Protesters gathered at the Washington Hilton in D.C. on Thursday to denounce the National Prayer Breakfast taking place in the hotel and to shed light on the event organizer’s connection to anti-gay activity in Uganda.
About two dozen activists — affiliated with GetEQUAL, a group responsible for organizing protests and acts of civil disobedience across the country over LGBT issues — participated in what they called a “Breakfast without Bigotry” to draw attention to the Foundation’s work overseas.
The Foundation, also known as “The Family,” is a U.S. evangelical group that reportedly has promoted anti-LGBT views abroad. The organization, which couldn’t be reached for comment for this article, has ties to David Bahati, a lawmaker in Uganda who authored pending legislation that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts.
Last week, the Uganda anti-gay bill received renewed attention when David Kato, an activist who was working against the pending measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.
Clad in heavy coats and carrying harm-warmers as they braved the February cold, protesters waived Pride flags and held up signs reading “If Christians Kill Kato, They’ll Kill Me” and “David Kato: Brutally Loved to Death by Christian Missionaries.”
Activists chanted, “One, two, three, four, don’t let the Family hide any more,” and, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the Uganda bill has got to go.”
As the motorcade approached the Washington Hilton carrying to the event President Obama, who was in attendance at the breakfast, protesters belted out the song, “We Shall Overcome.”
Dan Fotou, eastern region field director for GetEQUAL, said the intent of the protest was to inform the public about the Foundation’s involvement with anti-gay activity abroad in places like Uganda.
“The goal is to educate the attendees [about] not only the Family’s role in this, but also in their role in this Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill and their reach worldwide,” Fotou said. “What they’re really trying to do is annihilate LGBT people.”
Carol Lautier, 42 and a queer D.C. resident, said she was at the protest “as a progressive Christian” and that her views are often unheard among Christian audiences.
“I think it’s important that Christian evangelicals not have the corner market on Christianity,” she said. “We need to enter the conversation that’s being dominated by conservatives.”
Many of the protest participants expressed displeasure with Obama’s participation in the National Prayer Breakfast. U.S. presidents have taken part in the breakfast consistently since the Eisenhower administration.
During his remarks at the event, Obama emphasized the importance of his faith as a guiding force for him during his presidency.
“And it is my faith, then, that biblical injunction to serve the least of these, that keeps me going and that keeps me from being overwhelmed,” Obama said. “It’s faith that reminds me that despite being just one very imperfect man, I can still help whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can, and that somehow God will buttress these efforts.”
The president made no mention of Uganda or the Foundation’s ties to anti-gay initiatives abroad during his remarks.
Fotou said he would prefer Obama didn’t participate in the breakfast and would stand on the side of those who were critical of the gathering.
“It gives prestige to this breakfast,” Fotou said. “So, I would rather that they didn’t raise their stature worldwide by attending and speaking. I would ask that he didn’t [attend] this morning and breakfasts in the future.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, noted that the president has spoken out against the killing of Kato and alluded to the Uganda anti-gay bill last year during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“As you heard this morning, the President used this opportunity to reflect on how his faith has sustained him over the last few years,” Inouye said. “It’s worth noting that it was at this venue that last year the president strongly condemned the proposed legislation in Uganda.”
Last week, in response to the murder of Kato, Obama issued a statement that “LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights” and recommitted his administration to “strongly support[ing] human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad.”
But protester Janelle Mungo, 23, a straight D.C. resident, said speaking about the protest last year shouldn’t be enough for Obama.
“I think the fact that he spoke against the bill last year isn’t enough,” she said. “He should be speaking out against the breakfast, and not be there.”
At the beginning of the protest, activists positioned themselves on the sidewalk directly in front of the Washington Hilton, but later situated themselves across the street after D.C. police directed them to move.
Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said police told protesters they had to move from their initial position because they lacked a permit.
“We went to get a protest permit last week and we were told that we didn’t need one because we were going to be on public property rather than the private property of the hotel,” she said. “The police are now telling us — apparently at the request of Secret Service — that we had to be across the street.”
Cronk added that she knows Secret Service directed D.C. police to move the protesters because the officers were overheard discussing the Secret Service’s involvement in the decision.