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U.S. Congress moves against anti-gay Uganda bill

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U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who’s supporting a resolution condemning a harshly anti-gay Uganda bill, said the measure is ‘appalling and I want to convey that.’ (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress last week introduced resolutions condemning a harshly anti-gay bill pending in Uganda.

In the Senate, the sponsor of the resolution is Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), chair of the Foreign Relations African Affairs subcommittee. The sponsor of the resolution in the House is Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, but the African nation’s pending legislation would, among other things, institute the death penalty in some cases for LGBT people and require citizens to report LGBT people to the police.

In a statement, Berman said passage of the Uganda bill could interfere with efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country.

“The proposed Ugandan bill not only threatens human rights, it also reverses so many of the gains that Uganda has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he said. “This issue has united leaders of different political and religious views in Uganda and worldwide in one common belief in the rights of all human beings regardless of sexual orientation.”

The Senate resolution goes further than the House measure, calling for repeal of the criminalization of homosexuality in other countries and urging the State Department to closely monitor human rights abuses against LGBT people abroad.

Both resolutions enjoy considerable support from lawmakers of both parties. More than three-dozen House members joined to introduce the House measure, including gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), as well as Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has signed on in support.

Lynne Weil, spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the panel would make a decision on how to proceed with the resolution in the coming weeks.

For the Senate resolution, a politically diverse group of lawmakers are co-sponsors. In addition to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), original co-sponsors included Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Collins told DC Agenda she was interested in co-sponsoring the Senate resolution because of the draconian nature of Uganda’s bill.

“This is an appalling proposal in Uganda, which suggests the death penalty for homosexual acts,” she said. “I think it’s self-evident that I would think that that’s appalling and I want to convey that.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said bipartisan support for the resolution shows the tremendous attention that Uganda’s bill has received from human rights advocates.

“Senators from across the ideological divide are expressing that this is a significant human rights issue and an issue that the U.S. government takes seriously,” he said.

Bromley said the resolutions are “not simply symbolic” and have a chance of passing in both chambers of Congress.

On Monday, another lawmaker expressed opposition to Uganda’s bill during a demonstration outside the Uganda mission to the United Nations in New York City, according to Human Rights First.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that the “officially sanctioned bigotry” in the legislation is “profoundly disturbing.”

“It constitutes a gross violation of the universal values of individual liberty and human rights,” she said. “Such a measure goes far beyond ugliness and ignorance: it is hate in its rawest form, and it has no place in the laws of any nation.”

Maloney was joined at the demonstration by about two dozen other participants, including members of Human Rights First, Immigration Equality, the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch. The lawmaker called on Ugandan officials to meet with human rights groups to discuss the widespread opposition to the bill.

Paul LeGendre, director of the Fighting Discrimination Program at Human Rights Watch, said during the demonstration that Uganda’s bill “represents one of the harshest discriminatory measures ever proposed in any country.”

“This bill would have disastrous effects for gay men and women in Uganda, would aggravate an already alarming trend of criminalization of homosexuality across Africa, and could spur Ugandan homosexuals to flee this persecution by attempting to seek refuge outside of the country,” he said. “The international community must continue to voice its concern to the Ugandan authorities until the text of this bill is shredded and removed from consideration.”

The path for the legislation in Uganda parliament remains in question. Bromley said he’s “been hearing different stories” about the timeline for the bill, but that it’s likely to come up for debate in the next few weeks.

“To be honest, my suspicion is that the president of Uganda would like to see this legislation disappear and so my hope is that they will sort of stretch out the consideration so that eventually the interest dies down a bit, and then, perhaps they can move from it,” he said.

Obama, Clinton stand against Uganda bill

In related news, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated their opposition last week to the Uganda legislation in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C.

Clinton said she contacted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to directly express U.S. concerns about the anti-gay legislation.

“I recently called President Museveni, whom I have known through the prayer breakfast, and expressed the strongest concerns about a law being considered in the parliament of Uganda,” she said.

Obama called the Uganda measure an “odious” bill in remarks that more broadly drew attention to LGBT issues.

“We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda,” he said.

Obama and Clinton’s participation at the National Prayer Breakfast was somewhat controversial because the evangelical Christian group staging the event, known as “The Family,” has ties to Ugandan officials. David Mahati, the author of the anti-gay bill in the country’s parliament, attended past National Prayer Breakfasts, but didn’t attend this year’s event.

LGBT activists praised Obama and Clinton for their remarks. Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, commended Obama for “having the courage to confront those responsible for the heinous anti-gay bill in Uganda.”

Besen helped to coordinate the American Prayer Hour, protest events involving pro-LGBT religious leaders intended to counter the National Prayer Breakfast. The counter-event took place in 20 cities across the country.

“We hope that the president’s laudable stand makes it clear to Family members in the United States and Uganda that the world is watching,” Besen said in a statement. “Religion can no longer be used to justify bigotry, intolerance and persecution anywhere on the face of the Earth.”

Bromley also said Obama and Clinton’s decision to speak out against the Uganda legislation during the National Prayer Breakfast was a “very positive” move because of the religious nature of the event.

“I think clearly there were some religious voices behind the bill in Uganda, so we thought it was incredibly powerful that the president and first lady attended the breakfast, spoke from a personal perspective about religion and how this bill from any religious perspective just is unacceptable,” Bromley said.

But according to the French news agency Agence France-Presse, Uganda’s Ethics Minister James Buturo responded angrily to Obama and Clinton for speaking out against the Uganda bill.

“Somebody should tell President Obama that the parliament is doing its legislative duty in the interest of the people of Uganda,” Buturo was quoted as saying. “We cannot tell the Senate what to do. We cannot tell Congress what to do. So why do they feel that they can tell us what we should do in the interest of our people?”

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Peter the Saint

    February 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    A few of the specific “offenses” Uganda seeks to punish, from their legislation:

    (d) the following will be considered illegal:

    – The offense of “christian evangelism”
    – Attempt to commit “christian evangelism”
    – Aggravated “christian evangelism”
    – Protection, assistance and payment of
    compensation to
    victims of “christian evangelism”
    – Aiding and abetting “christian evangelism”
    – Conspiracy to engage in “christian evangelism”
    – Procuring “christian evangelism” by threats, etc
    – Detention with intent to commit “christian evangelism”
    – Promotion of “christian evangelism”
    – Failure to disclose the offense of “christian evangelism”

    OOPS! Sorry, I leaned on my keyboard wrong. Just swap the words “Christian Evangelism” for “Homosexuality”… that’s who the murderers are chasing… my bad :D

  2. Tim

    February 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Well that’s nice. I’m glad a bunch of them stood up and complined about the insane government of Uganda’s plan to have its gay & lesbian citizens hunted down, jailed and or murdered, but how about putting some teeth behind those words and threatening to cut off Uganda’s foreign aid money. Then they can shine the light of truth on the conservative religious-right members of Congress (The Family members) here who put these idiots up to all this in the first place.

  3. Dan Massey

    February 10, 2010 at 12:31 am

    Overheard in Dallas:

    The Family is an anti-christian cult that exists to foster evil and exploitative commercialism world wide. Its long term sponsorship of the National Prayer Breakfast is a disgusting act of unbridled hypocrisy that deserves nothing but worldwide condemnation.

    In the case of Africa, the Family’s focus is the opening of the continent to a new wave of commercial exploitation by Family associates. To accomplish this, they have first seeded the poorest, most poorly educated, and most dependent communities with their fanatical antichristian doctrines, pretending to be liberators as they fasten the chains of a new, spiritual colonialism on Africa, from which slavery they hope the continent will never escape.

    The Family’s approach to this goal is to cause men selected from their local antichristian cult to rise to prominence as national leaders, primarily by demagoguery of the uneducated and unsocialized community to win elections on divisive and irrelevant issues while they allow their commercial associates to plunder the nation’s resources.

    Apparently, Rick Warren and Karl Rove hatched the idea to use near pan-African homophobia as the entering wedge issue to launch their men to power. Warren then undertook his personal antichristian adventure of spreading the word to Family agents embedded in the governments of the African states. One of these agents was David Bahati, in Uganda.

    Apparently, Bahati bought Warren’s idea hook, line, and sinker, as they say. Not a believer himself, it appears Bahati was a mere opportunist who thought this too good an opportunity to pass up. A homosexual himself, with deep feelings of self-hatred, Bahati easily mustered the drive to outdo even Warren’s repulsive vision. Since Bahati wished himself dead, but lacked the courage to act on his denial of the truth, he projected his self-hatred onto the gay community and launched his promising political career on the sly and lying promises of Rick Warren and his own self-loathing.

    Now, of course, Bahati finds himself one of, if not the most despised person on earth. He has brought shame and disgrace on Uganda, its people and government, creating a wave of disgust and horror that touches an entire continent. He has bet everything on what he thought was a fixed game, only to learn that Rick Warren was simply manipulating his trust for a purpose as false and antichristian as Bahati’s own. An uncomfortable bind as rampant hypocrisy comes back to bite its creator.

    Now that it’s clear that Warren and Rove’s plan has backfired by calling attention to The Family’s interest in the development of pan-African homophobia, so that control has been taken over by people of direct political power—Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative John Bozeman (R-AR). Apparently, these new bosses outlined a revised plan for homophobic exploitation at a very secret meeting at the Hilton the day before the NPB. Perhaps the most recent news from Uganda reflects this new tack.

    Increasingly, Ugandan officials are adopting a defiant stance, claiming national sovereignty. This is, of course, absurd on the face of it. The rights at issue are inalienable human rights, granted by God, and no nation, no church, no school, no parent, no society, no corporation, and no person has the slightest scintilla of permission to deny these rights to any human being.

  4. Robert McJunkin

    February 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    What can the men and women in our Congress do to actually make a difference in what happens in Uganda? I wish that instead of debating something they can do nothing about, they would use the same energy to act on something they CAN do something about — namely, ending discrimination against gays in this country. What a bunch of hypocrites!

  5. Peter the Saint

    February 12, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I sure as hell hope that the Obama Administration is planning to EXPEL ALL UGANDA AMBASSADORS IMMEDIATELY if this bill passes in any way, shape or form. Kick them the hell out! And shut down their Embassy. Or it will become an international outlet for murderers to collect data on gay people whom they wish to catch, “disappear” and hang. Obama: are you gonna let murderers troll our streets of DC?? Our nation? They’ve been very upfront about their plans. And people in DC: Are YOU ready to help protest their embassy if needed? I hope so. Because the fight isn’t about marriage anymore…

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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held virtually Dec. 2-3

Fauci, Levine, Pelosi to speak at opening session

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Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, is among speakers at this week’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health who became the nation’s highest-ranking transgender public official earlier this year, are among dozens of experts scheduled to participate in the 25th Annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place virtually Dec. 2-3.

Fauci and Levine were scheduled to join Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as speakers at the conference’s opening plenary session at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. 

Phillips and Levine were expected to provide information about President Joe Biden’s plans for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which Biden was scheduled to announce on Dec. 1 at a White House World AIDS Day event.

Members of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus were also expected to discuss the federal policy agenda on HIV/AIDS at the opening plenary session. 

In addition to the opening plenary and three other plenary sessions, one more on Thursday, Dec. 2, and two on Friday, Dec. 3, the conference was scheduled to include 140 workshop sessions on a wide variety of HIV/AIDS related topics.

The annual United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is organized by the D.C.-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC, which was formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council before it changed its name to that of its widely known initials NMAC. 

“NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America,” the organization states on its website. “Health equity with communities of color is everyone’s challenge.”

Several of the workshop sessions cover the topic of expanding the local, state, and national efforts of using pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs known as PrEP as a means of preventing HIV infection. 

Other workshop sessions include: HIV CURE – Hot Topics in HIV Cure Research; A Town Hall on Aging and HIV; COVID, HIV, and Racism – How Providers Can Make a Difference; Expanding the Pleasure and HIV Prevention Toolkit: Kink As Harm Reduction; It’s About Time – HIV Research Just For Transgender Women; and Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Prevention Services Among U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Funded Community Based Organizations.

The conference’s fourth and closing plenary session, Foundation Stones to Building the EHE Effort in Indian County, “will highlight the work of those addressing HIV and COVID in Indian Country, rural states and among Alaska Natives with limited infrastructure,” according to a conference agenda statement. 

“This plenary addresses these challenges and provides innovative solutions by the Indian Country – making the case to support Native HIV care by providing essential building blocks,” the agenda statement says. 

Paul Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, says in a statement in the conference’s agenda booklet that he and his NMAC team are disappointed that the 2021 conference is being held virtually for the second year in a row.

“But we felt the issue of safety was simply too critical to ignore,” Kawata said in his statement. “I’ve been very concerned about our loved ones over 50 living with HIV through the whole COVID pandemic,” he said, noting that people in that category were dealing with isolation as well as a higher risk for COVID.

“I hope this conference, even though it is virtual, will help alleviate some of that isolation,” Kawata said. “We’ve worked very hard to make this conference not just an opportunity for training and education, but a chance to connect with others, reinforce those strands in your support net, and hopefully, establish some new connections.”

More information about the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS and instructions on registering to attend can be obtained at nmac.org.

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N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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