The purported goals of the American Family Association (AFA) are to protect “traditional moral values” and to combat “the radical homosexual agenda,” with considerable emphasis on the latter in recent years. It was formed in 1977 by evangelical pastor Donald E. Wildmon as the National Federation for Decency, based in Tupelo, Mississippi. Initially, the group focused on lobbying against indecency on television, but soon developed broader goals and changed its name in 1988. AFA’s leaders target media outlets, corporations, and public officials who they believe are promoting the homosexual agenda contrary to conservative Christian views. After Donald Wildmon’s retirement in 2010, his son Tim took over the group, which today boasts a sizable base of support comprised of 3.5 million online supporters and 180,000 subscribers to its AFA Journal. AFA also reaches an even wider audience through broadcasts on nearly 200 radio stations. Through its news division One News Now, which purports to be non-partisan and objective, AFA gives a platform to anti-gay activists.
In 2009, AFA hired Bryan Fischer, former executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, as director of issues analysis for government and policy. Known for his extreme anti-LGBTQ views and controversial statements, Fischer has advocated for the criminalization of homosexuality and forcible “reparative therapy” for homosexuals. But perhaps the most inflammatory was his claim that “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” Furthermore, Fischer claimed that Hitler was an “active homosexual” who recruited gays “because he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough.”
Over the years, AFA has perpetuated many other myths and dubious claims regarding homosexuality, associating it with pedophilia, incest, polygamy, bestiality, and other taboo sexual practices. For instance, the group has alleged that homosexuals are more promiscuous, are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases, and often transmit these diseases to children. According to AFA of Kentucky’s Dr. Frank Simon, “There are hundreds of children in America who are dying of AIDS because they were sexually abused by homosexuals.” In addition, AFA champions the conspiracy theory that an insidious “homosexual movement” is obsessed with “infiltrating the public school system” to strategically recruit children. In the early 2000s, a direct mailing from Don Wildmon argued, “For the sake of our children and society, we must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery! Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to ‘breed’ is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!” [emphasis in the original] The AFA spreads anti-gay propaganda to arouse fear and disapproval of homosexuality in the American public, and for this reason, the Southern Poverty Law Center included the AFA on its 2010 list of anti-gay “hate groups.”
In 2013, AFA accused the AARP of promoting a “homosexual agenda.” The organization claims that AARP’s website has a page to provide “resources, news, and other topics of interest to older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their family and friends.”
Aiming to influence public policy and opinion, AFA utilizes many strategies, including e-newsletters, direct mailings, petitions, and boycotts. Above all, the group pressures businesses to conform to “traditional Christian values,” organizing boycotts of gay-friendly corporations that offer non-discrimination policies, domestic partner benefits, or contributions to gay-friendly causes. AFA has discouraged its followers from patronizing many such companies, including but not limited to: Kraft Foods, Disney, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Citigroup, PepsiCo, American Airlines, Allstate Insurance, and the Coca-Cola Company. In 2005, AFA called for a national boycott of Ford Motor Co. due to its sponsorship of gay pride events and advertising in LGBTQ publications. In 2011, the group initiated a boycott of Home Depot, dubbing the company “Homo Depot” because it provides financial support to gay pride rallies. Since then, AFA has taken credit for Ford’s drop in sales and for a drop in Home Depot’s support of gay pride events. One Million Moms, a division of AFA, attacked JCPenny in2012 for their decision to hire openly gay TV personality Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, and attempted to pull advertisers from the show Glee for promoting “deviant sexuality.” During GLSEN’s “Day of Silence” campaign in 2012 to raise awareness of bullying of LGBTQ children, AFA called on parents to keep their children home and pressure their local schools to cancel the event.
In July 2008, AFA launched a boycott against McDonald’s because one of its executives was on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Deferring to AFA, the executive stepped down and the company conceded that it would henceforth be “neutral on same-sex marriage or any ‘homosexual agenda’ as defined by the American Family Association.” McDonald’s’ remorseful response illustrates the increasingly powerful influence of AFA on corporate policy.
In recent years, AFA has become more directly involved in politics. Many state chapters conduct grassroots organizing on a state and local level, using petitions and referendums to fight LGBT rights. In 2010, AFA joined the campaign to oust the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, pledging to spend $200,000 on this cause. On the national level, AFA endorsed Mike Huckabee for president in 2008 and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Through the AFA Radio Network, it has also given a platform to Republican candidates Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Tim Pawlenty.
Funded entirely by private donors, AFA aggressively solicits donations on its website and generates a massive amount of revenue. The group brought in nearly $19 million in 2010 and $18 million in 2011, and regularly donates hundreds of thousands of this revenue to promote anti-LGBT politicians and legislation. However, the donors supporting this financial powerhouse remain a mystery, with no names disclosed on AFA’s 990 tax forms or website. One might reasonably speculate that Christian conservative groups are the main donors, since AFA was founded by an evangelical pastor and declares its mission is “to motivate and equip citizens to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth.” Only one known donor is listed in Right Wing Watch’s database: the Bill and Berniece Grewcock Foundation, which donated a total of $90,000 through six grants from 1998 to 2003.
Marshaling tens of millions of dollars each year, AFA has morphed into a power player in the political arena, donating $500,000 to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign alone. In August 2011, amid much hype, AFA spent $1 million to fund Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s rally at a Texas stadium, which was billed as a day of fasting and prayer “to save America.” Dubbed “The Response,” the event signified that AFA has become much more than just a typical nonprofit group with the more modest goal of fighting indecent television. It has grown into a formidable force in American politics today, a mighty behemoth with the funds and support base to sway not only mass media content, but public policy on a national scale as well.
This profile is part of a series on key anti-LGBTQ opponents adapted from Political Research Associates’ Resisting the Rainbow report.