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Hate Group Documents Dozens of Attacks on LGBTQ+-Affirming Churches, Claims Trans Rights Motivates Attacks on Christians

On Feb. 20, the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) released a report it claimed showed an increase in “acts of hostility” at U.S. churches in 2023. Public comments by the group’s president, Tony Perkins, since the release suggest FRC is using attacks on LGBTQ+ and Black Christians to pad its claims about liberal policy threats to “religious freedom.” Despite attacks on LGBTQ+-affirming churches representing nearly 20% of the total incidents documented by FRC, Perkins and others at FRC have cited the report as evidence that LGBTQ+ civil rights policies are threatening Christians’ safety in their houses of worship.

According to LGBTQ+ religious advocates, the co-opting of LGBTQ+ Christians’ victimization by far-right violence is part of a political agenda to further the false notion that LGBTQ+ people cannot also be religious. That idea ultimately sustains far-right activism to weaken the separation of church and state and American religious pluralism.

Report details are ignored

On Feb. 20, Perkins appeared on the Newsmax program “Greg Kelly Reports” to promote FRC’s report, claiming the incidents the group documented were “the result of the policies of the present [Biden] administration,” aggressively “pushing transgender policies” and abortion. Those efforts, according to Perkins, were giving a “green light for people to attack churches.”

During the interview, Kelly pointed out that while Perkins was speaking, images of “churches that have totally embraced the LGBTQ agenda” were shown onscreen. The images included churches that hung rainbow Pride flags. Kelly said: “I want all to be welcome, but that does not mean the LGBTQ needs to be thrust in one’s face. That’s a problem.”

Perkins did not mention in his interview or in a Feb. 21 article in FRC publication Washington Stand about the report’s implications that his organization documented how a Connecticut church’s service “dedicated to commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance” was targeted by protesters, nor that just one Chicago church was “vandalized over 20 times in one month” by “perpetrators [who] damaged or stole church welcome signs, tore down Pride flags, and left graffiti.” Perkins also failed to mention that June, which is commonly celebrated as LGBTQ+ Pride month, had the highest number of church attacks in the FRC report, with about 20% of the attacks that month attributed to anti-LGBTQ+ motivation.

Instead, Perkins and FRC appear to use the report to highlight incidents that fit the right-wing group’s political narratives, like the use of “satanic symbolism” to attack Christians, violent threats from “pro-abortion” activists in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade , and accusations that the Biden administration is “failing to take on [Muslim] jihadists.”

In a Feb. 20 article for Washington Stand, FRC pointed to “transgender-related anti-church violence” as a trend in the data, despite the report’s introduction noting, “The motivations for many of these incidents remain unknown.” The article also failed to mention the far-right motivations behind the numerous examples of church vandalism and violence the report documents, never mentioning neo-Nazi, white supremacist or anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric documented in the report, for example.

Partially quoting Perkins, the Feb. 20 article said the report is evidence the “Biden Administration’s whole-of-government opposition to biblical morality” is “fomenting” hostility toward churches.

The report, however, is filled with incidents of far-right violence targeting LGBTQ+ and historically Black congregations. The report notes threats and vandalism by such far-right groups as neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and images including swastikas and “White Lives Matter” graffiti at dozens of churches.

In some instances, FRC failed to acknowledge the reported anti-LGBTQ+ motivation for church attacks in their descriptions, yet cited sources that left little room for doubt. In one incident involving a Massachusetts church in June 2023, FRC reports: “The church’s sanctuary was set on fire. At the time, members of the congregation were meeting about a service project downstairs. A member of the congregation quickly put out the fire, and there was minimal damage.” The report entry is footnoted with a link to a local press report with the headline “Fire was set in Somerville church after Pride service, leaders say.”

In another entry, FRC characterizes an Ohio church arson attempt as “someone allegedly affiliated with a group espousing neo-Nazi views tried to burn down the church.” That entry is footnoted with a link to an Associated Press article with the headline “Feds: Man tried to firebomb Ohio church to stop drag show.”

“Attacks on LGBTQ+-affirming houses of worship are an attack against religious freedom and American democracy,” according to Maureen O’Leary, director of field and organizing for Interfaith Alliance. “Attacks on congregations demonstrate that those who perpetrate them, those who would claim to be the ‘true voice’ of religion in America, are not part of a religious movement,” but “a political one” that “claims the mantle of religion as a cover” but comes “at the expense of marginalized people,” she said.

Harmful irony

Framing LGBTQ+ rights in competition with “religious freedom” and claiming Christians are endangered by LGBTQ+ activists are rhetorical strategies anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups frequently employ. Notably, they often rely on the false notion that LGBTQ+ people cannot also be Christian, a notion that is disproven by social scientific research and FRC’s report.

These narratives are “political talking points,” according to O’Leary, that attempt to erase entire communities of LGBTQ+ Christians and faith leaders. Instead, O’Leary says, “Christians across the country, both within and without the LGBTQ+ community, are called to support equality and fight against religious extremism that targets LGBTQ+ people – not in spite of their faith, but because of it.”

Still, in a Feb. 21 Washington Stand article about the new report, FRC shared comments from a pastor interviewed on Perkins’ “Washington Watch” streaming program who predicted Christians “will experience hostility for proclaiming the truth [about LGBTQ+ people]” and claimed his church was vandalized “because we were not affirming them [LGBTQ+ people].”

Despite FRC’s documentation of violence against LGBTQ+ Christians, anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups often use religious language to justify denying LGBTQ+ people civil rights and seem to believe that their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs trump the religious beliefs of Christians who disagree with them in public policy debates.

On July 31, 2023, FRC’s Washington Stand published an article by Elizabeth Troutman that said a website that helps people locate LGBTQ+-affirming churches is leading people to “something that is not a Christian church at all.” “True churches,” Troutman said, “are meant not to affirm any kind of sin.”

The same day, the FRC report on church violence documented that a church in Miles City, Montana was vandalized, its LGBTQ+ pride flag “ripped down and replaced with an American flag, and a homemade sign quoting Leviticus 20:13 [a scripture which is used by some anti-LGBTQ+ activists to claim the Bible supports the death penalty for homosexuality] and featuring the text #BEGONE was draped over the church’s sign.”

O’Leary says after attacks on LGBTQ+-affirming congregations, she has seen “an incredible groundswell of interfaith support.” Pointing to examples from California to Florida, she says, “LGBTQ+-affirming congregations are resilient, dedicated, and here to stay, despite the attacks they are facing.”

Photo illustration by SPLC (Source images by Getty Images and iStockphoto)

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