A Dozen Major Groups Help Drive the Religious Right’s Anti-Gay Crusade
A dozen major groups help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade
Inspired by the organizing successes of early anti-gay crusaders like Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, fundamentalist political activists have turned the anti-gay movement into a virtual industry over the last three decades.
Below are profiles of a dozen of today's most influential anti-gay groups. Groups designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center are marked with an asterisk.
Alliance Defense Fund
American Family Association
Christian Action Network
Concerned Women for America
Coral Ridge Ministries/Center for Reclaiming America
Family Research Council
Family Research Institute*
Focus on the Family
Traditional Values Coalition
In 1993, with gay-rights issues increasingly being contested in the courts, a coalition of 35 Christian Right groups founded the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). Key founders included D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
ADF President Alan Sears was a culture-war veteran, having served as executive director of Attorney General Edwin Meese's Commission on Pornography during the Reagan Administration.
Sears believed the fundamentalist right needed to get serious after years of liberal court victories: "They hit and they hit and they hit, and finally we're defending." Sears claims that the ultimate goal of the gay-rights movement is to "silence" Christians.
In 1994, ADF solicited funds on Christian radio with an ad claiming, "Pro-life demonstrations may soon be illegal. ... Religious broadcasting may soon be censored. Hiring homosexuals in Christian schools, churches, and even as Sunday School teachers may soon become the law of the land. ... Don't let Christianity become a crime."
In 2003, Sears and ADF Vice President Craig Osten expanded on that theme in The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom, which ties homosexuality to pedophilia and other "disordered sexual behavior."
In 2000, the ADF helped defend the Boy Scouts of America's ban on openly gay scoutmasters, which was upheld by a narrow 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court. The ADF has also mounted legal challenges to gay military service, marriage, adoption and foster-parenting, as well as to domestic partner benefits around the nation.
It trains other attorneys "to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda" in free, week-long National Litigation Academies, whose participants commit to "provide 450 hours of pro bono legal work on behalf of the Body of Christ."
Best known for leading boycotts of advertisers who support "indecency" in the mass media (including the supposedly cocaine-snorting Mighty Mouse), the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a former Methodist minister, has led a series of religious-right groups since 1976.
Appointed by Alan Sears (see Alliance Defense Fund) to the Meese Commission on Pornography in 1985, Wildmon successfully urged the removal of Playboy and Penthouse from some 17,000 convenience stores. But another favorite target has been homosexuality.
In the 1980s, Wildmon succeeded in getting ads pulled from shows like "Thirtysomething," added to Wildmon's list of "Trash TV" because its plot included a gay romance. The American Family Association (AFA), created by Wildmon in 1977 as the National Federation for Decency but renamed AFA in 1988, has built an empire — a 200-station radio network, about 100 employees and a monthly AFA Journal sent to 180,000 people — largely on the basis of anti-gay appeals.
In one October 2004 article, the AFA Journal suggests that gay influences are leading to a "grotesque culture" that will include "quick encounters in the middle school boys' restroom." In its 1994 booklet Homosexuality in America, the AFA claims "[p]rominent homosexual leaders and publications have voiced support for pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism, and even bestiality."
AFA's direct-mail appeals are particularly shrill. "For the sake of our children and society, we must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery!" says one such recent fundraising letter. "Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to 'breed' is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!"
AFA has 21 state directors, including California's Scott Lively, co-author of The Pink Swastika, a book that claims "homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities" (see also Making Myths).
In late 2004, the AFA called for a boycott of Proctor & Gamble, calling it "one of the largest promoters of the homosexual agenda," partly because it advertises on TV shows "Will and Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." By late January 2005, AFA claimed more than 380,000 people had signed its boycott petition.
With Wildmon reportedly in shaky health, his son, Tim, now serves as AFA president.
Founded in 1978 by Gary DeMar, one of America's most prominent proponents of Christian Reconstructionism, American Vision produces a wide variety of "educational resources" designed to "restore America's Biblical foundation." Like R.J. Rushdoony, the founder of Reconstructionism (see Chalcedon Foundation), DeMar contends that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation" and that its democracy should be replaced by a theocratic government run by Christians who will strictly impose certain Old Testament prohibitions, including passages they interpret as opposing homosexuality and abortion.
"The Bible is clear on moral issues that are culture-killers: homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and abortion," says DeMar, who is closely allied with D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, where he frequently speaks.
While DeMar insists that homosexuals wouldn't be rounded up and systematically executed under a "reconstructed" government, he does believe that the occasional execution of "sodomites" would serve society well, because "the law that requires the death penalty for homosexual acts effectively drives the perversion of homosexuality underground, back into the closet."
Another "long-term goal," he writes elsewhere, should be "the execution of abortionists and parents who hire them."
DeMar is also down on anti-poverty programs. "Nowhere in the Bible is civil government given authority to help the poor by raising taxes on the rich," he insists in the American Vision Web site essay. "In fact, as history shows, the 'war on poverty' became the war on the poor."
DeMar is tightly linked to other Reconstructionists, including Gary North, with whom he co-authored Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn't.
In 1993, American Vision helped county commissioners in Cobb County, Ga., pass an anti-gay resolution so strongly worded that it sparked a national controversy. Cobb County Commissioner Gordon Wysong spoke at American Vision's annual fundraising banquet the following year, saying of gay people, "We should blame them for every social failure in America."
The late Rousas John Rushdoony, known as the "father of Christian Reconstructionism," established the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. The think tank's name refers to the Council of Chalcedon, which in 451 A.D. proclaimed the state's subservience to God.
Rushdoony's message, articulated in his massive 1973 opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, is similar: fundamentalist Christians must take control of governments and impose strict biblical law on America and the world. That would mean the death penalty for "practicing homosexuals," among many other "abominators."
Rushdoony, whose book is revered by Reconstructionists as their foundational document, was also a racist. He opposed "unequal yoking" — interracial marriage or even "enforced integration" — insisting in the book that "[a]ll men are NOT created equal before God... . Moreover, an employer has a property right to prefer whom he will in terms of 'color,' creed, race or national origin."
The Bible, Rushdoony wrote, "recognizes that some people are by nature slaves." In fact, American slavery was "generally benevolent" despite misguided attempts to make whites feel guilty about it.
Rushdoony was also a Holocaust denier, attacking the "false witness" that some 6 million Jews were murdered in World War II.
In the early 1990s, Rushdoony was reportedly a member of the board of governors of the secretive Council of National Policy Board, an exclusive group of arch-conservative leaders, where he was feted on his 80th birthday by Howard Phillips (Phillips ran for president twice on the extremist Constitution Party ticket).
Although most fundamentalist leaders now deny holding Reconstructionist beliefs, several — including Beverly and Tim LaHaye (see Concerned Women for America), Donald Wildmon (see American Family Association) and D. James Kennedy (see Coral Ridge Ministries) — did serve alongside Rushdoony and other Chalcedon associates on the Coalition for Revival, a group formed in 1981 to "reclaim America."
Martin Mawyer, longtime editor of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority Report, founded the Christian Action Network (CAN) in 1990, a year after Falwell folded the original Moral Majority.
In his "dirty and dangerous" battle against "militant homosexual groups," Mawyer has not held back. In 1997, after Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian on her TV sitcom, Mawyer accused her of "DUMPING HER FILTHY LESBIAN LIFESTYLE RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF YOUR LIVING ROOM!! ... If we allow the tidal wave of gay and lesbian smut to continue to pour into our homes, it will utterly consume us in no time at all!"
In 1999, he asked the Federal Communications Commission to put an "HC [homosexual conduct] warning label" on TV programs with gay characters. The following year, CAN caused a national stir when TV stations refused to air its inflammatory ad attacking Hillary Clinton, who was then running for U.S. Senate.
Over ominous drumbeats, the narrator intoned: "It is rumored that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. It is rumored that Hillary Clinton supported homosexual marriage. It is rumored that Hillary Clinton will leave her husband upon taking office. ... Sometimes, rumors are true. Shouldn't you know the truth? For more information on traditional family values, please contact the Christian Action Network."
More recently, CAN protested "Gay Days" at Disney World and other theme parks — events that Mawyer's wife and CAN partner, Bonnie, says demonstrate "the true intent of these homosexuals: they are after our children!!"
A 2000 Mawyer mailing incorporated militia-like paranoia: "I am not ready to give this great nation over to one-world government extremists ... radical, disease-carrying homosexuals ... anti-family lesbian feminists ... or anti-American U.N. globalists!"
CAN activists today are familiar faces at Gay Days, videotaping "bad behavior." In 2003, CAN turned its footage of "homosexual kissing, hugging and fondling" into a video tour of the Southeast, warning parents about the perils of Gay Days and warning that "homosexuals live in a pattern of sin and debauchery."
When she founded Concerned Women for America (CWA) in 1979, Beverly LaHaye was a budding "family activist" best known for The Act of Marriage, a fiery anti-feminist bestseller co-authored with her husband, Tim.
LaHaye's goal was to energize the anti-feminist (or "pro-family") cause with an advocacy group that might rival the National Organization for Women — which LaHaye calls "anti-God, anti-family" — in both size and political power. With a daily radio show that now reaches more than 1 million listeners, four affiliate organizations, and a cadre of attorneys, researchers and lobbyists battling the "radical, leftist crusade to transform America into Sextopia," LaHaye has done just that.
She pins much of the blame for the "radical crusade" on gay people. In 1992, LaHaye said gay activists "go after boys by becoming teachers and Boy Scout leaders." In 1998, CWA called homosexuals "people who make lewd phone calls, expose themselves to others, and engage in prostitution."
In 2001, LaHaye hired two of America's most prominent anti-gay propagandists, Robert Knight and Peter LaBarbera, to launch CWA's Culture and Family Institute. LaBarbera is a former Washington Times reporter and editor of an inflammatory anti-gay journal called The Lambda Report on Homosexual Activism. He also produced CWA's 11 Ways You Can Fight the Homosexual Agenda manual.
Knight, called "America's premier gay-basher" by Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, produces reams of sensationalistic reports like "Sexual Orientation and American Culture," which warns that accepting "sexual orientation as a civil right" will lead to "a loss of stability in communities, with a rise in crime, sexually transmitted diseases and other social pathologies."
Knight has also accused gays of preying on "shy and artistic young boys," using the boys' desire for male affirmation to make them into "an easy mark for seduction."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, CWA accused same-sex partners of those killed of "trying to hijack the moral capital of marriage." Last year, CWA raised a ruckus over a gay Canadian couple that wanted to visit the U.S. together, calling the men "a new threat to border security" and "the latest pair of 'domestic terrorists.'"
The group has also accused the Harry Potter books of promoting the practice of witchcraft among children.
Beginning in the early 1960s, the Rev. D. James Kennedy turned conservative Coral Ridge Presbyterian into a mega-church that now claims 10,000 members. In 1974, Kennedy branched out with Coral Ridge Ministries, which has since become one of the largest fundamentalist enterprises in America with some 160 employees, several divisions including a Washington-based Center for Christian Statesmanship, and radio and television studios producing shows that reach a combined weekly audience of 3 million.
In his book Stranger at the Gate, evangelical minister Mel White (see A Thorn in Their Side), who produced a popular film for Kennedy called "Like a Mighty Army," says Coral Ridge "practically funded its television outreach on ... disgusting, inflammatory antigay propaganda."
In one typical newsletter, Kennedy published a photograph of two sweet-looking children under a headline reading, "Sex with Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!" Elsewhere, he has written that "homosexuals prey on adolescent boys" and "take America's children."
After Kennedy cited bogus claims about AIDS transmission, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, himself a conservative evangelical, attacked his statement as "reprehensible" and "homophobic." "I just cannot believe the poor scholarship of so many Christians," Koop said, adding that Kennedy refused his subsequent offer of a briefing on the facts of AIDS transmission.
Kennedy denies that he subscribes to the extremist ideology of Christian Reconstructionism, which calls for killing "practicing homosexuals," but he is tied closely to leading Reconstructionists.
Kennedy has described the works of Reconstructionism founder R.J. Rushdoony (see Chalcedon Foundation), which are laced with anti-black racism and anti-gay vitriol, as "essential." His ministry has sold a book by leading Reconstructionist George Grant that laments the abandonment of legal codes prescribing death for homosexuals.
And he certainly holds theocratic views closely related to Reconstructionism, as reflected in the name he chose for Coral Ridge's political outreach arm: the Center for Reclaiming America (CRA). Since its founding in 1996, the CRA has brought together fundamentalist groups in campaigns like "Truth in Love," a million-dollar 1998 ad campaign that promoted "ex-gay" ministries offering discredited methods of "curing" homosexuals.
CRA sponsors an annual conference, Reclaiming America for Christ, that has featured leading Reconstructionists like Grant (who is also a former Coral Ridge vice president) and Gary DeMar (see American Vision), along with anti-gay stalwarts like Robert Knight (see Concerned Women of America).
Coral Ridge also has been a generous supporter of deposed Alabama Chief Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, the "Ten Commandments Judge" who in a 2002 "special concurrence" court opinion suggested that the state could impose "physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution" to protect children from gays and lesbians.
Moore's new Alabama outfit, the Foundation for Moral Law, is being partly bankrolled by Coral Ridge.
In 1988, James Dobson's Focus on the Family mega-ministry merged with the Family Research Council (FRC), a tiny Washington think tank headed by Gary Bauer, a former Department of Education official. With Focus' millions behind it, FRC's profile shot up as Bauer brought Dobson's anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-sex education messages to leaders on Capitol Hill.
When FRC's lobbying threatened Focus' tax-exempt status in 1992, the groups severed their legal ties. But by then, FRC had become a powerful group in its own right.
During the gays-in-the-military debate of 1993, Bauer wrote an influential op-ed alleging that gay people's "notion of 'civil rights' would mean a jackboot on the back of the 99 percent of society that still follows the norms of nature."
Robert Knight, FRC's chief anti-gay researcher during the 1990s (see also Concerned Women for America), claimed that the gay rights movement's main goal was "going after the kids."
Drawing liberally on the discredited research of Paul Cameron (see Family Research Institute), Knight published papers claiming, among other things, that gay people view "pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." FRC also cited Cameron's bogus claim that children in gay households are at greater risk of sexual involvement with a parent. In a legal brief, it even warned that schools offering diversity education could be sued for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The FRC led boycotts and protests when major corporations began to give domestic-partner benefits; in 1997, Knight lambasted American Airlines for its "immoral" benefits program, asking, "What are you going to develop next? A pedophilia market?"
Former Louisiana legislator Tony Perkins, a "family values" crusader who had given a speech to the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens on May 19, 2001, took over the FRC's leadership in 2003. By then, the FRC was well established in Washington, with board members like Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, an OB/GYN who in his 2004 campaign falsely claimed that guards had to be posted inside some public school restrooms to protect girls from lesbian sex attacks.
The FRC's current senior fellow for cultural studies, Timothy Dailey, has taken over Knight's role as FRC's main anti-gay propagandist, comparing gays to "abnormal cells," co-authoring Getting It Straight, a "statistical" compendium of the "evils" of homosexuality, and penning Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Homosexual Lifestyle, yet another lurid FRC publication.
Founded in 1987 by Paul Cameron, the Family Research Institute (FRI) claims to produce "cutting-edge research" on "family policy" issues. In truth, Cameron is the longtime house psychologist of the anti-gay movement — and one of the most thoroughly discredited researchers in America.
After losing his job teaching psychology at the University of Nebraska in 1980, Cameron began to crank out "scientific" studies that bolstered the claims of Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell and other early anti-gay crusaders that gay people were "diseased perverts" with a program to molest children and demolish America.
Cameron's first organization, the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality, distributed hysterical pamphlets falsely alleging that gay people were much more likely than others to be serial murderers, child molesters and intentional disease-spreaders.
Years later, Cameron's FRI Web site was still singing the same tune: "The typical sexual practices of homosexuals are a medical horror story — imagine exchanging saliva, feces, semen and/or blood with dozens of different men each year. Imagine drinking urine, ingesting feces and experiencing rectal trauma on a regular basis."
That's only the beginning. In a 1981 debate, Cameron claimed a 4-year-old boy had been sexually mutilated in a Lincoln, Neb., mall rest room as part of a "homosexual act" — but police in Lincoln said no such crime had occurred.
He told the 1985 Conservative Political Action Committee conference that "extermination of homosexuals" might be needed in the next three to four years. He has advocated tattooing AIDS patients in the face, and banishment to a former leper colony for any patient who resisted. He has called for gay bars to be closed and gays to be registered with the government.
Cameron even has called AIDS a "godsend," and it was for him: Though he was kicked out of the American Psychological Association for ethical violations in 1983 (he was alleged to have used unsound methods and misrepresented the work of others) — and then, after pawning himself off as a sociologist, declared "not a sociologist" by the American Sociological Association — his studies alleging that homosexuals were intentionally spreading AIDS have been frequently cited by anti-gay groups and commentators like Pat Buchanan.
In the late '90s, Education Secretary William Bennett was badly embarrassed after going on national television and citing Cameron's unscientific study finding that gay men live only 43 years on average. (Cameron had based the finding on a sample of obituaries in gay newspapers.) Since then, anti-gay groups have continued to make frequent use of Cameron's findings — almost always without mentioning the source.
Incredibly, serving on Cameron's board are former U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.) and former U.S. Sen. Robert Smith (R-Calif.)
No one has spread the anti-gay gospel as widely, or with as much political impact, as James Dobson, the former child development professor and spanking enthusiast who founded Focus on the Family (FOF) in 1977.
On Focus' 47-acre campus in Colorado Springs, some 1,300 employees battle against gay rights, sex education and women's rights with an enormous annual budget of $130 million. Dobson's radio show, dispensing homespun parenting advice along with jabs at "the militant homosexual agenda," is heard daily on more than 9,000 radio stations worldwide, giving him an estimated listening audience of more than 200 million.
Focus' president from 2003 to early 2005, Don Hodel, formerly served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior and head of the Christian Coalition, and now chairs the Council for National Policy, a secretive group of America's most powerful right-wing leaders that Dobson formerly chaired.
As early as 1989, Dobson came under attack from a fellow conservative evangelical, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who accused him of "reprehensible" and "homophobic" use of false information about how AIDS is transmitted. But Focus began to really flex its anti-gay political muscles in 1992, when Dobson used his radio show to turn Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2 (see Holy War) into a fundamentalist cause célèbre.
Among the scores of anti-gay commentaries, stories and products on FOF's Web site is a Dobson essay that strikes a typical note: "Moms and Dads, are you listening? This movement is the greatest threat to your children. It is of particular danger to your wide-eyed boys, who have no idea what demoralization is planned for them." Another article claims that "the homosexual agenda is a beast. It wants our kids."
According to a 1997 book by former FOF staffer Gil Alexander-Moegerle, Dobson once said, "Communities do not let prostitutes, pedophiles, voyeurs, adulterers and those who sexually prefer animals to publicly celebrate their lifestyle, so why should homosexuals get such privileges?" He has also recommended parents withdraw from Parent-Teacher Associations because they allegedly have a liberal social agenda.
But none of this cut into Dobson's effectiveness as he successfully spearheaded the national campaign against gay marriage in 2003 and 2004 (see Holy War).
David Noebel, once an evangelist with the late Billy Joe Hargis' scandal-plagued Anti-Communist Christian Crusade, founded Summit Ministries in 1962, holding camp-style conferences for Christian college students.
Now an unaccredited college of its own, boasting additional campuses in Ohio and Tennessee and the hearty endorsement of Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Summit graduates more than 1,300 students a year — all of them steeped in both Christian "dominionism" (generally, the idea that Christianity should dominate society and politics) and anti-gay politics.
In 1977, while still a member of the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, Noebel was one of the first to recognize that anti-gay activism could surpass anti-communism as a winning issue for fundamentalists. The U.S. was "rotting within," Noebel warned, and "homosexuality is only an issue when a nation is rotting morally." Noebel wrote a book called The Homosexual Revolution and gave anti-gay lectures peppered with slurs like "fruits" and "fairies."
In 1986, he teamed up with Paul Cameron (see Family Research Institute) and then-Summit instructor Wayne Lutton, currently a leader in the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, to write Special Report: AIDS, which became one of the most controversial anti-gay tracts ever published.
Pat Buchanan's blurb on the back cover sums up the spirit of this Special Report: "In a healthy society," Buchanan writes, homosexuality is "contained, segregated, controlled and stigmatized."
Bolstered by Cameron's studies alleging that gay people were intentionally spreading the AIDS virus, Special Report proposes a number of means to "suppress" the outbreak, concluding that it might become necessary to "exile" all "active homosexuals" from America.
Summit continues to preach anti-gay propaganda to the next generation of fundamentalist activists, with Mike Haley, an "ex-gay" campaigner who is Focus on the Family's "youth and gender specialist" and author of a book called Straight Answers: Exposing the Myths and Facts about Homosexuality, currently on the faculty.
Nobody has warned Americans about the "gay threat" longer, or louder, than former Presbyterian minister and Pat Robertson protégé Lou Sheldon, already a veteran anti-gay crusader when he founded the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) in 1981.
Sheldon, who deems homosexuality a "deathstyle," sends a steady stream of sensationalistic fundraising appeals to TVC members (he claims 43,000 churches are part of his coalition). Most center around the idea that child-molesting is the real "homosexual agenda."
"They want our preschool children. ... They want our kindergarten children. ... They want our middle school and high school children," read a recent direct-mail appeal.
In 1992, Sheldon reportedly told columnist Jimmy Breslin, "Homosexuals are dangerous. They proselytize. They come to the door, and if your son answers and nobody is there to stop it, they grab the son and run off with him. They steal him. They take him away and turn him into a homosexual."
TVC reports echo that theory: "As homosexuals continue to make inroads to the public schools, more children will be molested and indoctrinated into the world of homosexuality." Gay-Straight Alliances on high school campuses are also part of a plot to "target children for recruitment" to gay sex, cross-dressing and sex-change operations, TVC says.
Yet another TVC report claims "the deviant homosexual subculture has fueled efforts to normalize adult/child sex."
In 1985, Sheldon personally suggested putting AIDS victims into "cities of refuge." When a hate crimes bill was signed in the early 1990s in California, Sheldon told a reporter that it would "protect sex with animals and the rape of children as forms of political expression."
Sheldon and his daughter, Andrea Lafferty, are active lobbyists in Washington. In 1995, Sheldon managed to engineer a congressional hearing on gay activists' supposed infiltration of public schools in a bid to whip up support for Sen. Jesse Helms' bill to cut federal funds for schools "encouraging or supporting homosexuality."
But the hearing turned into a fiasco; the star witness was Claire Connolly, a lesbian who falsely accused gay male activists of using federal AIDS funds to hold orgies.
Still, Sheldon's hard edge has never faded. Commenting on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Sheldon suggested the Bravo television network "consider airing a series called AIDS Hospice ... [that would] far more accurately portray the end results of homosexual sodomy."