Representative Allen West (R-FL) tried to reach out to the Wilton Manors Business Association for an audience. He found many in that community weren't too receptive.
When word leaked out that he was scheduled to address the Wilton Manors Business Association in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the local reaction was swift.
Legislative Director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, Michael Emanuel Rajner, wrote Business Association President Celeste Ellich:
This morning I was shocked to read your email below announcing that WMBA is hosting anti-gay and fear-mongering Allen West who in his role has publicly worked to advance social injustice.
In 2000, I moved to Wilton Manors because it was a community that openly welcomed GLBT-people. Since that time, we have watched the City grow, embrace its diversity, enact anti-discriminatory LGBT-inclusive protections for all City employees, and extend the same protection mandate to vendors doing business with the City. I personally worked with our mutual friend, former City Commissioner Joe Angelo, to advance these protections in a City Ordinance. I know we share this vision for the City.
He included many examples of West's unacceptable positions and inflammatory, uncivil rhetoric. Rajner concluded:
Celeste, I’m demanding that you take a courageous stand of leadership for the rights of GLBT-Americans as President of the Wilton Manors Business Association and disinvite West to your August 8th meeting. If not, GLBT-community leaders and other social justice advocates will: Call for your resignation; Call on businesses to disavow the Wilton Manors Business Association for placing profits ahead of human rights; and Call on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-community to boycott any and all businesses who are a member of the Wilton Manors Business Association, including GLBT-owned businesses willing to put profits ahead of human rights. Yours in the struggle for social justice.
The response was populist as well as political. Reports the Florida Sun-Sentinel:
John Zieba, an owner of Rosie’s Bar and Grill, which caters largely to a gay and lesbian clientele, said he wanted the event cancelled.
His business was one of the newest members of the Wilton Manors Business Association – and as such was listed prominently on the business group’s website. After the West invitation made news last week, he got about 15 emailed complaints from angry people, some of whom said they wouldn’t patronize his establishment.
He emailed Celeste Ellich, president of the association, said that if the group “was going to continue to welcome this speaker or any other speaker with those messages of inequality and injustice we would be resigning from the association.”
He said plenty of other speakers could talk to association members about business issues who “don’t vehemently oppose the basic values of a lot of people in our community.”
Zieba said he respects “anyone’s right to be able to come into speak. I respect anyone’s right to come and rally against it.” He also said the proposed boycott of business association members was ill conceived.
The Association rescinded the invitation.
Ellich said she heard from many people who wanted the appearance cancelled and others who said West should be allowed to speak. If the event proceeded, she envisioned people protesting his appearance and counter protesters demonstrating in favor of West.
Just a little sampling of some of West's greatest LGBT hits:
The term ‘gay marriage’ is an oxymoron. Because marriage is a union and a bond between a man and a woman to do one single thing: the furtherance of society by procreation, through creating new life. Have you ever read the book America Alone by Mark Steyn? It’s about demographics. And if we continue with a cycle of debt and punishing our unborn then it just becomes a matter of time before you don’t have society.
"When you take the military and you tell it they must conform to the individual's behavior, then it's just a matter of time until you break down the military," he said.
He rejected the comparison to racial integration of the military.
"Let me explain something to you," said West, who is black. "I can't change my color. People can change their behavior, but I can't change my color."
"Well unfortunately, they are serving, you just said that. But the thing I think you are looking at is, the military, the mission of the military is not to accommodate sexual behavior. Let me tell you something as a commander. I fined people for not having the proper haircut. I kicked people out because they couldn't run fast. I kicked people out because they couldn't do pushups. I kicked people out because they were overweight.
West too has a long, cozy history with religious extremists hate groups. It probably fair to say West's religious bigotry and misogyny wouldn't make his presence any more welcome to many potential audience members.
Which is exactly what City Commissioner Julie Carson had to say about the situation:
While the Wilton Manors Business Association and its members are free to invite speakers of their choice, and the City of Wilton Manors provides a great venue for those speakers, it is ironic that Allen West will address a group of business owners, many of whom are GLBT, and others whose businesses rely in large part on the currency of the GLBT community.
The good residents and business owners of Wilton Manors know that Allen West’s anti-gay, misogynist, and disreputable rhetoric have no place in proper civil or political discourse. His extremist views are not reflective of the soul of American Society, nor are they representative of the heart of the Wilton Manors business owners and residents who struggle to eradicate the very hate speech that the Congressman spews.
Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick stayed out of the dustup telling Florida's Sun-Sentinel of the business association:
“It’s not a city group. They can decide to do whatever they want to do.”
Of course, like in the Debbie Wasserman Schultz debacle, (who West called "vile, unprofessional, and despicable," "a coward," "characterless," and "not a Lady," and demanded that she "shut the heck up."), he can't leave well-enough alone. He has to show everyone who's boss. It's the gay people who are really the intolerant ones says West, since they won't welcome him to come spit in their face. From a letter he released (PDF):
Many individuals over the last few days have stated that while they might not agree with all of the issues I have taken in Congress, they believe it is important to hear from their Representatives. For those individuals, I want to thank them for standing up for freedom of speech and public discourse These are the foundations of our nation and what makes the United States of America an exceptional nation.
In these very tough economic times, I find it intolerable that Florida Gay, Lesbian, Trangender Democratic Caucus would all upon a boycott to hurt small business owners trying to earn a living and only wanting to better be informed about business related issues from their Member of Congress. Clearly, we have learned who really are the intolerable individuals in South Florida.
Yes, it's the people who can't tolerate intolerable language who are intolerable.
Like many people, Representative West confuses his right to speech, with his right to a venue.
The Constitution guarantees us all the former, and no one the latter.
Representative West remains free to speak his mind as he sees fit, as demonstrated by his press release, and his access to the continued bully pulpit of his office. I presume his office is still accepting calls from constituents that would like to discuss their business concerns with the Representative? I certainly hope he does not only make himself available to constituents at public speaking events.
The free market of ideas, however, did not work in West's favor here. The Wilton Manors Business Association apparently felt there was more for the association—and the community—to lose by granting this bully another pulpit than they stood to gain.
And so it goes.