What a whirlwind couple of days! Among the bright announcements from the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) was the naming of openly gay poet Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles, to serve as the Inaugural poet. Bianco told the New York Times that he grasps Obama’s inaugural theme, “Our People, Our Future” and wants to write about “the salt-of-the-earth sense that I think all Americans have, of hard work, we can work it out together, that incredible American spirit that after 200-plus years is still there.” Read an appreciation of Biano by lesbian Cuban writer Achy Obejas here.
There was also the announcement on Tuesday that Obama and the committee had asked Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation. The swearing-in ceremony will take place on Monday, Jan. 21 – which also happens to be Martin Luther King Day. And while MLK deserves so much credit for advancing the civil rights movement, his assassination overshadows the assassination of another extraordinary civil rights hero and NAACP field secretary – Medgar Evers who lead the effort to integrate the University of Mississippi. His murder on at age 37 on June 12, 1963 and the trials that followed inspired civil rights activism. And not only would this hero and his widow be acknowledged but gun violence would also be spotlighted.
I didn’t pay much attention to the selection of Rev. Louie Giglio to deliver the benediction. But luckily, Think Progress did. On Wednesday morning, Josh Israel wrote an in-depth piece exposing Giglio as worse than Rick Warren. In Inaugural Benediction To Be Delivered By Pastor Who Gave Vehemently Anti-Gay Sermon, Israel noted that in a sermon in the 1990s, Giglio called for Christians to stand against gays:
“We must lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community. … Underneath this issue is a very powerful and aggressive moment. That movement is not a benevolent movement, it is a movement to seize by any means necessary the feeling and the mood of the day, to the point where the homosexual lifestyle becomes accepted as a norm in our society and is given full standing as any other lifestyle, as it relates to family.”
The reaction was instant and angry – Michelangelo Signorile called for the Human Rights Campaign to boycott the inauguration and started a petition to have Giglio removed. Someone else found a proud tweet from the pastor proclaiming that his father created the logo for Chick-fil-A.
But worse still – the press release announcing Giglio indicated that the choice had Obama’s approval. “President Obama was involved in the selection of participants in the Inaugural program, including Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio.” How could the inaugural committee so easily forget the incident in 2008 with Rick Warren? Meanwhile – the White House is getting flak for constantly reminding Republicans that Obama won re-election with the majority of women and minorities (including the LGBT vote) while the President is filling his cabinet with straight white men. As Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner points out – Giglio was invited to the White House’s 2012 Easter prayer breakfast, which, on top of arch-conservative Cardinal James Dolan delivering the benediction at the Democratic National Convention, suggests either the White House continues to consider that there is a real moral equivalency between LGBT equality and anti-gay “traditional values” or the President’s advisers are not doing their homework. There are just too many “mistakes” to not see this as deliberate or a frighteningly lazy pattern. If Obama wants that inaugural theme of “Our People, Our Future” to resonate and mean something, he can’t shrug off diversity and the non-evolution of people he selects to represent his vision.
Well, the Netroots made their point and Thursday morning, the committee withdrew Giglio from the program. As The Washington Blade reports, it appears Giglio’s self-departure might have come after some arm-twisting:
In a statement obtained by Washington Blade, Giglio announces his decision to “respectfully withdraw” participation from the Jan. 21 celebration in the wake of revelations of anti-gay comments.
“Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration,” Giglio said. “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”
Giglio added he doesn’t feel it “best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue” and will “continue to pray regularly for the President.”
In a separate statement, Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee, said organizers of the event weren’t aware of the anti-gay sermon when the initial selection was made.
“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural,” Whisenant said. “Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.“