By Wayne Besen
I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1988, at the age of eighteen. It was the height of the AIDS crisis, with sickness and death ubiquitous and routine. The first three guys I met were all HIV-positive, with two dying before the age of twenty-four. One went blind from an infection, and I watched his hulking father crumpled in anguish, crying like an infant at the foot of his dying son’s hospital bed. It was bad enough that my friends had to deal with a lethal virus. But in this trying time, they also had to contend with community ignorance and bigotry, which was eagerly perpetuated by Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
While I was comforting my friends, then Coral Ridge Pastor, the late Rev. D. James Kennedy, was pushing The AIDS Cover-Up a conspiratorial book by author Gene Antonio. Kennedy was parroting the book’s misinformation, such as AIDS could be spread by kissing and mosquito bites. Kennedy’s lies were so egregious, that then U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, himself an evangelical, slammed Kennedy in an interview with Charisma & Christian Life.
Koop remarked, “the Christian activity in reference to AIDS of both D. James Kennedy and James Dobson [Focus on the Family] is reprehensible. The first time that Kennedy ever made a statement about AIDS, I saw it on television. It was so terrible, so homophobic, so pure Antonio that I wrote him a letter.”
In a Los Angeles Times article, Koop recalled how he tried to educate Kennedy, but was rebuffed. He said he wrote to Kennedy “and told him how far off base he was in his comments about AIDS.” Koop continued, “Kennedy wrote me a letter full of this trash and rubbish out of Antonio’s book. I responded to it thoroughly, paragraph by paragraph. I never heard a word from him.”
Dean Trantalis, Fort Lauderdale’s gay mayor, must have amnesia. This week he signed a Fort Lauderdale City Commission proclamation to honor Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. His actions led Vice Mayor Steve Glassman to remind Trantalis that Coral Ridge is responsible for “bad memories and a lot of hurt and pain….the wounds are still there.”