Civil rights group targets religious conservatives...
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2003 that the remaining sodomy laws in 13 states were unconstitutional, gay rights advocates celebrated one of their largest victories to date in the quest for equality.
But that decision, Lawrence vs. Texas, also fueled a large and growing conservative religious movement dubbed “the anti-gay industry” by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
, according to Jason Cianciotto, research director for the Policy Institute at the Task Force.
The Lawrence decision, coupled with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, prompted the religious right to point to the “homosexual agenda” and prompt more virulent anti-gay attacks, said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center
. The Montgomery, Ala.-based organization’s recent edition of its quarterly magazine, the Intelligence Report, chronicled the history of anti-gay messages from religious conservatives in a cover story titled, “Holy War: The Religious Right’s Crusade Against Gays Heats Up.”
“Their tone [against homosexuality] has become quite amazing after the Lawrence decision,” said Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report. “What was really striking was while the Klan and neo-Nazis spoke out against the Lawrence decision, the really vicious statements came from well-known leaders of the Christian right.”
After sodomy laws were thrown out and gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, religious right organizations, including the Alliance Defense Fund, ratcheted up fund-raising efforts and poured millions of dollars into TV, newspaper and radio ads as part of last year’s successful campaigns to ban same-sex marriage in 13 states, including Georgia.
“They profit from homophobia,” Cianciotto said. “They are using anti-gay rhetoric to line their own pockets. They are the modern-day snake oil salesmen.”
Brandon Vallorani, a spokesperson for American Vision
, a group dedicated to Christian Reconstructionism that includes supporting the death penalty for homosexuals, declined to be interviewed. But he added that the Southern Poverty Law Center was “sadly mistaken” for listing American Vision as a hate group
‘Bailiwick is extremism’
Gay rights organizations such as the Task Force
, the Human Rights Campaign
and Lambda Legal
have long been tracking anti-gay groups, including Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. But now the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization known for monitoring hate groups including the Ku Klux Klan, labels them as extremist groups.
Attorneys Morris Dees and Joe Levin founded the center as a small civil rights firm in 1971 in Montgomery, Ala. The organization continues to monitor white supremacist groups as well as the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and other extremist activity. The center never in its 34-year history took aim at the religious right before now, but the rising volume of the national debate over gay marriage puts such groups in the limelight, Potok said.
“Our bailiwick is extremism,” he said. “We’ve avoided the Christian right in the past, and we don’t feel we’ve expanded to include the Christian right — we feel very strongly they have entered our world [of extremism].
“They have gone absolutely wild. The level of personal demonization was really quite remarkable. We felt we had to say, ‘Thus far, no further,’” Potok added.
The magazine devotes 23 pages in its current Intelligence Report to a 30-year history of the religious right’s anti-gay efforts. The report chronicles events from Anita Bryant’s statement in the 1970s that, “Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks they must recruit the youth of America,” to a recent direct mail campaign from Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition. The mailing states, “They [gays] want our preschool children. … They want our kindergarten children. … They want our middle school and high school children.”
“At one time, they rallied around the fear of communism, the fear of mixed-marriage and now the GLBT community. Fear is a great motivator,” said Laura Montgomery Rutt, a former spokesperson for Soulforce, a national gay interfaith organization, who is now chief executive of Envision Marketing & Community Consulting.
She said it is important that the center’s report points out that fear is the impetus for religious right groups when it comes to galvanizing its base against gay men and lesbians.
“It is awesome the SPLC
has taken the step to put the religious right in the same category as hate groups,” she said.‘We are not anti-gay’
The SPLC also reports that on Oct. 22, 2004, a short time before Election Day, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told a crowd of supporters of same-sex marriage bans, “Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”
Melissa Fryear, gender issues analyst for Focus on the Family and a self-described former lesbian, said it was unfair to label the organization as anti-gay.
“We are not anti-gay,” Fryear said. “We stand for traditional marriage between a man and a woman and believe children benefit with a mother and father. We are what we are for and we believe in defending and nurturing our ideals. If people could see us in a larger scope, they would see the face of Focus on the Family is actually compassionate and understanding.”
The organization supports anti-gay policies, she added, in keeping with its core belief system. Fryear is also a former employee of Exodus International, a program for “ex-gays” that is also labeled anti-gay in the Intelligence Report.
In 1998, Focus on the Family introduced its “Love Won Out” program, a conference in which participants listen to speakers including Fryear; Joe Dallas, a former president of Exodus International; and even Nancy Heche, mother of Anne Heche, the ex-girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres.
“We think there is a crucial difference between a man and woman living as homosexuals versus a national homosexual movement,” Fryear said. “Every person has incomprehensible value, but at times we oppose efforts to legalize or normalize homosexual behavior.”
Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center
said the personal vilification and the false science used against gay men and lesbians issued by institutions of the religious right are not only hateful, but dangerous.
“It is quite remarkable how they claim to hate the sin but love the sinner. That’s an absurd claim. We have reports that clearly show this kind of rhetoric paves the way to violence,” he said. “Without question, gay men and lesbians are the most attacked group — and the hate crimes toward them are more violent.”
The typical hate crime offender is a white man between the ages of 14 and 21, and offenders often say they are simply acting out the wishes of the larger community, Potok said.
So when Christian leaders spout anti-gay messages and preachers sermonize on the “moral intrinsic evil” of homosexuals, as Catholic Church officials have stated, there is little doubt the language leads to violence, Potok added.
“These leaders are acting in a sense as permission-givers for violence,” he said.
Jay Smith Brown, communication strategies director for the Human Rights Campaign
“The rhetoric that hate groups are spewing fuels hate, and that hate can all too easily turn into violence. It’s a dangerous cycle that must be countered with serious education efforts,” Brown said. ‘Sick and sinful’
Rev. Mel White knows first-hand the hatred steeped in religious right organizations. White struggled with his sexual orientation and remained closeted for much of his adult life. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, he worked among evangelical Christians and ghostwrote books for such notable leaders as Revs. Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy and Pat Robertson.
White tried for years to overcome his sexual orientation, even submitting to exorcism and electroshock treatment because, he said, “I thought I was sick and sinful. I thought they [evangelicals] were right.”
After 35 years, White said he realized his former cohorts were wrong and came to accept himself as a gay man. In 1998, he founded Soulforce, a national gay rights interfaith group known for holding non-violent demonstrations at anti-gay religious sites, including Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado.
At one such demonstration, White recalled he and others were fasting in a small trailer outside Focus on the Family’s property. A person called a local radio station and said, “Someone should go up there and shoot them.”
The threat led White and his group to move to a local motel with police protection.
“I have no doubts in my mind these organizations lead to suffering and death of gay people,” White said. “Without meaning to, [the religious right] inspire people to do evil against their own children — and what is more evil than that?”
Fundamentalist Christian organizations and leaders, including Falwell and Robertson, are the primary source for hatred and discrimination toward gay men and lesbians, White added.
“They want to deny the connection, but they no longer can,” he said.