Religious Right Group Slurs Home Depot in Anti-Gay Attack

The American Family Association (AFA), one of the nation’s most obsessed anti-gay crusaders, launched a boycott of The Home Depot a week ago today because the home improvement and construction retailer “promotes the homosexual agenda.” Rather than “remain neutral in the culture war,” AFA wrote, “The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals.”

That alone wouldn’t be an earth-shaking accusation; plenty of major corporations, including Home Depot, sponsor gay pride events. But AFA’s announcement strongly implies – with clever wording and misleading “evidence” – that the home-improvement retailer is helping gay sexual predators stalk children.

A letter posted on AFA’s website and signed by its president, Tim Wildmon, declares that a photograph “taken during recent homosexual events sponsored by The Home Depot show[s] children being encouraged to visit gay sex websites.” In the photo, children presumably attending the Southern Maine Pride Festival and parade in June, are seen holding orange Home Depot cups with small red-and-white flags stuck in them. The AFA caption reads, “The flags in these Home Depot cups promote a gay website which proclaims itself as ‘the men's social group for men who have sex with men.’” The caption goes on, “The cups were given to children by The Home Depot gay parade marchers, while homosexual activists followed up by introducing them to gay sex websites.”

Read carefully, AFA’s post never accuses Home Depot of having anything to do with the flags. But AFA nevertheless concludes, “The Home Depot has no problem aligning itself with gay activist groups who target children with a pro-homosexual message.” The impression is inescapable: Home Depot pals around with lustful gay activists as they recklessly invite kids to visit a gay porn site.

But what about those mysterious flags? The writing on the flags can’t be read in the photo, and AFA conveniently never identifies the offending website — and for good reason, as it turns out.

The flags, Hatewatch has learned, were distributed by an Augusta, Maine, group called Just Guys, which provides safe sex counseling, HIV testing, social support and other resources for gay men. Its meetings are on the calendar of MaineGeneral Health, Maine’s third-largest health care system. And just for good measure, the front page of justguys.info prominently displays a warning:

“This website contains HIV/STD prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection and Sexually Transmitted Diseases are spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages and programs may address these topics. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, this website may contain pages which you may not wish to visit. Thank you.”

Not exactly the hallmarks of drooling pederasts.

Just Guys director Lew Alessio acknowledged that his organization distributed the flags at the southern Maine festival. The message on the flags said simply, “Gay Pride, Safe Pride,” and then the web address – the promotional phrase AFA cited wasn’t on them. The obvious conclusion: AFA representatives went to the website to find the promotional phrase — and thus knew perfectly well that justguys.info is not a “gay sex website,” and that it doesn’t target children in any way.

“All of our written material must be approved by the review board of the Maine Center for Disease Control,” Alessio told Intelligence Report. “While we gave out thousands of trinkets with various safer sex/gay pride messages on them, every single message was approved by the MCDC in advance of the event.”

Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes told Hatewatch that AFA representatives approached the company in early July, demanding that it end all sponsorships of gay-pride events. It was an easy call for the company. “To forbid our associates to have any involvement in pride festivals would run counter to the company’s culture of inclusion,” Holmes said. “We’re not going to discriminate against anyone because of race, religion or sexual orientation.”

This isn’t the first time AFA has tried to pin the “preys-on-children” tag on Home Depot. Last summer, the AFA-affiliated One Million Moms group complained about the company’s $5,000 sponsorship donation to the Nashville Gay Pride Festival, then added: “Home Depot also signed on as a vendor, conducting kids craft workshops for children via a special booth set up just for them. To this end, Home Depot is basically encouraging the attendance of children at events which openly expose them to transvestites, cross-dressers, and homosexual activities. … Obviously, Home Depot is OK with the idea of exposing children to an unhealthy and risky environment.” In other words, it’s Home Depot’s fault for accommodating kids who attend a public parade on public streets approved by local government.

A representative of the American Family Association, contacted by Hatewatch, said no spokespersons were available to comment

Bryan Fischer, AFA’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy, posted a letter regarding the latest boycott including an admonition that Home Depot “might want to check with the Ford Motor Company about what happens when ordinary American families decide to vote with their wallets against companies that peddle perversion.” Fischer was referring to AFA’s 2005 call to boycott Ford for similar pro-gay offenses. “Ford Motor Company eventually surrendered, and re-focused its energy on making automobiles instead of retooling American culture.”

Oh? Portfolio.com, the web portal for the Bizjournals network, didn’t see it that way, concluding that AFA chairman Donald E. Wildmon (Tim’s father) in March 2008 “unilaterally declared victory.” Ford didn’t see it that way either: "I can tell you there was not a negotiated settlement to this boycott,” Ford spokesman Jim Cain said in the portfolio.com article. Cain pointedly noted that during and after the AFA boycott, Ford maintained relationships with groups including Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Human Rights Campaign, both supporters of gay marriage.

Fischer, it should be noted, has recently argued that homosexuality should be prohibited by law, that Muslims should be banned from the U.S. military, and that executing couples engaged in “sexual immorality” might help the nation renew its “commitment to follow God.” He has argued that Adolf Hitler was gay and that World War II Nazi stormtroopers were actually a sinister, elite gay fighting force.

Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck Combs Communications, which specializes in marketing to gay consumers, said most anti-gay organizations have abandoned consumer boycotts as a strategy for a simple reason: They haven’t worked. Few other religious-right or anti-gay organizations have joined AFA’s call.

“To the best of my knowledge, no corporation has evidenced any drop or loss of revenue from boycotts of this sort,” Witeck told Hatewatch. To the extent they are still used, the primary goal seems to be assuring the boycotting organization’s base that their contributions are making a difference, he said. “You take a cause, you do it, then you declare victory and then everyone believes their money was well-invested.”

The real net effect of anti-gay boycotts, says Witeck, is like listening to “one hand clapping. They really don’t change corporate behaviors.”