Though based in Illinois, the World Congress of Families (WCF) has a global mission. It seeks to spread anti-choice, anti-LGBTI policies and ideas worldwide, as well as a conservative definition of the family. In 1998, the WCF gathered in Rome to define “the natural family” as “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.” WCF campaigns at local, national, regional, and international levels to insert this restrictive definition into laws and policies as a way to actively exclude LGBTI people – and many others – from the rights, privileges, and protections afforded to legally recognized families.
Historian and author Allan Carlson founded WCF in 1995 as a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. WCF describes itself as a “rallying center for the world’s family systems grounded in religious faith” and a “response to a militant secular individualism found in parts of the ‘post modern’ West.”
WCF’s international conferences, or “Congresses,” consistently draw thousands of participants, and they have helped build WCF’s international influence by bringing together elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars from around the world. Congresses have been held in Prague (1997), Geneva (1999), Mexico City (2004), Warsaw (2007), Amsterdam (2009), Madrid (2012), Sydney (2013), Salt Lake City (2015), Georgia (2016), and Budapest (2017). Among the 2017 Congress partners were several Christian Right organizations, including National Organization for Marriage, Heartbeat International, and Family Watch International. The headlining speakers are typically leaders of the U.S. Christian Right, and the organization’s leadership team is entirely American.
In addition to large-scale international gatherings, WCF coordinates smaller, regional events. In 2009, it hosted its first African conference in Abuja, Nigeria. WCF convenings have taken place in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Malawi, and the organization is constantly expanding its influence. Sponsors for “The African Family and Cultural Colonialism,” its most recent conference in Malawi in November 2017, included Family Watch International and the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, the Malawian arm of the Anglican Church.
WCF’s work in Africa is primarily coordinated by Theresa Okafor and Ann Kioko. Okafor is CEO of Life League Nigeria, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, and a leading opponent of LGBTI and reproductive justice on the continent; Kioko is the founder of the African Organization for Families (AOF), a project that emerged out of the 2015 WCF gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah, and now works as the Campaigns Manager for Africa for CitizenGO, a right-wing advocacy organization based in Spain. Brian Brown serves on CitizenGO’s Board of Trustees.
In December 2016, under the leadership of its new president, Brian Brown (also head of the American anti-LGBTI group, National Organization for Marriage), the Howard Center rebranded itself as the International Organization for the Family (IOF), but reassured supporters that WCF would remain one of its key projects. The same week, IOF announced the launch of “The Cape Town Declaration: Universal Declaration on Family and Marriage,” a new platform aimed at creating a united global front of conservative leaders.
For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.