BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A Christian evangelist running against Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday called an anti-violence grant given to a support organization for gay and transgender people a "betrayal" of Alabama values.
Ivey quickly fired back that the accusation by Scott Dawson was "nonsense," saying the grant was entirely federal dollars and required by law to go to underserved groups, including LGBT organizations.
Dawson, who runs an evangelism non-profit, held a series of news conferences Tuesday, criticizing the nearly $800,000 given to Free2Be in 2017. Free2Be, which was founded in 2009, has several resource centers and groups across the state that provides counseling, referrals for adults and teens. The federal grant for crime victim assistance flowed through the Alabama Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs to the organization.
"Let me be clear. The Ivey administration has betrayed Alabama values by giving nearly one million dollars of taxpayer dollars to Free2Be, an activist organization which promotes transgenderism and alternate lifestyles to Alabama's children," Dawson said.
Dawson is challenging Ivey in the June 5 Republican primary.
"That's nonsense," Ivey told reporters Tuesday after a speech in Tuscaloosa.
"I certainly don't agree with the agenda or the values of that organization. The funding is federal funding. It's been going on since 2014. There are no Alabama tax dollars involved," Ivey said.
Her administration sent out a statement saying that in 2013 Alabama was notified that at least 10 percent of the grant dollars given to the state under the Victims of Crime Act must go to underserved populations and that grants must be extended to organizations which seek to provide victim services to the LGBTQ people.
A telephone message to Free2Be's director was not returned. An answering machine message indicated the group had closed, but did not give a reason. The group's founder, James Robinson, said in a statement posted on social media that he has not been CEO of the group since Jan. 1, and has limited contact with current administrators.
The group's website includes a video testimonial from a 14-year-old girl and her mother who sought assistance after the girl was being bullied in school because she was gay and had become suicidal at age 11.
Asked about the number of gay and lesbian and transgender citizens in the state that could be served by the group, Dawson cited polling data that he said showed most Alabamians oppose same-sex marriage.
"No child should ever be bullied," Dawson said, but said he believes the grant elevates "one world view."
Eva Kendrick, the state director of the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama, said Free2Be has worked to provide valuable mental health resources.
"It's unfortunate that the LGBTQ community is yet again being used as a political pawn and the impact of this work in the lives of everyday Alabamians is lost in these political games," Kendrick said.