Baker booted from LGBT gala

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BOSTON — Call it punishment by association.

A day after the Boston Globe reported that Gov. Charlie Baker would be speaking at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition along with several conservative leaders, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which had proudly billed Baker as one of its keynote speakers at its inaugural April 26 “Best-of-the-Best” gala, elected to kick the popular Bay State governor to the curb.

The Globe’s story regarding Baker’s speaking engagement this weekend at the Jewish group’s Las Vegas conference focused on the presence of a “controversial” pastor — in this case the Rev. John C. Hagee, a San Antonio pastor who previously delivered controversial sermons about the Holocaust.

Baker may never have crossed paths with Hagee, but the news that the two men would be at the same event was apparently enough to prompt the NGLCC to rescind its invitation to Baker, a man it has previously honored and praised as recently as November, when Baker became the first governor in America to issue an executive order including certified LGBT-owned businesses in contracting opportunities alongside minority and women-owned businesses.

The NGLCC’s about-face comes after U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, the Democrat from Brookline, reportedly refused an invitation to serve as an honorary co-host of the gala over Baker’s noncommittal stance on the so-called Massachusetts “bathroom bill.”   The bill, which Kennedy has endorsed, would apply anti-discrimination law to transgender people in public accommodations, including bathrooms.

Baker has remained firm on his decision to wait until the legislation reaches his desk before deciding whether or not to sign it.

“The details on this one are important, and I know the Legislature’s been working on it, and we look forward to seeing what they produce,” Baker said last month.

A spokesman for Baker confirmed Friday that the governor has no plans to withdraw from this weekend’s conference in Nevada and shared Baker’s response to the snub.

“As the only governor in the country to recognize gay and lesbian owned businesses and as the only sitting Republican governor in the nation to sign the US Supreme Court amicus brief endorsing marriage equality, I am disappointed that some are putting partisan politics ahead of the sound public policy of treating gay and lesbian business owners with dignity and respect,” Baker said in a prepared statement.

“I take pride in striving to reach across the partisan divide to find common ground with people who may not always agree with me and believe some elected officials’ reluctance to do the same is what ails our political system and does a disservice to the people we work for.

“I continue to believe no one should be discriminated against based on gender identity, which is why I supported the transgender protections enacted in 2011 and look forward to reviewing further proposals should they reach my desk.”

In November, NGLCC leaders showered Baker with praise.

“Nothing says ‘The Spirit of America’ like an equal seat at the table for every business owner who wants one — Massachusetts continues its tradition as a leader in LGBT rights by living up to its slogan and creating greater access to the American Dream,” NGLCC co-founder and President Justin Nelson said in a statement. “We thank Governor Baker’s administration for their commitment to the LGBT community in Massachusetts.”

Nelson was singing a different tune Thursday. According to the Globe, Nelson and CEO Chance Mitchell issued a statement ripping Baker’s decision to speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s conference, calling the event and its speakers “antithetical to everything for which the Best-of-the-Best awards, the NGLCC, and our partners stand.”

Other speakers at the RJC event include Republican presidential candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Jonathan Lovitz, NLGCC’s vice president of external affairs, provided the following statement on Saturday, attributing it to NGLCC co-Founder and President Justin Nelson, and Co-Founder and CEO Chance Mitchell:

On the issue of protections in public accommodations for all people, NGLCC will continue to push Governor Baker to bring the same level of proactive leadership he brought to the precedent-setting diverse business inclusion Executive Order we championed together. Our gala was to serve as an opportunity to recognize the Governor for that leadership, and to connect him with other honorees and policymakers focused on increasing opportunities for every American. However, his inclusion on the roster of the event in Las Vegas, coupled with his unwillingness to remove himself from the lineup after we brought our concerns to the attention of his staff, left us with no choice but the decision we made. Sometimes partners disagree, and this is one of those times. While we will not be recognizing Governor Baker later this month, we will continue to work with his administration on the implementation of that historic executive order which will bring significant business opportunities to LGBT-owned business as well as those owned by people with disabilities and veterans.

Kennedy has since indicated that he will now attend the gala.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or on Twitter at @evanmlips.

This article has been updated on April 9 to include the entire text of the statement issued by NGLCC.