameras, Moses recounted how he had been forced to marry a woman, was assaulted at school, raped by a policeman, and fired from his job because he is gay.
“One would rather die than come out of the closet,” Moses said at the press conference.
Many people at the National Prayer Breakfast have no idea about the radical and unorthodox, cult-like beliefs that The Family is passing off as Christianity. With little transparency and regard for democracy, this organization, which believes God favors powerful elites, spreads its influence throughout the world.
Prominent members of The Family in America include: Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mark Pryor (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), John Ensign (R-NV). Key House members include: Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn) Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Heath Shuler (D-NC) Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA).
“Would you like a glass of fresh blood with your bacon?”
Perhaps, if this were the question asked the rich and powerful attending Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, they’d finally understand that the group behind this event was also serving up extreme ideology that wasn’t on the menu. They’d realize that while they dined in an opulent ballroom at the Washington Hilton, there were gay Ugandans who were running for their lives.
While some members of The Family have denounced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, the group’s leader, Doug Coe, usually a loquacious man, has been strangely silent. On Tuesday, Religion News Service reported that, “the Family has not officially denounced the bill, and did not return repeated requests for clarification of their role in its development.”
One would think that publicly opposing a potential slaughter would be high on Coe’s agenda, considering the sponsor of the bill, David Bahati, is a key member of The Family.
President Barack Obama will speak at The National Prayer Breakfast. Hopefully, he will denounce the Uganda bill and make a statement that could affect the dire situation in Uganda.
In the meantime, you can help by attending one of 17 American Prayer Hours across the country, including one in Washington DC. (http://www.americanprayerhour.org). It is time to unmask the horror and create a world where people are free to be themselves.
To quote another Moses: “Let my people go.”
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”