Fort Lauderdale mayor James Naugle caused outrage among Florida’s gay community yesterday after he called a news conference announcing a drive against promiscuous gay sex.
Framing the move as a public health initiative designed to cut down on HIV transmission, the conference nevertheless included prominent religious activists, including radio DJ Janet Folger of Faith2Action and Gary Cass, president of the Christian Anti-Defamation League.
“I think Broward County is forever changed from this exercise,” Mr Naugle said. “We are going to have less of this activity and I think we’re going to save some lives in this county.”
Pastor Willie McBride of Lauderdale Christian Centre, also a speaker, said: “We are concerned [about] the moral fibre of this city.”
Rev. O’Neal Dozier of Pompano Beach’s Worldwide Christian Centre added: “Our coalition is not anti-gay. We are anti-sin.
“I don’t want to see God destroy America in the way he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”
But gay activists in the audience made sure their voices were heard.
Broward resident Michael Rajner, president of the Campaign to End AIDS, shouted at the speakers: “This is unacceptable. You’re using the Bible as a weapon against the community.”
He was supported by Anthony Niedwiecki, who is playing a prominent role in defending the gay community against the mayor’s comments.
“Every hate crime that comes out of here is at your feet” shouted Mr Niedwiecki, holding an article about the murder of Kenneth Cummings Jr. in Houston, thought to be a gay hate crime.
Mayor Naugle also faces opposition from medical experts and scientists.
Broward County’s own Health Department has come out to reiterate that HIV is not isolated to gay men, and that black, heterosexual women constitute a considerable number of new cases.
AIDS surveillance manager Pat Callahan Taylor told the Sun Sentinel newspaper: “I think it’s really important when you’re looking at the numbers to not just look at parts of it.
“One of our favourite quotes is, ‘If you torture a statistic long enough, it will confess to anything.’ And I think that’s what we’ve seen.”
The news conference is just the latest part of Mayor Naugle’s battle against the gay community in Fort Lauderdale, one of the most gay-friendly cities in America.
This summer he complained public toilets in the city were being plagued by gay men looking for sex, although he insisted on using the word ‘homosexual’ because “most of them aren’t gay. They’re unhappy.”
Despite being a Democrat, Mr Naugle has a strong right-wing political record.
He co-chaired George Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and previously supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in presidential elections.
He even suggested Bill Clinton should be investigated for rape because “he abuses women.”