The WCF conference is a hub for anti-LGBT legislative and policy leaders to network with anti-LGBT and anti-choice activists. It serves as a venue for grassroots activists, non-governmental organizations, and policymakers to develop strategies to ensure the continued political and cultural marginalization of LGBTQ people and to work to limit access to reproductive healthcare.
WCF promotes the “natural family” – a heterosexual cisgender man married to a heterosexual cisgender woman and their biological children, which excludes most other family constructions, including single parents, children raised by extended family, and LGBTQ parents and their children.
The hate group wields influence with lawmakers and officials in Europe. In the past few years, the group has strengthened its ties to hard-right and authoritarian leaders.
WCF has allied with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has espoused antisemitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Roma views. Orbán’s attacks on Jewish philanthropist George Soros often are echoed in WCF/IOF updates and fundraising calls, with claims that Soros is funding a leftist agenda to remake the family and society.
Other WCF allies, such as Italy’s powerful and immensely popular interior minister Matteo Salvini, have engaged in similar rhetoric. Salvini, who will address the WCF gathering, has faced accusations that he has helped inflame the Italian fascist right. Until 2015, his Lega party was allied with Italy’s fascist party, CasaPound, via a joint political platform.
This is the first time the meeting has been held in Italy. The Verona meeting is co-sponsored by anti-LGBT and anti-choice groups like Generazione Famiglia, ProVita and CitizenGO, but the Municipality of Verona is also a sponsor, and has garnered a reputation as a model far-right city. The event’s platform features several anti-LGBT and anti-choice Italian officials as well as other European lawmakers and a few Americans. Igor Dodon, president of Moldova, will be speaking, as will Katalin Novák, Hungary’s minister of state for youth and family affairs. Novák, a member of Hungarian right-wing party Fidesz, was just awarded the French Legion of Honour.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani – who in March received criticism for praising Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini (he apologized) – also was listed as a speaker. After outcry from fellow members of the parliament, his photo and name were removed from the WCF-Verona site. It remains unclear whether he will speak at the event.
Other Italians with ties to local anti-LGBT groups and businesses are part of the WCF-Verona organizing committee.
Massimo Gandolfini, president of Italy’s anti-LGBT and anti-choice “Family Day,” is on WCF-Verona’s supervisory board. Antonio Brandi, a business entrepreneur and founder of the Italian anti-choice group ProVita, is the gathering’s chairman. ProVita is a long-time WCF partner that has collaborated on campaigns with anti-LGBT and anti-choice Generazione Famiglia (formerly La Manif Pour Tous Italia), including working to encourage the cancellation of official registrations of the children of same-sex couples. Jacopo Coghe, the president and founding partner of Generazione Famiglia, is deputy chairmain of WCF-Verona.
A list of speakers is available here.
Citizens push back against WCF
The program for WCF is heavy with European officials and activists, but includes a few Americans such as Sharon Slater, head of anti-LGBT hate group Family Watch International, and Ed Martin, head of Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, a group founded by the late paleoconservative Phyllis Schlafly that promotes far-right conspiracies and nativist and anti-LGBT rhetoric.
The program lists discussions and roundtables on vague topics, such as “The Case for Optimism,” “Europe and the Future of the Family, and “The Natural Family: Policy and Practice in Europe.” That panel includes Allen Carlson, WCF founder, and is moderated by Alessandro Sallusti, director of Il Giornale, a conservative Italian daily paper published in Milan.
Another panel, “Faith and Europe’s Future,” features WCF Verona chairman Antonio Brandi and Prince Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou. A religious leaders discussion includes Salvatore Cordileone, the virulently anti-LGBT archbishop of San Francisco.
The event concludes Sunday afternoon with a “March for the Family" through part of Verona that will end at the Piazza dei Signori.
The Italian gathering provides further evidence of WCF’s willingness to work with European nationalist policymakers and leaders, and to ignore anti-immigrant, antisemitic and anti-Roma statements in the push for their anti-LGBT and anti-reproductive rights agenda.
That, coupled with the WCF’s reputation for anti-LGBT sentiment and rhetoric as well as its opposition to reproductive rights, has triggered a backlash, but has not affected attendance at the sold-out event. The largest Italian student organization, La Rete della Conoscenza (Knowledge Network), has spoken out against Education Minister Marco Bussetti's participation.
A petition started by advocacy groups calling on the Italian government to revoke its support of the upcoming conference has
Tensions also have appeared in Italy’s coalition government, further straining relationships between Salvini’s Lega Party and its governing partner, the 5-Star Movement. Italy’s co-deputy prime minister and 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio slammed Lega for its support of WCF. Di Maio called the gathering “a bunch of right-wing losers.”
Earlier in March, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the event’s organizers to remove the government’s logo from their branding, clarifying that the event does not have his endorsement.
Photo illustration by SPLC