August 24, 2007
WRATH OF RAJNER
Rajner lets his conscience fly
When Campaign to End AIDS National Secretary Michael Rajner attended Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle's press conference this Tuesday, he intended to bite his tongue and merely listen to Naugle and his cronies spew ignorance about the "public health crisis" of men having sex in bathroom stalls. But when Faith2Action conservative radio host Janet Folger started lauding Naugle's family values, Rajner simply couldn't take it anymore.
Rajner pointed at Folger, Naugle and their allies from the group Healthy Public Places and began loudly decrying their press conference. He then declared, "I am a person living with AIDS and what you are saying is wrong! How you're demonizing people is wrong!" A heated exchange followed with Folger calling for Rajner to be removed. After a fed-up Rajner walked off, Folger said, "We care for those in the homosexual community. A few years ago, a gentleman came up to me and said, 'Janet, I was one of the people that protested you. I was in the homosexual community, but because of your boldness and ability to stand for the truth, I am now free from homosexuality.' So there is hope for change."
Rajner's disruption of the press conference earned widespread press coverage, including a piece in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and segments on local NBC, CBS and ABC affiliates. It also had the national gay press buzzing. Rajner appeared on the Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius Satellite Radio on Thursday. (Click here to watch the original press conference.) "I'm proud to have been a disruption," Rajner told the Update. "It needed to be done."
Naugle held the press conference on Tuesday to call on gay men to stop having sex in public bathrooms and spreading HIV. He claimed that eight men have been arrested for having sex in bathrooms in the last two years, though the Ft. Lauderdale police count just two. Naugle has recently received national attention for his crusade to discourage bathroom sexual activity and proposal to spend $250,000 on single-serve robotic toilets in city-owned public parks. In a video interview posted on the Sun-Sentinel.com Naugle said, "So what we're saying is if you see activity, be it men having sex with men or men having sex with females, or females having sex with whatever,"—pause to chuckle—"it's inappropriate." On Tuesday, Naugle was backed up by allies such as conservative African American minister Rev. O'Neal Dozier, who said, "We want the homosexual community to know that we love them and that God loves them also. But God hates the act of homosexuality."
Rajner says Naugle's rhetoric is no joke. He believes that Naugle's homophobia and AIDSphobia has created a climate of fear that fosters shame and undermines real HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. "This mayor has shamed people with AIDS to hide their identity," Rajner told the Update. "Any pride these individuals has is gone. He's become an oppressor." The mayor has said that condoms aren't an effective means of HIV prevention, dangerous words in Broward County (where Ft. Lauderdale is situated). It ranks first in the state for new HIV cases among men who have sex with men. "There is important, legitimate prevention in Ft. Lauderdale that need to be stepped up," Rajner said. "But Naugle's ideas of what prevention is hurts all of these efforts."
Although Rajner might have raised his public profile with his spontaneous outburst, he is also working behind the scenes to build a coalition that will ask Florida Governor Charlie Crist to have the mayor censured and removed. "Even if we aren't able to remove him from office, it's important that we take a stand that his behavior is not appropriate for a public official," Rajner said.
For more on the campaign to remove Naugle from office, click here.