Before a sold-out crowd at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg, the Reverend Jamal Bryant of Baltimore, as the keynote speaker of a prayer breakfast in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once again courted controversy, addressing the city’s mayor and some protestors to Bryant’s presence at the event.
“I love you, LGBT community. I love you, protestors. I love you, Mayor, even if you didn’t give me a key,” bellowed Rev. Bryant at the end of his enthusiastic address to the crowd hosted by the National Council of Negro Women of St. Pete.
Rev. Bryant was responding to the criticism of some prominent members of St. Pete’s LGBT community, who requested that a different keynote speaker be chosen for the event, since the Reverend from Baltimore has a documented history of making comments against the gay community, such as calling homosexuality a sin.
"Pastor Bryant's remarks go against the grain for the vision of our city, and they certainly go against some of the remarks and sentiments of Dr. King himself," said communications director Ben Kirby before the event.
In light of these differing sentiments, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, a champion of the local LGBT community in the city, who even officiated a same-sex marriage in the lobby of City Hall on the first day same-sex marriage became legal in Florida, said he would not be giving Reverend Bryant an honorary key to the city, which is sometimes custom at the prayer breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"It's the values and the goals of this administration to be inclusive for everybody. The fact that he has said what he has said and alienated some of our community members doesn't help matters," said Robert Danielson, the liaison between the LGBT community and the mayor's office, to ABC Action News.
At the event, Mayor Rick Kriseman told the crowd he had nothing against Rev. Bryant being a welcome guest to the event and the city, and said, leading up to the event, that he wouldn’t be giving Rev. Bryant an honorary key because such an honor is reserved for people who have made a great impact in the country or on the St. Pete community, of which the Reverend is not a part.
Rev. Bryant told ABC Action News after his address that he was surprised that his words were found to be controversial. Videos on Youtube of Rev. Bryant from 2012 show the preacher bashing gay culture and lifestyle. He says he was just preaching what the Bible says.
Also in 2012, Rev. Bryant became a nationally-known figure when he was seen praying with the family of Trayvon Martin after the Florida teenager was shot to death in 2012. Since then, Bryant has become a prominent figure in the "Black Lives Matter" movement, and gave the eulogy at the funeral of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died in police custody last year.
Rev. Bryant is the pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, MD, a mega church he built to about 12,000 followers until an extra-marital affair led many members of his church to leave. In 2015, the Baltimore-born-and-raised son of a pastor briefly considered running for Congress, but dropped out after just a week after finding out the incumbent Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore would be seeking re-election.
Rev. Bryant told ABC Action News he was scheduled to give another address on Monday evening in the city of New York.