by Eric Ethington
There is no question that the American public has moved pretty decisively onto the side of equality for same-sex couples and their families. So when the anti-LGBTQ families crowd gets in front of Utah press or any other American media outlets, they typically work hard to keep their rhetoric from getting too far outside of the acceptable limits. But when these same people get outside of the country, and away from U.S. reporters and cameras, it quickly becomes apparent just how far they’d want to take their agenda in the U.S. if they could.
This past Friday and Saturday, the Utah affiliate of Arizona-based Family Watch International hosted a two day anti-LGBTQ gathering under the name “Stand For The Family Conference.” And the international culture warriors and exporters of homophobia and sexism came to play.
Friday featured an anti-marriage equality rally, which landed them in some hot water when organizers projected unauthorized images of actual same-sex Utah couples and their children onto giant screens, mocking them for not being “real” families.
Rightly so, the backlash was severe as outraged parents condemned such base attacks on their families and violating their privacy and using images of their children for smearing purposes. Marina Gomberg, interim Executive Director of Equality Utah released a strong statement condemning the photos’ use and saying “Our families are not your propaganda!”
“We are deeply concerned after learning that photos of our community members with their bright and beautiful children were used as anti-marriage equality propaganda at a rally at the Utah State Capitol yesterday.
It is a disgrace to use our families for a misguided and debunked view of what is best for children. It is one thing to disagree with the freedom to marry, it’s quite another to go after loving parents and their children at a political rally. That is not an example of the family values in which Utahns take deep pride.”
So just who are these people who spoke at the anti-LGBTQ families conference in Utah this week? So much media coverage is devoted exclusively to he-said/she-said, but that dichotomy gives little context, and it’s critical to understand precisely who is involved and their true agenda.
Brian Brown is best known as the current President of the National Organization for Marriage. A Quaker-turned-Roman Catholic, he’s been a key player in the anti-equality movement for over two decades, and is infamous for his tendency to compare LGBTQ people to pedophiles.
But despite these (comparably) smaller shenanigans, Brown’s rhetoric overseas is something else altogether. Brown and NOM haveworked extensively with the Illinois-based World Congress of Families (Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks sits on the board) to export the U.S. culture wars to Russia, and had a strong hand in the creation of the 2013 law that makes it a criminal offense to say anything even remotely positive about LGBTQ people in public.
This severe limit on free speech applies to everyone from protesters to radio and tv newscasters, and comes at a time when Russian LGBTQ people are being literally hunted down on the streets, beaten, and tortured by maurading gangs who call the practice “going on safari”—posting their exploits on the internet. (‘The BBC put together a frighteningly-vivid documentary about the sickening practice, called “Hunted.”)
Just last week, Brown was in Moscow with the World Congress of Families when they voted to approve a resolution calling for a Russia-style law criminalizing pro-LGBTQ speech all over the world.
Kimberly Ells, Sharon Slater, and Family Watch International
Kimberly Ells is the president of the local chapter of Family Watch International (FWI), and Sharon Slater is the president of the entire national group. Both spoke at the Saturday session of the anti-LGBTQ conference.
Slater, a Mormon, founded FWI in 1999, and is based in Gilbert, Arizona. She presents herself as a humanitarian and advocate for women, children, and families, but her international work is anything but.
Since 1999, Slater has been working in Uganda, Nigeria, and other African nations to advance conservative ideologies that idealize the nuclear family as the antidote to all societal ills.
Slater was also one of the many U.S. conservative culture warriors directly involved in the creation of both the “Kill the Gays” law in Uganda, as well as the Nigeria anti-LGBTQ law which was carbon copied from the law passed in Russia (it took it a step farther, however, including punishments of up to 14 years in prison for being gay).
Slater and Family Watch International also work extensively at the UN, seeking to block any resolutions that are even remotely pro-LGBTQ, pro-reproductive autonomy, or pro-comprehensive sex ed.
Mary Summerhays & Stand For The Family
Summerhays, the speaker who used the photos of the children and their parents at the Friday rally, actually works for the Witherspoon Institute. Witherspoon is the conservative think tank which commissioned and funded the thoroughly de-bunked Mark Regnerus Study, which had the express task (as mandated at the Heritage Institute conference where it was conceived) of proving that LGBTQ people are bad parents. Regnerus was unable to prove such a conclusion with data using actual LGBTQ parents, so instead he compared the children of stable two-parent families to the children of single-parent households (regardless of sexual orientation) to draw his specious conclusion. Over 200 Ph.D.’s from around the country signed a letter condemning the methodology and conclusions of the study, and after extensively questioning Regnerus on the witness stand, Michigan Judge Bernard Friedman ruled “The court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.”
The founder and head of Witherspoon Institute is Robert P. George, who also sits on the editorial board of Utah’s own Deseret News (so it comes as no surprise as to how the News was the first outlet to report on the Regnerus study). George also co-founded the National Organization for Marriage, which has been found guilty by several judges in different states of purposefully misleading voters and for failing to disclose where the millions of dollars they’re putting into anti-LGBTQ ads and commercials is coming from.
George was also the author of the Manhattan Declaration.
The conclusion of all of this should be simple. When we get nothing but a repetition of what they say vs. what we say, nothing changes. We must work better, smarter, and quicker to show who these people truly are, and what they try to accomplish when they think no one is looking.
[infobox style=’regular’ static=’1′]Eric Ethington has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Originally from Salt Lake City, he was the founder of PRIDEinUtah, the Queer Quorum and Utah Political Capitol. He also has a background in electoral politics, working on more than 20 winning campaigns and has previously served as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus in Utah, as well as the Utah affiliate of ProgressNow. He has also worked as a radio host, pundit, blogger and activist. He currently lives in Boston, working as the Communications Director for Political Research Associates.[/infobox]