St. Petersburg's NAACP chapter criticizes Kriseman, gay rights groups for opposition to MLK event speaker

Mayor Rick Kriseman will attend the event to present "our values."

Published January 9 2016
Updated January 9 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — In another sign of friction between key constituencies of the local Democratic Party, the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP issued a statement Friday that said Mayor Rick Kriseman and gay activists went too far in objecting to a forthcoming speaking engagement by a controversial Baltimore pastor.

Known for his anti-gay rights views, the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Jan. 18 MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast. Local gay rights groups said Bryant's invitation should be rescinded. Kriseman declined to offer him a ceremonial key to the city because of his inflammatory remarks, the mayor's staff said.

In a statement emailed by Maria Scruggs, the president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, the civil rights organization said it was "saddened" that they took offense at Bryant's appearance.

"We must all learn to love and embrace those that have views that diametrically oppose our own, particularly when those beliefs are grounded in one's faith and religion," the statement said. "Instead of attempting to dictate who (event organizers) should invite or not invite … they could have taken the opportunity to request an audience with Pastor Bryant."

Attempts at a boycott, the statement said, was evidence that the "African-American community in St. Petersburg has for far too long been taken for granted."

Kriseman said Friday that he would attend the MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast, which is organized by the local branch of the National Council of Negro Women. He said he won't sit quietly.

"I think it's an opportunity for me to state what our values are and to educate him to what our values are as a community," Kriseman said. "I clearly don't agree with what he has to say. Whether he takes to heart what I say or not will be for him to decide, but I want our community to know who we are and I want to reinforce that very loud and clear."

Kriseman said his mind wasn't changed by the local NAACP branch, which relaunched late last year after being shuttered for about a year.

"That's an opinion expressed by a group. That doesn't mean that group speaks for the entire African-American community. I think there are many in the African-American community who don't agree with the pastor's positions," Kriseman said.

The lead organizer for the event for the local branch of the National Council of Negro Woman, Angela Rouson, hasn't responded to requests for comment.

Earlier this week, her husband, state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, defended Bryant's appearance, saying it would be a good ministering opportunity to help a national figure known for his work in the Black Lives Matter movement evolve his views on gay rights.

But he subsequently changed his mind, joining St. Pete Pride, the Stonewall Democrats and about a dozen gay rights and Black Lives Matter activists in calling for his invitation to be rescinded.

Some St. Petersburg black ministers, such as the Rev. Clarence Williams, have rallied to Bryant's side.

Bryant, who calls homosexuality a sin on par with gambling and drug addiction, has not responded to requests for comment. On Friday, an account registered in his name retweeted a Tampa Bay Times blog post about the local NAACP's position.

Bryant has served as the national NAACP's youth and college division director. He leads a 10,000-member congregation at the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore and has been a vocal leader in the Black Lives Matter movement and during the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray while in custody last year.

Kriseman downplayed the flap over Bryant's appearance. He said it didn't point to any larger conflict between black churches and gay rights groups, both of which are part of the Democratic Party's local power base.

"I think that's painting it with too broad a brush," he said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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