Monday, March 27, 2023

Texas anti-LGBTQ activist knew for years about child sex abuse claims against SBC leader but still used his name to bolster reputation

Jared Woodfill

In 2016, former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill received an urgent warning about Paul Pressler, his longtime law partner and a Southern Baptist leader. In an email, a 25-year-old attorney from Woodfill’s Houston firm said he’d recently gone to lunch with Pressler, who told him “lewd stories about being naked on beaches with young men” and then invited him to skinny-dip at his ranch. 

Woodfill — an outspoken anti-gay politician and prominent conservative activist who’d just played a key role defeating an equal rights ordinance for LGBTQ Houstonians — responded to the young man’s request for help with shock and indignation. “This 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” he wrote of Pressler at the time.

 But new court records show that wasn’t true. 

 In recent sworn testimony, Woodfill said he’d known since 2004 of an allegation that Pressler had sexually abused a child. Woodfill learned of those claims, he said, during mediation of an assault lawsuit filed against Pressler that he helped quietly settle for nearly a half-million dollars at the time. Despite his knowledge of the accusation, Woodfill continued to work with Pressler for nearly a decade — leaning on Pressler’s name and reputation to bolster their firm, Woodfill & Pressler LLP. 

 And this little morsel makes the story even more repulsive:

 Rather than pay him a salary, Woodfill testified, the firm provided Pressler a string of employees to serve as personal assistants, most of them young men who typically worked out of his River Oaks mansion. Two have accused Pressler of sexual assault or misconduct.

Woodfill led the Harris County Republican Party from 2002 to 2014 and has for years been at the helm of anti-LGBTQ and other hardline conservative movements in Houston and Texas. In 2015, amid tense debate over a Houston equal rights ordinance that would have made LGBTQ workplace discrimination illegal, he and well-known GOP power broker Steven Hotze co-led a campaign that, among other things, said the measure would allow children to be sexually groomed and abused in bathrooms, paid for hundreds of thousands of dollars in opposition advertisements and compared the gay rights movement to Nazis.

 The article in its entirety is a doozy because it implicates other religious right players. The article seems to imply that Pressler's scurrilous behavior wasn't a secret but was covered up by folks for their own personal benefit. So while they carried on about LGBTQ people being predators, they kept quiet while an actual predator prowled in their midst.

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