American Family Association
Location: Tupelo, Miss.
Initially founded as the National Federation for Decency, the American Family Association (AFA) originally focused on what it considered indecent television programming and pornography. The AFA says it promotes “traditional moral values” in media. A large part of that work involves “combating the homosexual agenda” through various means, including publicizing companies that have pro-gay policies and organizing boycotts against them. The AFA has a variety of outlets to disseminate its message, including the American Family Radio Network, its online One News Now and the monthly AFA Journal. In early 2011, the AFA claimed more than 2 million online supporters and 180,000 subscribers to its Journal.
In Its Own Words
“[T]he homosexual lifestyle is characterized by anonymous sexual encounters and celebration of sexual obsession and perversion unparalleled in any other social group.”
— Richard Howe, “Homosexuality in America,” AFA publication, 1994
“As with smoking, homosexual behavior’s ‘second hand’ effects threaten public health… . Thus, individuals who choose to engage in homosexual behavior threaten not only their own lives, but the lives of the general population.”
— Gary Glenn, president of Michigan chapter of AFA, 2001
“Homosexuality is not only harmful to homosexuals themselves, but also to children and to society.”
— Stephen Bennett, AFA writer, 2004
“If President Obama, Congressional Democrats, and homosexual activists get their wish, your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals who may very well view them with sexual interest.”
— AFA press release, February 2010
“The homosexual movement is a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the past 40 years and will lead to the normalization of even more deviant behavior.”
— Don Wildmon, AFA website, 1999 (still posted as of 2011).
“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
— Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, 2010
Founded in 1977 by Methodist minister Donald E. Wildmon as the National Federation for Decency, the American Family Association (AFA) worked in its early years to remove what it considered indecent programming from television. Its other major focus was battling pornography. In 1988, the group’s name was changed to the AFA, because the organization’s concerns, Wildmon said in 2007, had expanded.
In 1985, Wildmon was appointed to former Attorney General Ed Meese’s Commission on Pornography by its director, Alan Sears, who later would become president of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-based legal organization. Wildmon successfully orchestrated the removal of Playboy and Penthouse from some 17,000 convenience stores. Also in the 1980s, Wildmon started ramping up the AFA’s anti-LGBT propaganda and succeeded in getting some corporations to pull their ads from shows like “Thirtysomething,” which had been added to Wildmon’s list of “Trash TV” because its plot included a gay romance.
Wildmon has never made a secret of his anti-LGBT views. One of his statements on the AFA’s website reads, “I never dreamed I would see the day when sodomy would be called normal, and those who held to traditional values based on Christian teaching would be called bigots.” According to the AFA, the primary goal of the “homosexual movement” is to “abolish the traditional, Judeo-Christian view of human sexuality, marriage, and family.”
The AFA has been extremely vocal over the years in its opposition to LGBT rights, marriage equality and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. The group’s arguments are filled with claims that equate homosexuality with pedophilia and argue that there’s a “homosexual agenda” afoot that is set to bring about the downfall of American (and ultimately, Western) civilization. In one October 2004 article, the AFA Journal suggested that gay influences are leading to a “grotesque culture” that will include “quick encounters in the middle school boys’ restroom.”
For years, until 2010, the AFA had a section on its website that supposedly exposed “The Homosexual Agenda.” There, a reader could find articles and other AFA publications that claimed LGBT people were trying to force the acceptance of homosexuality on children through sex education programs in schools; condemned companies like Disney for supporting LGBT rights and programming; and, also until 2010, featured a particularly noxious booklet the AFA had published in 1994. That booklet, Homosexuality in America: Exposing the Myths, included the bogus research of thoroughly discredited psychologist Paul Cameron as a source. One of the publication’s authors, Richard Howe, used Cameron’s “research” to claim that LGBT people don’t live as long as heterosexuals, that they’re more promiscuous and that the “disgusting details of the homosexual lifestyle explain why so many diseases are present in the homosexual community.” Another claim was that “[p]rominent homosexual leaders and publications have voiced support for pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism, and even bestiality.”
In 1998, in what would become a scandal for the group, the AFA signed on to a huge television and newspaper “ex-gay” campaign called “Truth in Love,” a project that advocated an idea popular in religious-right circles: that LGBT people can be “cured” so that they become heterosexual. A man named Michael Johnston was the star of the campaign. In one television ad shot with his mother present, Johnston discussed “leaving homosexuality” and was open about his HIV-positive status. Previously, Johnston had worked with Jerry Falwell as an ex-gay leader and done a “Truth in Love” commercial for Coral Ridge Ministries. He had also started his own ex-gay ministry, Kerusso, in 1989. Johnston was extremely active on the ex-gay circuit, and was the founder of “Coming out of Homosexuality Day” (which coincides with National Coming Out Day).
In 2000, Johnston’s story was made available as a film by the AFA, titled “It’s Not Gay.” In the film, he is joined by other ex-gay activists who load the film with unsupported statistics, like “80% of homosexual men have a sexually transmitted disease.” One of the other ex-gay activists in the film, Richard Cohen, has been discredited for his “healing touch” therapy, in which grown men are cradled and held like babies to get used to “appropriate male touch” and to “re-create the father-son bond.” A broken father-son bond, Cohen claims, can “cause” homosexuality. In other “therapy” sessions, Cohen has clients beat pillows with tennis racquets while blaming their mothers for making them gay.
Three years later, in 2003, news outlets reported that Johnston, while traveling around the country decrying “the homosexual lifestyle,” was hosting orgies, taking drugs and having unprotected sex with other men without disclosing his HIV status. In the publicity and accusations that ensued, Johnston shut down his ministry and sought refuge at a live-in facility with Pure Life Ministries in Dry Ridge, Ky. As of 2011, Johnston was listed as Pure Life’s director of donor and media relations. He states in his bio that in 2002 he “was living a completely double life” and is “now walking in true freedom.”
The AFA, meanwhile, admitted that Johnston had “relapsed.” In early 2007, Wayne Besen of ex-gay watchdog group Truth Wins Out, filed complaints with two attorneys general against the AFA and another anti-gay group, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, for promoting and selling “It’s Not Gay,” which Besen called “deceptive.” The AFA addressed Besen’s complaints in an article in its March 2007 AFA Journal. Buddy Smith, AFA executive assistant then, claimed that the AFA had stopped selling “It’s Not Gay” as a result of the scandal. But in 2005, the AFA started selling the DVD again, after meeting with Johnston at Pure Life. Smith stated that the AFA felt confident then “that Michael had been fully restored and was walking in victory.” The DVD is still available on the AFA’s website, without any mention of the scandal. It is described as “a fair and balanced approach to this challenging subject.”
The AFA’s fundraising appeals are known for their shrillness. One mailer from the early 2000s read: “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!” It continued, “Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to ‘breed’ is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!” In other appeals, the AFA has used a standard propaganda ploy against LGBT individuals: They’re a danger to children.
In the summer of 2010, the AFA announced a boycott of Home Depot stores because Home Depot allegedly supports the “homosexual agenda.” The AFA said that the home repair chain was “deliberately exposing children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals” through its support of pride parades.
The AFA has had very active state chapters, many of which have served as training grounds for anti-gay activists like Scott Lively, founder of the anti-gay hate group Abiding Truth Ministries. Lively, a former director of the AFA’s California chapter, claimed in his discredited 1995 co-authored book The Pink Swastika that Germany’s Nazi Party was full of gay men who were primarily responsible for the Holocaust. In 2007, Lively co-founded the virulent anti-gay group Watchmen on the Walls, which is particularly popular in Eastern European countries and among some Eastern European immigrants to the United States.
Gary Glenn, current president of the AFA’s Michigan chapter, maintains a “Homosexual Agenda” link on the AFA-MI website. He has called anti-bullying legislation a way to indoctrinate children – and, by extension, American society – with “the homosexual agenda” (a common claim used by the anti-gay right). He has claimed that gay soldiers would cause disease in the military’s ranks through “battlefield blood transfusions” and that gay soldiers are responsible for high rates of sexual assault in the military.
In 2009, the AFA hired Bryan Fischer, the former executive director of the AFA-affiliated Idaho Values Alliance, as its director of issue analysis for government and public policy and as a radio host. Taking a page from Lively’s book, Fischer claimed on his radio show in May 2010 that Hitler chose gay soldiers as his elite officers because they were far more brutal and savage than heterosexual soldiers. In defense of that show, Fischer wrote that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.” He also called for criminalizing gay sex in a February 2010 blog post – because doing so would ensure that “controversies” over “gays in the military” and “gay indoctrination in the schools” would end. He has also advocated forcing gay people into ex-gay therapy, which supposedly can “cure” their condition, because homosexuality should be treated in the same way as intravenous drug use. “Both,” he told radio host Alan Colmes, “are equally dangerous and risky to human health.” By August 2010, the AFA had appended a disclaimer to Fischer’s posts, stating that his opinions are his own.
That didn’t stop Fischer’s outrageous postings. In early 2011, Fischer called for an end to Muslim recruits in the U.S. military and an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S. At around the same time, he claimed that Native Americans remained mired in poverty because they refused to accept Christianity. The outcry over that blog post was so great that the AFA actually took it down. A week later, Fischer published a blog item stating that Native Americans should have followed Pocahontas’ lead, because she had accepted “the superior culture” of the new arrivals to the New World.
In 2010, Don Wildmon stepped down from his chairmanship of the AFA after 33 years, citing health problems. His son, Tim, took over, continuing the group’s long tradition of anti-gay propagandizing and activism.