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What was Rep. Juan Vargas, an LGBTQ ally at home, doing at an anti-gay Christian event in Ukraine?

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One of a series about the Fellowship Foundation, the secretive religious group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and is popularly known as The Family. This series is based on Family documents obtained by TYT, including lists of breakfast guests and who invited them.

Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., an LGBTQ ally in the United States, was a featured participant at an anti-LGBTQ event in Ukraine last week. The annual event is also a hub for opponents of reproductive rights, and this year included a side discussion on "defending … conservative values."

A picture of Vargas attending the side panel was posted on Twitter by an analyst at Ordo Iuris, a far-right Polish think tank. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., co-chair with Vargas of the Ukraine caucus in the House, also attended the main event.

Vargas, who is pro-choice and has a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign, did not announce the trip publicly. Neither did Fitzpatrick, and their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

The event comes amid mounting concerns about the rise of white Christian nationalist movements both in the U.S. and overseas, some of which are enabled by political reluctance to scrutinize anything seen as religious. Ukraine's LGBTQ community has been struggling for official implementation of legally required civil rights and protection against hate crimes, and against legislative attempts to ban "homosexual propaganda."

The event last week was Ukraine's annual National Prayer Breakfast. It was organized by Pavlo Unguryan, a former member of Parliament with a long history of working with American evangelical organizations, including The Family, to push conservative positions, such as opposition to reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.

Vargas is one of the few Democrats still involved with The Family. He has been listed as a National Prayer Breakfast host for the past three years and co-chaired it in 2016, when the invitation list clearly discriminated against Catholics, progressive religious leaders and non-evangelicals, as TYT recently reported.

An American lobbyist who attended last week's event in Ukraine, former Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., told TYT, "I did not hear any anti-LGBTQ remarks at this event or at earlier prayer breakfasts I have attended in Kyiv." Slattery also said, however, that he had never heard of two far-right groups with ties to the Ukraine event.

Ukrainian LGBTQ activists lamented American participation in the prayer breakfast. "It's bad," said Bogan Globa, co-founder of QUA — LGBTQ Ukrainians in America. Asked whether congressional participation helps organizers expand their networks, Andrii Kravchuk, an advocacy expert at Ukraine's Nash Mir LGBT Human Rights Center, told TYT, "[A]bsolutely right — this event is a chain in the ultraconservative religious networking."

Kravchuk said, "All major Ukrainian churches, as well as [any] religious activists or lobbyists associated with them, are strictly homophobic."

Journalist Oleksiy Kuzmenko tweeted in advance about the participation of Vargas and Fitzpatrick, calling the prayer breakfast's organizers "Ukraine's leading anti-LGBT figures."

Although the event is only 10 years old, Kuzmenko told TYT, "Prayer Breakfast events have come to be amongst Ukraine's premier political and religious events, and their success appears to illustrate how a prominent portion of Ukraine's political class tolerates the well-known anti-LGBT agenda of some of the event's organizers and has strong ties to American conservative circles."

Generally, Kravchuk said, mainstream American attitudes toward LGBTQ rights are a positive influence on Ukraine. "I believe that communication between Ukrainian politician[s] and their mainstream Western counterparts would rather improve attitudes [in Ukraine] to LGBT people," Kravchuk said.

Slattery, who said he has "never held a formal position in the Fellowship Foundation but [has] many friends who have participated in the National Prayer Breakfast," told TYT he helped start the Ukraine event. "I encouraged people in Ukraine to start a National Prayer breakfast as a way to help unify the country and bind up the nation's wounds about 10 years ago," Slattery said in an email.

"This year all factions of the Rada [Ukraine's parliament] were on the........

© Salon

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