FORT LAUDERDALE—Mayor Jim Naugle and several religious leaders held a news conference Tuesday to draw attention to what they described as the moral and health risks of gay sex.
Naugle is at the center of a political war between gays and religious conservatives that started earlier this summer when he said public bathrooms in Fort Lauderdale are plagued by gay men cruising for sex and said he uses the term "homosexual'' because "most of them aren't gay. They're unhappy.''
He said he has learned a lot about HIV/AIDS since the controversy began in July, and he's motivated to speak out against gay sex in public places not by religious beliefs but by "public health.''
"I think Broward County is forever changed from this exercise,'' he said. "We are going to have less of this activity and I think we're going to save some lives in this county.''
A health department official said some of the statistics used by the mayor are outdated. For example, the county is no longer first in the nation in AIDS cases per 100,000 residents, said the official, AIDS surveilliance manager Pat Callahan Taylor. Broward County does have an HIV/AIDS crisis, she said, and has had one for years. But it's not isolated to gay men.
Black, heterosexual women make up a significant number of new HIV cases. Women make up a third of the 6,913 HIV cases diagnosed in Broward in the past 10 years.
"I think it's really important when you're looking at the numbers to not just look at parts of it,'' said Taylor. "One of our favorite quotes is if you torture a statistic long enough, it will confess to anything. And I think that's what we've seen.''
Speakers at the news conference veered from the topic of public health to discuss the morality of homosexuality, and the event only served to inflame gay activists more.
Though Fort Lauderdale is considered one of the most gay friendly tourist destinations in the country, it has become ground zero for a bitter fight about the morality of homosexuality itself.
"It shows the obsession he has with this,'' said Anthony Niedwiecki, who helped form Unite Fort Lauderdale in the wake of the mayor's comments. "He hasn't been in the media for four days, so he has to have a press conference.''
The speakers included the Rev. O'Neal Dozier of Pompano Beach's Worldwide Christian Center; Dr. John Diggs of the Massachusetts Physicians Resource Council; religious radio personality Janet Folger of Faith2Action; Gary Cass, president of the Christian Anti-Defamation League; Pastor Willie McBride of Lauderdale Christian Center in Plantation; and the mayor.
In front of a banner declaring "Naugle is right,'' Dozier announced that the group and their "Healthy Public Places'' effort were reaching out to gays "in the spirit of love.'' He said, "our coalition is not anti-gay. We are anti-sin.''
"We love them, and God loves them,'' Dozier said. "But God hates the act of homosexuality. It is perverted and goes against God's design.''
One of the negative impacts of this "abomination,'' he said, is the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"I don't want to see God destroy America in the way he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,'' Dozier added.
"We are concerned of the moral fiber of this city,'' said Pastor Willie McBride, of the Lauderdale Christian Center in Plantation. " ... We have no hatred in our hearts toward you,'' he said. "When I lie, steal or cheat, God doesn't start hating me. But he hates the act.''
Dr. John Diggs, an internist from Massachusstts and author of a paper titled "The Health Risks of Gay Sex,'' said he traveled to Fort Lauderdale to back up the mayor. Diggs is outspoken on the issue of gay sex and homosexuality.
"It should be clearly seen that homosexual acts have a key role in the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases,'' Diggs said, adding that "homosexuality is an act, it's not the nature of a person.''