Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Ukraine prayer breakfast co-chair Anna Purtova, and former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-KS), at the event in Kiev Sept. 8.

 

(Image: Screengrab from Tweet by Ukrainian MP Anna Purtova.)

Inside the Family

LGTBI Group Warns Democrats About Prayer Breakfasts

Vargas Was "Misled," Claims Intelligence Brief Sent to Congressional Democrats

One of a series about the Fellowship Foundation, the secretive religious group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and is popularly known as The Family. This series is based on Family documents obtained by TYT, including lists of breakfast guests and who invited them.

A European LGBTI organization is asking congressional Democrats to “watch out” when asked to participate in prayer breakfasts and similar gatherings, warning that such events are used by far-right groups to spread their influence.

“They must perceive this as a warning and wake-up call,” said Remy Bonny, executive director of the Brussels-based EU group Forbidden Colours.

Bonny provided TYT with a copy of the group’s intelligence brief, entitled “Anti-LGBTIQ Initiatives Adapting To Post-Trump World Order,” and said that Forbidden Colours is sending the brief to Democrats in the House Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus this week. He said they also plan to contact allies in the Senate.

The brief refers to the participation of Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) in the Sept. 8 Ukraine National Prayer Breakfast. As TYT reported, that breakfast is run by an anti-LGBTQ activist who is involved with the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast. (Vargas did not respond to a request for comment.)

“The congressman was misled,” the brief says of Vargas. “It is a sign of the new strategies anti-LGBTIQ+ organizations will use to become mainstream and connect with U.S. policy-makers.”

Another Democrat, former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-KS), now a lobbyist, also attended the Sept. 8 breakfast in Kiev and said he was not aware of two far-right groups linked to the event. Both Vargas and Slattery have ties to the Fellowship Foundation, which runs the U.S. NPB.

Ukrainian LGBTQ activist Andrii Kravchuk told TYT that such events exclude LGBTQ leaders. A June report by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights named Ukraine among countries where “parliamentary prayer breakfasts, while superficially apolitical and multi-confessional, include speakers who echo extremist positions.”

The brief from Forbidden Colours warns House Democrats about U.S. and European organizations and individuals pursuing anti-LGBTQ initiatives in Europe. One of the Americans named, Brian Brown, runs the World Congress of Families, is friends with the Ukraine breakfast organizer, and was a guest at the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

“We request the members of Congress of the Democratic Party to watch out when taking [part] in spiritual meetings, especially abroad,” Bonny said. “U.S. lawmakers participating in their events help them mainstream their organizations, which will eventually help them mainstream their anti-LGBTIQ+ policies -- even though anti-LGBTIQ+ topics might have never been discussed during the events U.S. Democrats have attended.”

“Prayer breakfasts are, bipartisan, considered as neutral places,” Bonny said. “Ultraconservative powers will use these platforms to get in contact with Democrats.”

Bonny said that, “Democrats will be the prime subject of these misleading tactics of the anti-LGBTIQ+ movement.”

Pavlo Unguryan, the Ukrainian breakfast organizer, is also a member of the right-wing European Christian Political Movement. As TYT reported, the far-right group Ordo Iuris was also present at the Ukraine prayer breakfast. Ordo Iuris opposes both LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights.

In a Twitter thread, an Ordo Iuris analyst who attended the Ukraine event responded to TYT’s report, saying her picture of Vargas and Unguryan at the breakfast “shows that people from different countries, political and social environments can sit together and talk across the divide.”

Asked whether any LGBTQ leaders attended, she pointed to Vargas, who supports LGBTQ rights but is heterosexual. She did not respond when asked about guests who were themselves LGBTQ.

According to Bonny, “[F]irst, these organizations (such as the Polish Ordo Iuris) tries to obtain close connections with policy makers. They attend events together, take pictures together, everything still looks rather innocent. But eventually, they will use these built-up relationships to wage their anti-LGBTIQ+ policies.”

Bonny continued:

“In countries like Ukraine, Poland and Hungary, being able to take a selfie with an American lawmaker gives you credibility. U.S. lawmakers participating in their events help them mainstream their organizations, which will eventually help them mainstream their anti-LGBTIQ+ policies -- even though anti-LGBTIQ+ topics might have never been discussed during the events U.S. Democrats have attended.

“These U.S. lawmakers,” Bonny said, “have a responsibility towards the LGBTIQ+ community in those countries to prevent this from happening.”

Slattery told TYT he heard nothing untoward at this year’s event. However, another Family insider, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has used the Ukrainian breakfast as a platform to oppose reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

And the political undercurrents don’t always surface at the main event. Big Lie promoter Mike Lindell, for instance, was radicalized by a series of events over several years, including National Prayer Breakfast breakout sessions.

The Forbidden Colours brief warns that far-right groups, deprived of the Trump administration as an ally, “will try to find partners in the United States, also within the Democratic Party. Therefore, they will use misleading terms such as ‘prayers [sic] breakfast,’ ‘pro-family’ and ‘religious freedom.’”

It’s not clear what vetting, if any, Democrats do before participating in such events. As TYT previously reported, the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast in the U.S., which Vargas co-chaired, discriminated against non-evangelicals, LGBTQ+ people, and religious leaders on the left. Advocates for reproductive rights were also largely excluded.

A few congressional Democrats are still involved with the National Democrats; every year a dozen or so still let their names be used for the NPB invitations. The mainstays include Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and some members of the House Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, such as Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Val Demings (D-FL), Grace Meng (D-NY), and Vargas.

Slattery, who has been involved in the NPB since 1983, said he encouraged people in Ukraine to start a National Prayer breakfast there "as a way to help unify the country and bind up the nation’s wounds about 10 years ago.”

Slattery told TYT he supports LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights but said he has no input on the guest list for the Ukraine breakfast and didn't know whether any LGBTQ leaders were invited. ”But they should be,” he said.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

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