The rise and fall of the Traditional Values Coalition

Andrea Lafferty, president of anti-LGBT hate group the Traditional Values Coalition, last made a splash in the news in late 2017, when she injected herself into the scandal surrounding Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks, who’d offered to pay a former aide to be the surrogate mother of his child.

It was an unusual move for Lafferty, in that this publicity stunt, wherein Lafferty offered her counsel to and indignation on behalf of Franks’ accuser (“I was angry that somebody who purports to be a conservative and Christian does such a terrible thing,” Lafferty told CNN), for once wasn’t directing vitriol at the LGBT or Muslim communities.

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), founded in 1980 by Lafferty’s father, Presbyterian minister Louis Sheldon, was long a powerful and influential force in pushing the far right’s anti-LGBT agenda, and evolved to include peddling the anti-Muslim “creeping Shariah” myth. TVC once claimed to represent a network of 43,000 churches across the U.S., and Sheldon and Lafferty visited the White House during the George W. Bush administration a combined 69 times, meeting with the president personally on eight of those visits.

But the TVC is now a ghost of its former self, if it exists at all. Its website disappeared from the internet last year, and its phone line is disconnected (a voicemail left for Lafferty via another organization she fronts, Women for a Great America, wasn’t returned). In 2014, TVC reported nearly $4 million in net liabilities on its IRS 990 form. Lafferty’s CNN appearance during the Franks scandal seems to have been TVC’s death rattle.

Sheldon, a protégé of Christian Right evangelist Pat Robertson, launched TVC in Anaheim, California, before moving its headquarters to Washington, D.C. His anti-LGBT rhetoric — calling homosexuality a “deathstyle;” claiming child molestation is the real “homosexual agenda;” suggesting AIDS victims should be forced into leper-like colonies — pushed TVC to the forefront of the battle against equal rights in the 1990s.

In 1993, TVC distributed a video, featuring Sheldon as well as then-Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, called “Gay Rights/Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda,” as a propaganda tool to galvanize opposition to LGBT rights. The film attempts to contrast the civil rights movement of the ‘60s with the fight for LGBT equality, with one speaker condemning the “high-handed attempt of the gay and lesbian movement to highjack the 1964 Civil Rights Act in trying to give national credence to their immoral lifestyle.” The video also attempts to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia, a common refrain from TVC (the TVC website, when it was online, claimed “[t]he effort to push adult/child sex… is part of the overall homosexual movement”).

A December 1994 New York Times article titled “Minister Brings Anti-Gay Message to the Spotlight” heralded Sheldon’s influence with the incoming conservative congress elected the month before. The next year, Sheldon was part of a push to support a senate bill to cut federal money for public schools “encouraging or supporting homosexuality.”

Lafferty followed in her father’s footsteps, eventually becoming TVC’s frontperson and figurehead in the early 2000s before assuming the role of president in 2011. Lafferty was no less malevolent than her father, calling a House of Representatives hearing on transgender discrimination a “freak show” in 2008, and comparing homosexuality to drunk driving in 2013.

When the Employee Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in 2013, TVC fought it with anti-transgender propaganda alleging that schools would be forced to hire transgender teachers. A year later, TVC was distributing flyers comparing homosexuality to apotemnophilia (sexual arousal from an amputee’s stump) and coprophilia (sexual arousal from feces).

Lafferty and her husband, James Lafferty, added Islamophobia to TVC’s portfolio in the 2000s, with TVC launching a campaign called “The Task Force to Stop Shariah Law” and James forming his own anti-Muslim organization, the Virginia Anti-Shariah Law Task Force (VAST). “Islam is not just a religion,” Andrea Lafferty declared in 2011. “Islam is a geo-political military system wrapped in a cloak of religious belief that penalizes conversion with death.”

James also used the TVC as a launchpad for the Christian Seniors Association (CSA), a supposed alternative to the AARP, which became infamous for its scaremongering fundraising letters, which resembled government documents, and pushing the “death panels” myth to oppose the Affordable Care Act.

The TVC wasn’t without its hints of scandal over the years. Sheldon was linked to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who gave TVC $25,000 to oppose the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act; Sheldon and TVC were also accused of acting as a paid tool for Big Pharma. A 2003 article exposed how Sheldon’s lobbying activities for TVC benefitted his sons’ businesses.

In 2010, Lafferty called it a “badge of honor” for the TVC to be designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lafferty seems to have struggled to maintain TVC’s relevance in recent years, launching a failed lawsuit in Fairfax County, Virginia seeking to overturn protections for gay and transgender students in 2015, which was also dismissed by the state’s supreme court. In 2016, after the Departments of Justice and Education issued a letter stating that anti-transgender discrimination in schools violates Title IX, Lafferty appeared on a right-wing radio program decrying the move and declaring “the next big push will be to legalize and mainstream pedophilia.”

But in the past year, the TVC seems to have evaporated. In April 2017, its website promised a move “to a new home on the web,” but by early August, the website was gone. Its listed phone number is disconnected (as is that of the Christian Seniors Association). And a once formidable foe of equality and purveyor of falsehoods has perhaps expelled its last gasps of anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim animus.

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