Hawaii State Capitol No Place for Hate

The Hawaii State Capitol has seen its share of political battles over the years, but it’s best known for its spirit of aloha and the progressive policies that emerge from its chambers.   Why, then, is it hosting an event featuring a speaker who promotes the marginalization and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

The guest speaker’s name is Sharon Slater, and she has a long history of supporting vehemently homophobic policies, including the infamous “Kill The Gays” bill in Uganda.

Like many anti-LGBT activists in the U.S., Slater started her career by promoting “traditional” marriage and sexual abstinence, but as the tide turned against her point-of-view, she has increasingly focused on exporting extremist ideology to other parts of the world. She currently heads Family Watch International, a small Arizona-based group that works to promote “conversion therapy” - the dangerous and scientifically discredited notion that people can be “cured” of their sexual orientation - and to limit the international advancement of comprehensive sexual health education.

Slater has been particularly active in Nigeria, where she visited three times to urge the government to resist efforts to decriminalize homosexuality, which she argued would result in more AIDS cases. Her lobbying bore fruit in January 2014, when Nigeria passed a harsh anti-homosexuality bill that mandates penalties of up to 14 years in prison for same-sex sexual activity and bans gay rights groups. Within days of the law’s enactment, reports emerged of gay men being rounded up, arrested, and tortured.

Ms. Slater was invited to speak at the Capitol by - no surprise - Rep. Bob McDermott, the right wing Republican who represents District 40 (Ewa Beach, Iroqouis Point) in the state legislature. Widely regarded as the inflammatory leader of Hawaii’s small but vocal anti-LGBT movement, he is best known for his scorched earth opposition to marriage equality and his outrageous denunciations of evidence-based comprehensive sexual health education.

While Slater has every right to express her views, is the Hawaii State Capitol an appropriate platform? After all, Hawaii has been a leader in passing laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and its public schools make diligent efforts to ensure that all students are treated with respect and receive the information they need to protect their health.  Slater opposes such laws, preferring that students adhere to her brand of religious morality rather than learn the facts about human sexuality.

McDermott is advertising his August 31 event with a cartoon image of a school bus full of children on their way to the “State Indoctrination Center.”  If that is truly the way he feels about the laws of the State of Hawaii and its public education system, he should work with his legislative colleagues to improve them, not use the State Capitol as a venue to promote his hateful personal agenda.

We call on House Speaker Joseph Souki and all state legislators to condemn this event and to ensure that this sacred public space is never used to attack or malign members of our community.

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