SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - The openly gay U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and his husband have fired back at critics who ridiculed them for their sexual orientation.
In a video posted to the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube channel on Thursday, James “Wally” Brewster and his spouse, Bob Satawake, called for an end to intolerance.
“To those individuals who continue to discriminate against individuals because of who they are as human beings, I have to ask, ‘Isn’t it time to stop hating?'” Brewster said in the video, which commemorated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.
It marked the first time the ambassador has publicly addressed the controversy that erupted after President Barack Obama nominated him to the post last June.
The former head of a Chicago-area consultancy and Obama campaign fundraiser was chosen along with four other openly gay men to serve as top diplomats. The nominations came during the Obama administration’s push for gay rights on a more global scale.
Leaders of Dominican Roman Catholic and evangelical churches vocally rejected Brewster’s appointment as being out of step with the country’s values.
Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Cedaño said at the time, “If he arrives, he’s going to suffer and will have to leave.”
Evangelical Confraternity leader Cristobal Cardozo called it “an insult to good Dominican customs.”
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, archbishop of Santo Domingo, later referred to Brewster using an antigay slur in comments to the press.
Calls to the offices of the church leaders were not returned.
The animosity peaked in July 2013 with calls by church leaders for a nationwide protest, called “Black Monday,” in which people were asked to don black armbands as a sign of public discontent with the choice of Brewster.
“Has it always been easy? No,” Brewster said in the video, which was posted to the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. “Of course, there were those that were not so kind prior to our arrival and after we landed.”
The couple did not name names.
“People cautioned us, prior to arriving, that Dominican Republic would not welcome us and might even make our lives uncomfortable,” Satawake said. “With the exception of a few people who promote prejudice and hate, our experience has been just the opposite.”
Brewster went on to quote Pope Francis, who last year said, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?,” when asked about homosexuality.
Satawake and Brewster married in Washington, D.C., in November, just hours after Brewster was sworn in.
The video was lauded by gay rights groups, which shared the video on social media channels.
“This is not just any country, this is the United States,” said Juan Jimenez Coll, a Dominican gay rights activist. “So to have this support from the U.S. ambassador is important. We see it as a sign of solidarity.”
Editing by David Adams, Sandra Maler and Prudence Crowther