Founded: 1983

Location: Washington, D.C.

The Family Research Council (FRC) bills itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power,” but its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws and anti-bullying programs. To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of “policy experts” whose “research” has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors in an effort to “transform the culture.”

In Its Own Words

“Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.” 

— Robert Knight, FRC director of cultural studies, and Frank York, 1999

“[Homosexuality] … embodies a deep-seated hatred against true religion.” 

— Steven Schwalm, FRC senior writer and analyst, in “Desecrating Corpus Christi,” 1999 

“One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.” 

— 1999 FRC pamphlet, Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys

“[T]he evidence indicates that disproportionate numbers of gay men seek adolescent males or boys as sexual partners.” 

— Timothy Dailey, senior research fellow, “Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse,” 2002 

“While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.” 

— FRC President Tony Perkins, FRC website, 2010

Background 

The Family Research Council (FRC) emerged from a 1980 White House conference on families. James Dobson, founder of the religious right powerhouse Focus on the Family, met and prayed with a group of eight Christian leaders at a Washington hotel, leading ultimately to the creation of the FRC in 1983 under the initial direction of Gerald Regnier (formerly of the Department of Health and Human Services). The group became a division of Focus on the Family in 1988 under Gary Bauer, a religious right leader who would use his post as a launching pad for a failed 2000 run for the presidency. Bauer had been the undersecretary of education and a domestic policy advisor to President Reagan. 

Bauer raised the FRC’s profile, increased its effectiveness, and built a national network of “concerned citizens” during the Clinton Administration. But the FRC separated from Focus on the Family in 1992 over concerns that its very political work might threaten Focus’ tax-exempt status; Dobson and two other Focus officials joined the FRC’s newly independent board. As an independent nonprofit, the FRC continued its work in “pro-family” areas, working against abortion and stem cell research, fighting pornography and homosexuality, and promoting “the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.” That work would establish the FRC as one of the most powerful of the far right’s advocacy groups.

Bauer brought in several anti-gay researchers who pumped out defamatory material about the LGBT community. Robert Knight, a long-time conservative writer and journalist and major anti-gay propagandist, served as the FRC’s director of cultural affairs from 1992 until 2002, when he went to Concerned Women for America (CWA; Knight later moved on again and is currently senior writer at Coral Ridge Ministries). During his years at the FRC, Knight penned anti-gay tracts that used the research of thoroughly discredited psychologist Paul Cameron, head of the Colorado-based hate group the Family Research Institute. Knight authored numerous anti-gay papers, and even used Cameron’s infamous “gay obituary” study in testimony he offered before Congress to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 1994. In his prepared statement on that topic, he said, “A study of more than 6,400 obituaries in homosexual publications reveals that homosexuals typically have far shorter life spans than the general population.” Cameron’s study has been thoroughly discredited for several reasons, one of which is its deeply flawed methodology. When asked in 2004 about using Cameron’s work, Knight, by then with CWA, responded, “Yes, we have used his research. So what?”

While at the FRC, Knight also co-wrote (with Robert York, a former editor at Focus on the Family) a 1999 booklet with the attention-getting title of Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys. Among its more remarkable claims was the baseless assertion that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.” The same publication argued that the “homosexual rights movement has tried to distance itself from pedophilia, but only for public relations purposes.” The booklet has since disappeared from the FRC’s website, but the organization has not withdrawn the claims it made.

Since Bauer left the group in 1999, the FRC has had two presidents and has also emerged as one of the most powerful religious right lobbying groups in the country, with a bevy of policy researchers and writers and numerous E-mail feeds geared to a variety of causes. Kenneth Connolly, a Florida attorney and leader in the pro-life movement, served as president from 2000 to 2003. During his tenure, the FRC’s agenda focused on abortion, traditional marriage, religious liberty, parental choice in education and tax relief for families, though a central part of its mission is still working against equal rights legislation for LGBT Americans. 

The FRC also strongly promotes the “ex-gay” movement as a way to combat LGBT civil rights measures, though professional organizations have repeatedly called so-called “reparative therapy” (which seeks to turn gays and lesbians into heterosexuals) into question and issued statements that don’t support it. For instance, the American Psychological Association issued a report in 2009 reviewing studies of “ex-gay” therapy. The report found that, “contrary to the claims of practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions,” according to Dr. Judith Glassgold, the lead author. 

In 2003, Anthony Richard “Tony” Perkins became president of the FRC after a failed 2002 run for one of Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seats. Under his leadership, the group continues to peddle its false claims about gays and lesbians and has made combating the “homosexual agenda” a seemingly obsessive interest. 

Before joining the FRC, Perkins served two terms as a Louisiana state representative (1996-2004). He is also a veteran of the Marine Corps and a former police officer and television news reporter. In addition to his numerous appearances in the media and his work with the FRC, he recently co-authored Personal Faith, Public Policy (2008) with Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C. (Jackson, who is African American, runs the virulently anti-gay Hope Christian Church in Lanham, Md. He is a leader in an effort by white and black religious right preachers to work together against gay rights).

In his official FRC biography, some facts about Perkins’ life do not appear. According to The Nation, in 1992, while a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge, Perkins failed to report an illegal conspiracy by antiabortion activists to his superiors. That was Operation Rescue’s “Summer of Purpose,” when the group targeted the Delta Women’s Clinic in Baton Rouge. Perkins was dividing his time between his duties as a volunteer for the city’s police force and his job as a reporter for “Woody Vision,” a local right-wing television station owned by his mentor, Republican State Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins.

Perkins and his camera crew were a frequent presence outside the clinic, The Nation reported. According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds. In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief and then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by antiabortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force. 

In 1996, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Woody Jenkins against Mary Landrieu, Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 (reduced from $82,500) after Perkins and Jenkins filed false disclosure forms in a bid to hide their link to Duke. Five years later, on May 17, 2001, Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.” Perkins claimed not to know the group’s ideology at the time, but it had been widely publicized in Louisiana and the nation, because in 1999 — two years before Perkins’ speech to the CCC — Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had been embroiled in a national scandal over his ties to the group. GOP chairman Jim Nicholson then urged Republicans to avoid the CCC because of its “racist views.”

The Duke incident surfaced again in the local press in 2002, when Perkins ran for the Republican nomination for the Senate, dooming his campaign to a fourth-place finish in the primaries. 

Part of the FRC’s recent strategy is to pound home the false claim that gays and lesbians are more likely to sexually abuse children. This is false. The American Psychological Association, among others, has concluded that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.” That doesn’t matter to the FRC, though. Perkins defended the “gay men as pedophiles” claim yet again in a debate on the Nov. 30, 2010, edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok. As the show ended, Perkins stated, “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children. So Mark is wrong. He needs to go back and do his own research.”

In fact, the SPLC did. The college, despite its professional-sounding name, is a tiny, explicitly religious-right breakaway group from the similarly named American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the 60,000-member association of the profession. The American College of Pediatrics (ACP) splintered from the AAP because of the AAP’s support of gay and lesbian parents. Publications of the ACP, which has some 200 members, have been roundly attacked by leading scientific authorities who say they are baseless and who also accuse the college of distorting and misrepresenting their work. (Chris Matthews offered a clarification on a follow-up show to describe what the American College of Pediatricians is and separate it from the AAP.)

Perkins dove into the immigration issue in 2006, signing a statement along with leaders of the anti-immigrant Minuteman movement that called for strong measures aimed at halting increased immigration. Perkins said the effort was necessary, not so much for guarding America’s security as to protect its “cultural fabric. 

Other anti-gay propagandists at the FRC include Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies, who joined the organization in 2001. Sprigg authored a 2010 brochure touting “The Top Ten Myths about Homosexuality.” In the brochure, Sprigg claimed that ex-gay therapy works, that sexual orientation can change, that gay people are mentally ill simply because homosexuality makes them that way, and that, “Sexual abuse of boys by adult men is many times more common than consensual sex between adult men, and most of those engaging in such molestation identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.” He also claimed that “homosexuals are less likely to enter into a committed relationship” and “less likely to be sexually faithful to a partner.” Sprigg’s sources are a mixture of junk science issued by groups that support ex-gay therapy and legitimate science quoted out of context or cherry-picked, a tactic long used by anti-gay groups to bolster their claims about gay people. Several legitimate researchers, like NYU’s Judith Stacey (a source Sprigg uses), have issued public statements condemning the practice and requesting that anti-gay groups stop misrepresenting their work.

In 2004, Sprigg and FRC Senior Research Fellow Timothy Dailey co-authored the 2004 book Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows About Homosexuality. In it, they repeat claims that gay men “commit a disproportionate number of child sex abuse cases,” that gay people are promiscuous, and that lesbians exhibit “compulsive behavior.” Much of the book’s content can also be found in separate articles put out by the FRC. 

In March 2008, Sprigg responded to a question about uniting gay partners during immigration by saying, “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than import them.” He later apologized, but in February 2009, he told Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied. 

Dailey, who joined the FRC staff in 1999, is the author of the luridly titled book Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Homosexual Lifestyle as well as several policy papers on the dangers of homosexuality. In Dark Obsession, Dailey describes the tragic life of one young man who died of AIDS. He also includes claims about homosexuality and pedophilia, the instability of LGBT relationships, and links homosexuality to a variety of sexually transmitted diseases. In some of his other papers like “Homosexuality and Child Abuse,” Dailey links homosexuality to pedophilia, and claims that “a tiny percentage of the population (homosexual men) commit one-third or more of the cases of child sexual molestation.” 

In another paper titled “Homosexual Parenting: Placing Children at Risk,” Dailey quoted from a study that claimed, “A disproportionate percentage — 29 percent — of the adult children of homosexual parents had been specifically subjected to sexual molestation by that homosexual parent… . Having a homosexual parent(s) appears to increase the risk of incest with a parent by a factor of about 50.” Dailey took that data from Paul Cameron, whose work has been repeatedly denounced as shoddy and biased by the scientific community. 

More recently, the FRC set its sights on ensuring that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy in the military remained in place, although it was, in fact, repealed in 2011. In late 2010, Perkins held a webcast to discuss the dire consequences of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, using dubious statistics from a poll the FRC commissioned. According to a report, “Mission Compromised,” authored by retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, who is the FRC’s senior fellow for national security, allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly will undermine morale and discipline and infringe on the religious freedom of military chaplains, who will be forced to accept homosexuality and will no longer be permitted to express their religious beliefs about it. In addition, Maginnis predicted that heterosexual service members would be forced to take “sensitivity classes” that promote the “homosexual lifestyle” and added that: “Homosexual activists seek to force the U.S. military to embrace their radical views and sexual conduct, no matter the consequences for combat effectiveness.” 

The group has also waded into the debate over anti-bullying policies, which became a matter of national debate after several gay students committed suicide in late 2010. On Oct. 11, 2010, Perkins managed to get the Washington Post to run his op-ed, in which he reiterated his point that anti-bullying policies are not really intended by their supporters to protect students. “Homosexual activist groups like GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] … are exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda of demanding not only tolerance of homosexual individuals, but active affirmation of homosexual conduct and their efforts to redefine the family.”