Vision America Bring Anti-Gay Groups to Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In late March, the plush Omni Shoreham hotel in the nation's capital was the site of a day-and-a-half-long, anti-gay extravaganza hosted by the Christian Right outfit Vision America. In the same fancy "Blue Room" where Bill Clinton blew on his sax during his 1993 inaugural ball, a Who's Who of hard-line Christian Right organizations and a handful of their conservative Jewish allies met to discuss what they called "The War On Christians." But the conferees didn't sound much like victims once they started talking. Instead, they spent most of their time excoriating two groups of people -- homosexuals and their allies, the "activist judges" who are said to empower gays by legalizing their sexual conduct, awarding them civil-rights protections and allowing them to marry.

Vision America is a network of "Patriot pastors and Patriot partners" that is run from Lufkin, Texas, and has such Christian Right luminaries on its board as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and the architect of the 1980 Reagan election. It has been gaining power on the Christian Right lately and even had a hand in vetting Supreme Court candidates for the White House. On its bill this spring were congressmen and senators, plus a luncheon keynote by U.S. Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), the former house majority leader who announced just after the conference that he was stepping down to face charges of criminal corruption. About 150 enthusiastic culture warriors were there, including one dressed up as George Washington and another as Betsy Ross.

The conference boiled down to a veritable jihad against gay rights. No fewer than 18 presenters railed against homosexuals and the "gay agenda." It seemed that the speakers, many of whom were ostensibly there to talk about the virtues of a Christian nation, just couldn't help but take repeated swipes at gays and lesbians.

Setting the tone was Vision America's head, Rick Scarborough, who said at the start that he is "rushing his efforts to stop the homosexual agenda" that he sees as the key threat to America. Complaining that his audiences are graying, Scarborough emphasized that "we have to reach the next generation" before it's too late.

If the anti-gay event had a centerpiece, it was the well-attended panel, "The Gay Agenda: America Won't Be Happy." The discussion there featured homophobic rants from leaders of four bitterly anti-gay groups -- the Family Research Council, the Illinois Family Institute, Mass. Resistance and the Traditional Values Coalition.

Peter LaBarbera, head of the Illinois Family Institute, called homosexuality "disgusting." LaBarbera, who "investigates" this lifestyle by hanging out in gay chat rooms, insisted that good Christians must "stand up to homosexual aggression" and stop using "that hoary euphemism" -- "sexual orientation." He called for the repeal of all "sexual orientation laws" -- laws that ban discrimination against gays -- because they violate religious freedom. He demanded the closing down of all "homosexual establishments." And he spoke of the "need to find ways to bring back shame to those practicing homosexual behavior."

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council called homosexuality "unnatural and unhealthy," an attack on the "natural family." Concerned that the "gay agenda" is making "major strides" politically, Sprigg wants sexual orientation removed as a protected class from hate crime penalty enhancement and civil rights laws."

Another panelist insisted that gays were trying to get legislation passed to allow sex with animals. "One bill in Massachusetts takes away all the penalties for bestiality," Brian Camenker of Mass. Resistance, an anti-gay group in the only state that has legalized gay marriage, claimed. "This is where this agenda is going."

"They are pushing perversion on our kids," Camenker added. (Scarborough sounded a similar note in a recent E-mail newsletter in which he claimed America is "a nation in which our children are indoctrinated in perversion in public schools.")

Still, none of the panelists delivered as bombastic a screed as the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the hard-line anti-gay group Traditional Values Coalition. Sheldon demanded laws that treat homosexuality as "a social disorder." Decrying the term "homosexual" as the brainchild of a 20th-century German psychologist obviously sympathetic to gays, Sheldon implored the conferees to return to the 18th century's superior diction. "The word used in America [then] was 'perverted'," he noted. When Sheldon was asked by an audience member what to call homosexuals, he shot out of his chair and shouted, "Call them what they are -- sodomites!"

The defamation of homosexuals and their alleged agenda wasn't limited to that panel, however. In a separate presentation, Don Feder, a leader of Vision America and head of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, said that American society is in a "headlong drive to normalize perversion and demonize dissent." "This is a movement that wants to transform us so that Salt Lake City on a Sunday morning looks like today's San Francisco on a Saturday night," Feder warned.

Feder's close friend and ally, Rabbi Aryeh Spero, counseled the audience to beware of agents of the homosexual agenda, reminding them "pagans can be charming. ... [D]o not accept the unacceptable." Bob Knight of Concerned Women for America alleged that Hollywood is flooded with a "gay sensibility" and it is indoctrinating America's kids into an "ironic, detached view of the world in which sex is the most important thing." Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) recounted how he refused to sign an American Bar Association code of conduct when he was a Texas judge because it banned "prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation."

The vilification continued outside the conference room, where a dozen or so vendors offered up anti-gay books and videos. A typical example was Reality Matters: Gays & Lesbians, put out by the Rutland, Vt.-based Center for American Cultural Renewal. The monograph argues that homosexual "behavior" is far more dangerous than smoking and homosexuals should be denied civil-rights protections. Another book, Christophobia: The Real Reason Behind Hate Crime Legislation by the Rev. Tristan Emmanuel, proposed denying hate-crimes protection for gays (who are the group who are by far the most victimized by hate crimes in America).

But nothing available at the conference was more homophobic than the now hard-to-find 1993 video, "The Gay Agenda," which actually coined that phrase. (The film was produced by "The Report," a now defunct TV ministry affiliated with the Springs of Life Ministries in Lancaster, Calif.). The video became national news after it was released -- the same year President Clinton was considering allowing gays to serve openly in the military -- when it was reported that the commandant of the Marine Corps had arranged a screening of it for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was also distributed widely on Capitol Hill. The video is filled with bogus statistics about the evils of the "gay lifestyle" and graphic footage intended to make the viewer believe that all homosexuals are obsessed with sex. Embarrassingly, it also features a long interview with John Paulk, who at the time was working for the "ex-gay" outfit Love In Action, an organization he said had cured him of his homosexuality. Seven years later, Paulk was discovered patronizing a gay bar in Washington, D.C.

The last act taken by the conference, the issuance of "The Values Voters' Contract With Congress," did not stray from the anti-gay spirit of the conference. One of its major provisions called for rewriting the First Amendment so that "lawful religious expression" against homosexuality could never be prosecuted. Another recommended change would outlaw "obscenity and pornography."

Perhaps Tom Crouse, a preacher from Holland, Mass., who is irate at his state's decision to allow gay marriages and who claims homosexuals have threatened to kill him, best summed up the tone of the event -- and also brought the audience back to the Christianity that it was officially tasked with saving from secular assault. "I am here to proclaim that God made us heterosexual," Crouse said to wild applause on the first day. "Jesus was not a pot-smoking hippie," he added. "Jesus Christ was one of the most intolerant people in the world!"