Kevin Lembo Paul Bass / New Haven Independent
Kevin Lembo
Kevin Lembo Paul Bass / New Haven Independent

Activists from across the country are inundating Kevin Lembo with taunts like “faggot” and “Satan” — but that’s not stopping him from moving to prevent state government from forwarding charitable donations to an anti-gay lobbying group.

Lembo, the state comptroller and a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has found himself the target of the attack campaign since he requested that the lobbying group, the American Family Association (AFA), produce documentation that it complies with the rules of a Connecticut program that allows government workers to have charitable contributions deducted from their paychecks and forwarded to the organization of their choice.

Those rules require that the organizations receiving the donations follow Connecticut’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes not discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

The Mississippi-based AFA — which organized a boycott of Target stores for allowing transgenders shoppers and employees to choose which bathrooms they use; and attacked the Zales jewelry chain for “normalizing sin” by advertising wedding bands for same-sex couples — responded by encouraging supporters to flood Lembo’s office with protest messages.

The supporters flooded the comptroller’s email account with close to 18,000 messages and between 3,000 and 4,000 messages on Democrat Lembo’s personal voicemail, he said during an interview Dec. 22 on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

“Ninety percent of the folks who called in were polite,” Lembo said. The other 10 percent called Lembo — who is openly gay and married to another man— names like “faggot,” epithets “I haven’t heard since fifth grade.”  One emailer told him that “God had anointed Donald Trump, [so] was I not aware of the message [that] God hates me and what I stand for?” Lembo reported.

“Gay Bureaucrat Wages War With Christian Ministry,” read the headline to one Fox News commentary.

Joe Visconti, a 2014 third-party gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut, posted an image of Lembo on social media calling him “Satan Incarnate.”

Lembo’s response? “Your crazy’s showing.”

Undeterred, Lembo is bringing his recommendation to the committee governing the state charitable check-off program that it remove AFA from the approved list of organizations, based on AFA’s declining to provide documentation that it complies with the anti-discrimination policy.

“I’ve been living in this situation fpr 53 years. It takes a lot to get me worked up,”  Lembo said.

The state program is called the Connecticut State Employees’ Campaign for Charitable Giving.

Lembo was asked if his action opens the door to having state officials prune the charitable list based on which political views they agree or disagree with, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He said that would be the case if he were acting based on the organization’s views, rather than based on its failure to comply with the program’s rules. Those rules require committing to an antidiscrimination policy “that mirror’s Connecticut’s policy, not Mississippi’s policy.”

A recent Connecticut Law Tribune editorial supported Lembo on this question: “[T]he state is not constitutionally required to subsidize discriminatory charities such as the AFA by making it easier for them to solicit state employees through participation in the CSEC. Absent such a constitutional obligation, we support Lembo’s actions. We also note that the AFA remains completely free to espouse whatever views it holds about traditional values, and to solicit and receive charitable contributions from anyone, including state employees. It simply may not be able to participate in the CSEC payroll deduction program.”

Principal more than cash is at stake: A total of three state employees contributed a total of $202 to AFA between 2011 and 2016, reported CT News Junkie; employees contributed another $4,000 between 2011 and 2014 to a group of 13 charities that included AFA.

Click on or download the above audio file to hear the full interview with Lembo, which also covered the state budget mess and his deliberations over whether to run for governor. He said he plans to decide in early 2017 whether to form an exploratory committee for a 2018 run; he also said he will not run if Lt. Gov. Nany Wyman pursues the job

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