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Gay rights group criticizes Mike Rogers for 'homophobic' joke

Equality Alabama called Republican Rep. Mike Rogers' comments during a recent speech "racist, homophobic, and hurtful."
Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington March 27, 2013.
Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington March 27, 2013.

A gay rights group criticized Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers for making what the southern organization is calling controversial comments during a speech he gave to hundreds of realtors on Jan. 23. 

"You allegedly joked about how nice it was to be called 'Honey' and 'Sweetie' by a woman at an Alabama restaurant rather than a D.C. men's room. And you went on to mock our nation's capitol [sic] as a 'cross between Detroit and San Francisco' — an obvious reference to Detroit's racial makeup and San Francisco's vibrant gay culture. Comments like these are racist, homophobic, and hurtful, and they will not be tolerated," Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama, recently wrote in a letter.

Rogers, a Republican, reportedly made the remarks last month during his speech at a meeting with the Alabama Association of Realtors' board of directors. Attendees told the activist organization that some individuals walked out of the room upon hearing Rogers' comments, said Michael Hansen, communications director for Equality Alabama.

The group mailed the letter to Rogers' D.C. office and emailed a copy to his staff. Rogers nor his staff had responded to Equality Alabama as of press time.

Rogers' staff did not respond to an msnbc request for comment.

"When you, an elected leader and lawmaker, make comments in public that belittle and demean the very core of LGBT people's being, you endorse a culture that says it's OK to bully people for who they are or whom they love. It is not," Cooper wrote in the letter.

Though the organization had multiple reasons for writing to Rogers, the main goal was to invite the congressman to the 16th Annual Vigil for Victims of Hate & Violence that will be held next week in Montgomery, with the hope that he will attend and learn about the challenges faced by the LGBT community, Hansen said.

"We're really more interested in talking with the congressman and telling him why the comments are inappropriate, and make it an education opportunity instead of belly-aching," Hansen told msnbc. "Implicit in all of that is it would be appropriate to apologize for those comments."

Volunteers established Equality Alabama 12 years ago to advocate for equal rights among the LGBT community in the state, where same-sex marriage is not legal. In addition, local and state legislators have refrained from creating laws to prevent housing and employment discrimination in Alabama.

In his letter, Cooper noted that the National Association of Realtors amended its code of ethics in 2010 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, declaring it unconstitutional — a major victory for advocates of marriage equality.

Next week at the vigil, the group will honor the memory of Billy Jack Gaither, a gay man who was beaten to death with an ax in 1999 in his home state of Alabama.

The Alabama Association of Realtors issued a statement in the hours following Rogers' comments last month, according to

"At the Board of Directors meeting this morning one of our speakers made some remarks that were inappropriate and offensive to some of our members," according to the statement. "Those remarks are not reflective of AAR or our policies. Moving forward we will endeavor to prevent such inappropriate remarks at our events or meetings."