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Group wants Jamal Bryant out as keynote speaker of Florida MLK breakfast

A group is seeking to have the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, a Northwest Baltimore pastor and activist, uninvited as keynote speaker of a Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Florida after learning he has preached that homosexuality is "a sin."

Bryant became nationally known after appearing beside the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain in 2012. He subsequently took part in protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively.

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In a video posted in 2012, the pastor of the 12,000-member Empowerment Temple donned a shiny lavender suit and tie and stood at the pulpit, shouting into a microphone: "Homosexuality is not the only sin, but it is a sin. It is not an alternative lifestyle, it is an alternative rebellion."

Susan McGrath, chairwoman of the Pinellas County Democratic Party and president of the Stonewall Democrats, the county chapter of the LGBT caucus, said Martin Luther King Day should focus on unity and inclusively.

"I think it's important in the spirit of Dr. King that the voices represent everyone, that everyone has a seat at the table," McGrath said. "I understand that Rev. Bryant has done some good work, but he has been visibly clear in his beliefs about gay people, and unfortunately they're not inclusive."

Florida state Rep. Darryl E. Rouson said the breakfast is "not the appropriate venue for anyone who seeks to divide, stir discrimination or ostracize God's creation."

"We've always brought people from all walks of life together to celebrate MLK's legacy in St. Petersburg," Rouson said in a statement. "Dr. King preached tolerance, not intolerance. He preached love demonstrated through tension and from it, the hope is peace."

Rouson's wife, Angela Rouson, is the president of the National Council of Negro Women, which is hosting the breakfast. She did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

A spokeswoman for Bryant said he still planned to speak at the event and had no further comment.

In the video, he acknowledged that homophobic views can have an alienating effect.

He called President Obama's support for gay marriage "politically expedient" and denounced other black preachers and leaders who followed suit.

"Woe unto us that we are now living in a generation and a time where black preachers are so impressed with being seen that they forget their responsibility is to be heard," Bryant said. "Regular preachers get the keys to the city, but prophets will change the city."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman declined a request by the council to give Bryant a key to the city, spokesman Ben Kirby said.

"Giving our keys to the city is at the mayor's discretion," Kirby said. "It's the highest honor he can bestow on a citizen as mayor, so there's a pretty high bar for it. ... It's unclear that this reverend would have merited a key had he not said controversial things."

"We're a city of opportunity and we believe in equality for all," he added. "His comments certainly precluded him in that regard."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mark Puente contributed to this article.

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