Mainstreaming Hate: Anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council Hires Republican Ex-Congressman
Republican former Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia has joined the Family Research Council (FRC) as a senior adviser to the anti-LGBTQ hate group’s longest-serving president, Tony Perkins. FRC helped launch the religious right as an overt political movement in the 1980s and remains one of the largest anti-LGBTQ organizations in the U.S. Hice described working for the anti-LGBTQ hate group as a “personal mission.”
Since joining the group, Hice has guest-hosted multiple episodes of Perkins’ daily streaming program “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” where he has promoted anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. While hosting, Hice has falsely claimed that “extreme gender ideology” is causing medical professionals to target children for “experimental” surgical procedures, asserted that “gender theory” is infiltrating schools, and endorsed the work of groups that spread pseudoscientific claims about transgender people and attempt to eliminate gender-affirming healthcare in the U.S. The former Congressman has been joined on the program by multiple sitting Republican members of Congress.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups attempt to mainstream their message within the Republican Party through direct engagement with current and former elected officials. Hice, who served four terms in Congress, is the most recent politician to join the organization. During the George H.W. Bush administration, FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell served in the departments of State and Housing and Urban Development. Michele Bachmann, the former GOP member of Congress who also owns a clinic claiming to specialize in LGBTQ conversion therapy, serves on the FRC board of directors. Perkins was a Republican state representative in Louisiana.
The new role at FRC and retirement from the House come after Hice lost a primary election in 2022 for Georgia Secretary of State. Hice’s campaign was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the race against incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who reportedly denied the ex-president’s request to “find” enough votes to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. Hice, notably, made discredited election conspiracies in the state part of his unsuccessful campaign.
FRC’s continued attempts at mainstreaming anti-LGBTQ hate fall out of alignment with public opinion indicating that most Americans support LGBTQ rights including anti-discrimination laws and marriage-equality laws, among others, and that Americans’ attitudes toward transgender rights continue to trend toward support.
Hice and FRC share an anti-LGBTQ record
Hice was first elected to Congress in 2014 and was a member of the House Freedom Caucus – an ultra-conservative group of congressional Republicans, nearly all of whom objected to certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Before that, he was a pastor in Loganville, Georgia, and hosted multiple radio programs broadcast throughout the South and on satellite radio. He has said his first contact with FRC occurred when Perkins spoke at an event in Barrow County, Georgia, to defend a display of the Ten Commandments on government property.
That event led Hice to form his own organization dedicated to placing copies of the Ten Commandments in government buildings in order to “reclaim our Godly heritage” – a goal that resonates with white Christian nationalist ideology. Hice is also known for participating in an organized campaign to thwart and repeal tax laws that prohibit groups that do not pay federal taxes, like churches, from engaging in political activity.
Although Hice purports to defend religious freedoms, he previously said freedom of religion under the First Amendment should not apply to Islam and called Islam a “totalitarian way of life with a religious component.”
Hice has also said women should run for political office only with the permission of their husbands, and as a member of Congress, he opposed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization and Equality Acts. Hice also praised the overturn of Roe v. Wade and suggested abortion-rights activists would begin targeting reproductive rights in the states as part of a “great battle” to restrict access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care.
He is also known for his dangerous anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, a characteristic shared by FRC. In the U.S. House, he opposed legislation to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and opposed marriage equality, claiming the “homosexual movement is destroying America” and marriage. In a recent interview while hosting Perkins’ “Washington Watch” program, Hice lamented “extreme gender ideology” as a threat to children, in reference to gender-affirming care that is necessary to the health and well-being of young LGBTQ people.
Founded in 1983, the Family Research Council is an anti-LGBTQ hate group with a long history spreading dehumanizing rhetoric and disinformation about LGBTQ people, attacking LGBTQ rights and falsely claiming that conservative Christians are under attack from LGBTQ rights advocates. The group regularly advocates for anti-LGBTQ policies while claiming to defend religious freedom. Anti-LGBTQ ideologies like those espoused by FRC are largely based on demonizing rhetoric that portrays LGBTQ people as a danger to society, not simply because of their religious beliefs.
Tony Perkins, whom Hice will advise, has spoken at a meeting of white supremacists and once oversaw a U.S. Senate campaign that purchased services from former Klan leader David Duke. He also has been instrumental in the anti-LGBTQ movement. Despite his extremism, as a former state legislator, Perkins and FRC continue to make inroads into mainstream Republican political circles.
FRC largely operates at the national level, but at least 36 state-level “policy councils” follow the FRC model, using divisive rhetoric and stoking fears of Christian persecution to advance anti-LGBTQ policy in states and cities across the country. Recently, FRC and as many as 45 other national groups, some of whom have close ties to Republican politicians, endorsed a plan to exploit unfounded fears about children’s safety to push anti-transgender policy at the state-level.
Hatewatch has reported how this kind of rhetoric is amplified by right-wing social media personalities and acted upon by extremist groups who harass and intimidate LGBTQ people, libraries and hospitals. These false claims have fueled an increase in right-wing extremism and violence against LGBTQ people in recent years. However, at a House Oversight Committee hearing on the subject in December 2022, Hice appeared to dismiss concerns expressed by survivors of the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado over increasing violence against LGBTQ people caused by the kind of false information and conspiracy theories he and FRC have spread.
Anti-LGBTQ ideology too extreme for many rank-and-file Republicans
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups like FRC are far from the mainstream of American public opinion. According to public opinion polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, more than 3 in 4 Americans support laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people. More than half of all Americans support such protections over “religious objections” from businessowners. The same poll also shows that nearly two-thirds (62%) of Republicans support nondiscrimination protections.
Longer-running studies of Americans’ attitudes and beliefs also show the public is not buying the anti-LGBTQ movement’s rhetoric. The General Social Survey, for example, shows broad support for gay and lesbian teachers in Americans schools and keeping gay and lesbian-themed books in public libraries. And a 2019 study from PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) showed most Americans are comfortable having close friends who are transgender and with trans teachers in their local school.
Reflected in Hice’s hiring, anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as FRC seek and often find acceptance with Republican Party leadership. FRC’s Perkins, for example, was elected to the GOP platform committee in 2016 and 2020 – the body responsible for drafting the party’s national positions on important issues. Both years, the platform featured support for anti-transgender laws, overturning marriage equality and even the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy.
The extreme anti-LGBTQ ideology of groups like FRC has caused divisions within the Republican Party. Some gay party members have publicly expressed concern that anti-LGBTQ extremism could “cleave the party” and characterized anti-LGBTQ ideologies as “fringe.” Some LGBTQ Republicans elected to state and local governments also have expressed the importance of representation within the party and pushing back on anti-LGBTQ narratives. Some have abandoned the GOP altogether.
In 2022, more than three dozen Republicans in the U.S. House supported the Respect for Marriage Act, as did a dozen Republican senators. In contrast to Hice’s adversarial approach to civil rights, after voting for the act, Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said: “Civil rights are not a finite resource. We do not have to take from one group to give to another.”
And, although anti-LGBTQ groups including Alliance Defending Freedom, FRC and state-level organizations have attempted litigious and legislative campaigns to bring the issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court, more than two-thirds of Americans and more than half of Republicans support marriage equality.
Work to be done in the South
While attitudes trend positively in every region of the country, the rollback of LGBTQ rights in the South is noticeable, with communities experiencing policy attacks at the state and local level, legal battles and Main Street anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. In Texas, more than three dozen bills targeting LGBTQ rights have been filed in the Republican-controlled legislature in 2023 while Gov. Greg Abbott weaponized the state’s child welfare agency against families with transgender children, and state Attorney General Ken Paxton attempted to generate a list of all trans people in the state.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s Republican-led legislature adopted and have begun enforcing a “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, resulting in radical anti-inclusive education practices like book bans and jeopardizing the health and welfare of LGBTQ children.
In Tennessee, 2021 broke a record for the number of anti-LGBTQ bills adopted in a legislative session, and 2022 matched that pace. Gov. Bill Lee and the Republican-led legislature allowed the state to become the first in the nation to require businesses with public restrooms to post signs notifying customers if they allow transgender people to use their facilities, a law the state later agreed was unconstitutional. Republican state political leaders have also targeted Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, for its gender-affirming care practices.
In such a climate, public perceptions in the media tell a story that
“There’s a long history of hate here in the South, and we look back on that as historians, and it doesn’t look good for the South to embrace that level of hate in the late 19th and in the 20th century,” Richmond said. “So now, as that hate shifts more and more toward the LGBTQ community, I think this is going to play badly for the Republican party within the field of history.”
Richmond also says focusing on the state level alone misses the important progress LGBTQ advocates achieve at the local level, usually despite state-level efforts to thwart progress. Richmond, who is also one of five trans members of local appointed boards in Tennessee, noted the state’s LGBTQ community has mobilized to elect LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices and secure nondiscrimination protections in the state’s largest cities and from some of the state’s largest employers.
Even in states like Tennessee, where anti-LGBTQ ideologies have been mainstreamed in state houses and governors’ offices, public opinion reflects how out of touch anti-LGBTQ groups and politicians are: In all but three Southern states, clear majorities support both LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws and marriage equality. In the other states, opinions on marriage equality are trending positively, but haven’t yet reached a majority.
Support for LGBTQ rights is the mainstream
FRC’s history of demonizing rhetoric has often focused on the discredited and dangerous recruitment conspiracy. The anti-LGBTQ movement has long repeated this myth to stoke fear of LGBTQ people and stifle LGBTQ rights, especially at the state and local level. These prejudices are also reflected in contemporary campaigns to restrict information about LGBTQ people in public schools, ban books about LGBTQ people, attack public libraries and launch efforts to stop transgender people from receiving affirming health care or accessing public accommodations.
Political Research Associates, a social justice research and strategy center, has shown groups like FRC intentionally stoke anti-transgender hatred and spread dangerous disinformation about LGBTQ people. Other researchers have shown these institutions of the religious right engage in such practices, in part, to maintain power and relevance within the Republican Party. Hatewatch has reported on how other groups feed on this extremism and are more willing to use violence to suppress LGBTQ people and those they politically disagree with.
Like Hice, though, FRC has minimized the role of anti-LGBTQ vitriol in attacks against LGBTQ people. In a recent “Washington Watch” episode, Perkins said anti-LGBTQ activism had “nothing to do” with the violence that occurred at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where five people were murdered, insinuating instead that the shooting happened because the alleged perpetrator is “sexually confused.”
These extremist anti-LGBTQ attitudes are fast becoming representative of the diminishing proportion of the American population who identify as white, cismale, heterosexual and evangelical. Likely because this shrinking group is overrepresented in America’s political institutions and Republican Party leadership, anti-LGBTQ policies have flourished in recent years. As America diversifies and younger populations with even more accepting attitudes toward LGBTQ people become active in politics, those intent on mainstreaming hate will likely find it harder to maintain power.
“As people age, they become more politically engaged and that’s going to play badly, I believe, in the future” for anti-LGBTQ politics,” Richmond said, suggesting the gap between younger voters’ and majority-conservative legislators’ political priorities is already evidenced in Kentucky, where voters recently rejected an anti-abortion constitutional amendment referred by the Republican-controlled state legislature, and in Georgia, where pro-LGBTQ candidates have won three U.S. senate elections in the past two years.