A Dystrumpian Vision for LGBTQ People

Co-authored by Scot Nakagawa

San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Tom Hilton via Flickr.

Many are called but few are chosen during any presidential transition. That’s why it’s illuminating to consider who Donald Trump has chosen from the parade of possibilities for his transition team and senior administration appointments so far— and what they may portend for LGBTQ people.

The Christian Right, with few exceptions, backed the Trump ticket, with over 80 percent of White evangelicals voting for him, and now they’re being rewarded with traditional forms of political patronage. They’re scoring major appointments and have won a say in personnel and policy decisions on a scale far surpassing anything seen since the movement first arrived in Washington with the Reagan administration in 1980.

Since Trump himself has never held the kinds of values or displayed the kind of personal behavior prized by conservative Christians—and barely passes as any kind of a Christian at all—he and his backers needed a theological rationale for the Christian Right’s support. They found justification in biblical examples of God-anointed leaders who were ungodly themselves but who nevertheless delivered for God’s people. Christian Right leaders presented Trump in this way, it was broadly accepted by their followers, and Trump is now evidently making good on the deal.

Let’s look first at two early warnings from which all the rest flows.

The first is an important campaign promise affecting LGBTQ people. In November 2016, Trump told 60 Minutes that he was “fine” with gay marriage; at the Republican National Convention he described himself as “a supporter” of the LGBTQ community, and said he considers marriage equality a “settled” matter. But none of those statements amount to promises to LGBTQ people, to whom he is sending mixed messages He has also promised the Christian Right he would consider appointing justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Secondly, Trump has also positioned himself in the camp of establishing dangerously broad religious exemptions from all laws aimed at ensuring LGBTQ civil rights. He promised he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if it reached his desk. FADA, which was first introduced in 2015 and now has substantial support in both houses of Congress, would legalize discrimination in the name of “religious belief or moral conviction,” requiring nothing more than someone’s say so. The scope of the Act appears to primarily affect government departments and agencies, and federal contractors and grantees, including entities that may require federal accreditation or licensing, such as universities and hospitals. And maybe more.

Under FADA, denial of service could take many forms beyond matters of wedding cakes, flowers, and photographers, to include allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people (or their children), businesses to refuse health benefits to a same-sex partner, and child welfare workers to keep a child in foster care as opposed to placing them with a loving and qualified same-sex couple. If that’s not enough, FADA exempts non-profit organizations and businesses from non-discrimination standards. The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of direct discrimination. FADA might allow federal employees to refuse being involved in processing federal benefits and rights claims to which they conscientiously object, such as any involving married same-sex couples. The bill exempts “any person regardless of religious affiliation, including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status” from following non-discrimination codes on the basis of religious beliefs.

If this is the benchmark approach to policy (regardless of the immediate future of the legislation itself) the federal government will be leading efforts to reverse historic gains of recent decades—attacking the basis for LGBTQ freedom and the dignity and rights of everyone else for whom a religious justification for denying service can be made.

But there’s more.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his vice president was a transformational moment in the campaign, and arguably in American history. Pence may be best known for his theocratic political identity, proudly explaining at the 2010 Values Voter Summit in 2010, for example, that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Donald Trump, via his son Donald Jr., reportedly called an aide to his first choice for veep, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and told him that a president Trump would put Kasich in charge of both foreign and domestic policy, while the president himself would be in charge of “making America great again.” Pence hasn’t said whether he got the same deal, but his role as chair of the transition team suggests that he is already among the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

This does not bode well.

Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was marked by his signing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would make discrimination against same-sex couples legally defensible. Pence signed the Act in the company of his state’s Christian Right leadership, marking him as a movement leader himself. Following national outcry, the legislature passed an amendment that explicitly stated that such discrimination was not the intent of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given both Trump and Pence’s history and views, much of the Christian Right agenda, particularly with regards to anything that affects LGBTQ people, will probably come wrapped in the flag of religious freedom. Some leading indicators of the direction the administration will take in this regard are visible in the transition team that’s proposing staff for the new administration and the appointments and nominations that have resulted from their work so far.

Ken Blackwell heads domestic issues for the transition team. A longtime Christian Right pol from Ohio, he is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, the leading Christian Right lobby in Washington, D.C. Blackwell also serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian Right legal group that promotes religion based exemptions from the law.

Ed Meese leads the transition team for the Office of Management and Budget. He is one of the architects of FADA and served as Attorney General in the Reagan administration. He is joined by Kay Cole James, the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a former head of the federal Office of Personnel Management. These figures know how the federal government works and how to ensure their people are well represented among the 4,000 positions that need to be filled in the West Wing of the White House, and throughout the federal government over the course of the Trump administration and beyond.

Ken Klukowski serves on the part of the transition team focusing on executive authority, responsible for “protecting constitutional rights.” He is the senior counsel for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute (formerly the Liberty Institute), a leading Christian Right legal group focused on religious exemptions from the law, especially LGBTQ rights. He is also the senior legal editor for Breitbart News.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of twelve vice-chairs of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson is a Christian Right leader and anti-LGBTQ ideologue known for harsh rhetoric in support of his beliefs. Carson has associated being LGBTQ with polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. He thinks that transgender people are “the height of absurdity” and he claims that marriage equality is a Marxist plot that may lead the country to go the way of the Roman Empire. He has characterized the kind of public housing he would oversee at HUD as “communism” and as Secretary he could undermine if not reverse the Obama administration’s efforts to curb discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is also a co-sponsor of FADA. The Huffington Post headlined an article about his nomination, “Pick Any LGBTQ Rights Issue. Jeff Sessions Has Voted Against It.” His Senate chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, is the executive director of the transition team.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s House voting record received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He is a co-sponsor of FADA and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is a longtime financier of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to “advance God’s kingdom.” She and her family, heirs to the Amway corporate fortune, have a long record of underwriting Christian Right and anti-LGBTQ projects and organizations for the same reason. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major backers of Focus on the Family, whose founder, James Dobson, called the battle against LGBTQ rights a “second civil war.” (Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who steadfastly supported Trump through the campaign, was Trump’s first choice for secretary. Falwell said he declined in order to attend to other obligations.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and top level appointments should be taken as clear indicators of the direction of the Trump administration with regard to the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ people. And if past is prologue, what Mr. Trump says may not be nearly as important as what he does. Continued vigilance regarding what his appointees do in his name will be vital.

Frederick Clarkson is Senior Fellow at PRA. Scot Nakagawa is a Senior Partner of ChangeLab, a national racial justice think-act laboratory, and served as Fight the Right Organizer of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

The Koch-Like Family You’ve Never Heard Of Influencing State Legislatures

On the homepage of almost any major news publication, one can read about the latest bombastic actions of the current crop of conservative candidates – Trump, Cruz, Carson etc. Behind all of the pageantry and show, however, it is critical for people of conscience to consider how big-money donors can influence public policy. Most people have heard of big spenders like the Koch brothers or the Walton family—well known for using their money to shape not only policies, but also the very infrastructure of our political system. But  who are those deep-pocketed names we’ve never heard of?

The DeVos family—Michigan-based builders of the Amway fortune—is one of the most influential families in conservative U.S. politics. Their agenda includes many items on the Corporate and Christian Right’s wish lists, including so-called “right to work” laws that weaken unions, discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills, and education privatization (including pushing school vouchers that transfer public dollars to private religious coffers). Although some of their higher-profile activities such as Dick DeVos’ failed 2006 race for Michigan governor and Richard DeVos´ ownership of the Orlando Magic basketball team are covered in the press, their political spending has gotten far less attention. This year 435 seats will be contested in the House of Representatives, 35 in the Senate and 13 gubernatorial races will take place alongside local and county elections; therefore it is critically important for the country to see and debate the influence that rich families like the DeVoses are wielding in politics.

Though they share the Kochs´ commitment to corporate welfare, the DeVoses also promote a Christian Right cultural and social agenda. They use their money and influence to contribute to conservative infrastructure, including think tanks, astroturf organizations and policy advocacy groups, both in Michigan and elsewhere. The family epitomizes the disturbing trend toward billionaires willing to spend big money to change the political structure—a structure that, as PRA’s late founder and political scientist Jean Hardisty wrote in 2014, is “drifting toward oligarchy”.

The DeVos Family

Dick and Betsy DeVos  (Grand Rapids Press File Photo)

Dick and Betsy DeVos
(Grand Rapids Press File Photo)

Based in western Michigan, the DeVoses fund a number of organizations that push conservative policies including right to work, RFRA, and school vouchers. Richard DeVos, the patriarch of the family, is one of the original founders of Amway, a supplier of everything from home care products to insurance (the company was ranked 30th largest U.S. company by Forbes in 2015, and pulled in nearly $11 billion last year).

If you were to walk through Grand Rapids or Detroit, it would be nearly impossible not to notice the DeVos name: the DeVos Convention Center, DeVos Performance Hall, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Helen DeVos Center for Arts and Worship and DeVos Graduate School of Management to name a few places. For many in Michigan, the name is synonymous with western Michigan, conservative philanthropy and the Republican Party.

For the past 50 years, Richard and his wife Helen have positioned themselves as one of the most important families in Michigan politics. Their son and daughter-in-law, Dick and Betsy DeVos, are following in their footsteps with their own foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. (Betsy is the daughter of Edgar Prince, a founder of the Family Research Council.)  Between 2000 and 2012, the family gave nearly $5.4 million to the Michigan Republican Party, according to a report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The report also demonstrates how the DeVoses exert influence over state and national policy making. For example, the DeVoses gave $50,000 to a Michigan ballot committee that worked to ban same sex marriage in 2004; the committee also received support from Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the Michigan Family Forum. Locally, their money has found its way into 70 different Michigan political committees. According to a report by the Michigan Campaign Finance network, the family gave $4,902,055 during the 2013-2014 cycle.

The DeVoses exert influence over state and national policy making. For example, the DeVoses gave $50,000 to a Michigan ballot committee that worked to ban same sex marriage in 2004.

Right to Work

Right to work laws originated in the Old Right of the 1950s and, as PRA economic justice researcher Mariya Strauss has written, are designed to “remove the requirement for workers in a given workplace to actually pay for the representation and benefits the union provides for them. It is a label that has nothing to do with the right to work or the right to a job.”

The story of how Michigan became a right to work state features the backroom dealings and pressures from big business that have typified right to work battles in state after state since the 1950s.

The DeVos family pushed for this legislation long before it landed on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder´s desk. The West Michigan Policy Forum organizes yearly conferences bringing together policy makers and business leaders in order to advance a so-called pro-business agenda in Michigan.  The organization, Dick’s brother Doug DeVos was former board chairman, has pushed for right to work since 2008. After the family spent $4.9 million on political candidates and committees during the 2014 state elections, right to work passed and was signed. In addition to the work of the West Michigan Policy Forum, the DeVos family also gave at least $2 million to fight a union-backed amendment to the bill that would have guaranteed unions the right to bargain.

Outside Michigan, the DeVos family is also tied to the national Tea Party organization, Americans for Prosperity, which was created by the Koch brothers and has now setup 36 state-based shops to operate out of. The DeVoses gave AFP over $800,000 between 2007-2011. This connection to David and Charles Koch points to a key observation: not only do the two families hold similar policy positions, but they also fund some of the same groups. AFP not only played a role in garnering support for right to work in Michigan, it also led a coalition pushing for a right to work law in Missouri. Although AFP failed to get the bill passed this year; workers’ rights advocates say they expect it will return soon.

This connection to David and Charles Koch points to a key observation: not only do the two families hold similar policy positions, but they also fund some of the same groups.

Americans for Prosperity has continued trying to build support for the bill in other states such as Kentucky. FreedomWorks—another conservative advocacy organization that represents a strategic partnership with the Kochs—runs public relations and advertising campaigns for anti-union and right to work bills. The organization received $600,000 between 2009 and 2011 from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, according to SourceWatch. Their online presence is also significant, as it is a key tool used to spread information on their anti-union and right to work positions.

Education Privatization

So-called “school choice” seems to be the area where the family has invested the most outside of Michigan. School choice is a blanket term used to describe everything from school voucher programs to charters to online “virtual” schools, and has garnered support from both Republicans and some Democrats. Conservative donors such as the DeVos family have used their money to influence this national trend. One of the biggest events is the annual School Choice Week, which included 11,082 individual events across the country last year. Every January the events are marketed as a social justice movement whose aim is to “raise public awareness for all types of educations options for children”. Behind the scenes, its most influential backers are the DeVoses and other conservative donors who have been pushing for more private and more religious schooling.

A look at the main partners—and their affiliations—helps shed light on the ideas driving School Choice Week. The American Federation for Children is a public policy organization whose board of directors is chaired by Betsy DeVos. According to SourceWatch, the organization, a 501(c)(4), is the political organizing arm of the Alliance for School Choice. The DeVos have been tied to efforts in Pennsylvania to eradicate public education by giving over $15 million over the last five years. PRA research fellow Rachel Tabachnick has compiled an anthology of the DeVos family’s efforts to eradicate public education.  As a front group that funnels money into other groups around the country, American Federation for Children has links to a number of other organizations which the DeVos family gave a total of $355,000 in 2013 – such as the American Enterprise Institute, Alliance for School Choice, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education is another sponsor of School Choice Week. Based in Florida, the organization is an example of how the DeVos family’s money has expanded outside of Michigan. The foundation received $100,000 from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation in 2013, and Betsy sits on the board of directors. Another group supported by the family is the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The New York-based group provides scholarships for students to study outside of the public school system. Pamella DeVos, wife of Dan DeVos, sits on the board of directors and helps direct the organization’s work in eight states.

Anti-LGBTQ Influence

As previously reported by PRA, this past summer Michigan passed a statewide religious exemption law that gives adoption agencies the right to claim a religious exemption from having to serve LGBTQ couples. The DeVos family donated $300,000 in 2013 alone to Bethany Christian Services, Michigan’s leading adoption agency and the main group that lobbied for the religious exemption bill.

The DeVos family also furthers LGBTQ discrimination through donations to their numerous foundations and religious conservative initiatives outside of their home state. The DeVos family, through its giving patterns, maintains ties to the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, and the Federalist Society – all organizations with anti-LGBTQ positions.

The DeVos family, through its giving patterns, maintains ties to the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, and the Federalist Society – all organizations with anti-LGBTQ positions.

At the Heritage Foundation, The Devos Center for Religion and Civil Society “examines the role that religion, family, and community [play] in society and public policy”. With the $1.8 million grant, the Center seeks to “help policy-makers, scholars, journalists and other leaders examine the important role of religious thought and activity in the United States, how it influences society and how it affects-an it affected-by public policy”. The center has taken a stance against same-sex marriage, called for defunding planned parenthood, and sponsored events aimed at furthering conservative positions. Along with their center at the Heritage Foundation, the DeVos family is also tied to the conservative Christian foundation, Focus on the Family.

Focus on the Family is a one of the most well funded anti-LGBTQ organizations in the U.S. The conservative Christian foundation has received $800,000 from DeVos foundations. Focus on the Family has published numerous  articles making the false claim that LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies poses to religious freedom. The organization donated over $115,000 to defeat marriage equality in Maine, and $91,000 to defeat civil unions in Washington State, according to a 2014 report by the Human Rights Campaign. In the same report, the DeVoses were cited as sponsoring an annual conference advocating “ex-gay” or reparative therapy, the discredited practice of trying to somehow alter a persons’ sexual orientation. (The American Psychological Association has warned that the dangerous therapy poses serious risk to youth, and reparative therapy on minors has been banned in several states.)

The Federalist Society is an influential conservative legal organization that advocates for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. The group says it aims to “[reorder] priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values and the rule of law”. Members include conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. As  by PRA, the Federalist Society “states that its purpose is to foster debate and discussion about the issues, but the articles and interpretations in its publications are all decidedly conservative and/or libertarian”. Through multiple foundations, the DeVos family contributed $55,000 in 2013 alone.

The Federalist society takes an anti-LGBTQ stance through its support of lawyers hostile to equal rights. Through their university campus chapters around the country, they host events hostile to LGBTQ equality such as one at Northwestern University Law School where the chapter hosted a debate on LGBTQ discrimination with food catered by Chick-fil-A (whose CEO publicly opposed marriage equality in 2012, prompting a national bycott).

DeVoses branching out

While Michigan has traditionally been the DeVos family’s stronghold, their influence for right to work, school privatization and RFRA bills is creeping into statehouses across the country. As states such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri are pushing to become right to work states, it is worth asking how DeVos money finds its way to these battles. At the same time as their efforts to expand education privatization increase, their efforts to push RFRA bills continue to find their ways into state legislatures across the country. Through a network of organizations, the DeVos yield an impressive amount of power and influence in statehouses around the country. As the election cycle heats up in 2016, grassroots progressive organizers need to understand how billionaires such as the DeVoses are wielding influence.

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Long Walk To Freedom: What African Sexual Minorities Can Learn from Tata Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandelason mandela, apartheid, lgbt, africa

When I heard that Nelson Mandela had died, I tweeted, “Long walk to freedom–Mandela was in 27 years in prison, but didn’t give up. LGBT Africans, our walk is long but freedom is coming tomorrow.”

That was when I remembered my first visit to Robben Island, in 2003.

During our tour, we were shown the pile of stones that political prisoners broke daily. We then entered the prison cell in which Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. While my friends rushed to take photos of cell #5, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I may regret that someday, but it would have felt to me like playing at being Mandela – who I am not and will never be. Mandela was an icon, who never lost hope in humanity—something most of us find impossible.

As we headed back to Cape Town, surrounded by the lovely waters, I spent my time wondering how Nelson Mandela remained hopeful in the face of the seemingly impossible. Since my visit to Robben Island, I have learned that freedom is not something that comes easily—people have to fight for it and, sometimes, many have to die for it.  I began to make sense of his book, Long Walk to Freedom.  I came to realize that freedom is a long journey travelled not by the strong, but rather by the determined.  It took Nelson Mandela more than 27 years to secure freedom for himself and for so many others.

Of course, many people walked on that journey with Mandela. Steve Bantu Biko, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, and Hector Pieterson are among the many South Africans who died and inspired Mandela to continue the walk to freedom. These individuals were ordinary people, about whom most of the world knows very little. Their sacrifices inspired Mandela not only to continue the journey, but also to carry their dreams with him. That day of freedom finally came, and with cameras broadcasting across the world, Nelson Mandela left prison. He later became that country’s first democratically leader as well as its first Black president.

Mandela’s vision extended to all those who continue to pursue long walks to freedom. Mandela championed the human rights of all people, whether Black, White, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex. He lived to see the day when South Africa became the first African country to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal and began allowing same-sex marriages. The African National Congress’ (ANC) outspoken support for non-discrimination against sexual minorities resulted from the courageous, visible leadership of LGBTQ people in the anti-apartheid struggle and their principled challenges to the movement’s leadership.

Today, amid state sponsored violence, religiously sanctioned persecutions, and an apparent lack of rule of law, many African sexual minorities are now made to believe their freedom will never come.  But is Mandela’s journey over? I don’t think so—the journey to freedom continues. To me, Mandela’s legacy is simply this: “No oppression in any form will last forever.”

“Freedom is coming tomorrow”—we cannot give up.  Mandela was imprisoned for demanding equality for all people, regardless of race. We, too, we are demanding equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  For both the many sexual minorities who walked alongside Mandela and for all of us walking now, these struggles for freedom and justice are chapters of an interconnected, interrelated journey.

We will continue to suffer casualties along our walk to freedom.  But our fallen sisters and brothers—Duduzile Zozo and Noxolo Nogwaza of South Africa, David Kato of Uganda, Maurice Mjomba of Tanzania, Eric Ohena Lembembe of Cameroon, among many others—did not die in vain. Rather than retreating in despair, may their sacrifices inspire us to walk again tomorrow. As it is said, “If something is not worth dying for, it is not worth fighting for.”  If we fear demonization, prisons, or death, we won’t get our freedom.

And ultimately, when we get our freedom, are we going to be like Nelson Mandela, willing to forgive and reconcile with the very people who persecuted and killed us? Tata Mandela, as you join our ancestors, inspire us to continue that long walk to freedom, which you courageously made in the name of human rights of all God’s people.

ISSUE BRIEF: This Month In LGBTQ Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in LGBTQ Justice.

Ecuador’s “Gay Addiction” Clinics Continue Torturous Practices
On November 7th, the Union and Hope Clinic in Pisuli, Ecuador was raided by police. The clinic is one of many in Ecuador that deals with “gay addiction,” and uses rape and torture as clinical tools to “cure” people of homosexuality. Seven people were arrested after the police found patients in “inhumane conditions.” The seventeen people rescued from the clinic adds to the approximately 500 people who have been freed from such clinics this past year. Carina Vance Mafla, Ecuador’s openly lesbian health minister, has vowed to work with LGBTQ organizations to shut down these clinics. The Health Ministry has already ordered the closure of 30 clinics, although many have already re-opened under different names. An article published recently in the Sunday Times focuses on the practice of kidnapping people, with parental consent, to be sent to these clinics to be “cured” of homosexuality.

Suggestive Pants Amount to Homophobic Act In Lithuania
A recent survey shows that Lithuanians have become less tolerant of homosexuals, and more tolerant of their homophobic neighbors in Russia. Recently, Petras Grazulis, a member of the Law and Order Party in Lithuania who is known for his anti-gay views, personally delivered a pair of pants with a zipper on the rear to the Lithuania Gay League (LGL). LGL members had been taking part in a European Union conference on hate crimes in Vilnius, and it appears that Grazulis’s actions were in response to this. Back in May 2012, Gazulis crashed an LGBTQ rights event and declared that all gays should leave the country, asking, “How are homosexuals better than necrophiliacs or pedophiles?” Grazulis’s actions can be seen as part of a greater trend towards homophobia and transphobia in Lithuanian politics. In December the Lithuanina parliament is slated to consider five separate anti-gay and anti-trans bills, including a ban on gender reassignment and a legislation legalizing hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

ENDA Loses Momentum in the U.S. House

John Boehner currently sees “no need or no basis” for ENDA.

While the Senate passed the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) on November 7, progress on the legislation has hit a wall in the House.   LGBTQ rights advocates have been pushing for an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The White House has been withholding with the order, citing the need for Congress to act. While an executive order would not be be as comprehensive as ENDA, it would protect as many as 16 million workers while the legislation stalls in the House. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he sees “no need or basis” for ENDA, and is refusing to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. In response to Boehner’s dismissal of ENDA’s necessity, LGBTQ advocates cite the plurality of states in the U.S. where there is no law in place prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Currently, 22 states have statutes that explicitly prohibit sexual orientation-based employment discrimination. Eighteen states have gender identity and anti-discrimination laws in place. A recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that there are relatively few discrimination complaints in states with such laws.

Fenway Institute to Host Webinar on Transgender Health
The National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute will host a webinar entitled “Transgender Medical Care: Advanced Case Discussion” on December 10 from 3-4 pm EST. Their website was launched in 2012 as part of LGBT Awareness Month, and provides educational programs, resources, and consultation to health care organizations with the goal of optimizing quality, cost-effective health care for LGBT people. All webinars are available on-demand.

NOM’s 990 Reveals They Finished 2012 $2.7M In the Red
A recently released 990 tax form reveals the the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) finished 2012 $2.7 million in the red (although Maggie Gallagher is still somehow pulling $160K from them). Some people have seen the 990 as an indicator that NOM can no longer profit from their anti-LGBT agenda. NOM and the Far Right may be losing the battle to define marriage in this country, but there are other wells for them to draw from in the LGBT community, and NOM seems to be aware of this. The Supreme Court struck down a key section of DOMA and invalidated California’s Prop 8, but NOM has recently joined the fight against a bill signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown that allows students to define their gender for themselves, choose which restroom they want to use, and decide whether they wish to play on male- or female-gendered sports teams. NOM may have had a rough year in 2012, but if the fight for transgender rights turns out to be NOM’s newest cash cow, 2014 could see their anti-LGBT agenda become lucrative again.

World Congress of Families Hosts Discussion on Family Policy Abroad
The anti-gay World Congress of Families (WCF) hosted a discussion in Washington, D.C. on “What America Should Learn” from family policy abroad. The meeting was originally intended to be held in a Senate meeting room, but Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) withdrew his sponsorship after an outcry from LGBT activists. House Speaker John Boehner then provided the group with a meeting space. During the discussion, the WCF touched on the subject of encouraging the growth of grassroots conservative movements in France, Spain, and Nigeria. Much of the discussion, however, centered on how the U.S. media has “distorted” the Russian anti-propaganda law. “They are trying to build a pro-family movement in Russia, and we’re working with them,” said Allen Carlson, founder and international secretary of WCF. The World Family of Congress is an organization that has become infamous for both exporting conservative ideologies from the U.S. as well as brining conservative ideals and strategies back into the country. The group will be holding their 2014 summit in Moscow.

Scott Lively Has A “Theory” About the Anti-Gay Violence In Russia
While on “Mission America”, Linda Harvey’s radio show, Scott Lively espoused his theory on the true nature of the anti-gay violence in Russia. Lively is claiming that the widely seen (thanks to YouTube) violence against LGBT people in Russia is actually to “gay-on-gay crime”. Lively alleged, “The guys that are beating up gays in Russia—and it’s not any more prevalent than it ever has been really and it isn’t all that prevalent at all—but the ones that are doing it are butch homosexuals who are beating up effeminate homosexuals.” Lively, known for his work exporting homophobia to Uganda, has recently turned his attention to Russia (perhaps because he is on trial for crimes against humanity in Uganda). In October, he participated in a planning meeting for WCF’s 2014 conference in Moscow.

Harry Reid Says Mormon Views On LGBT Rights “Evolving”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that members of his faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), are evolving their views on LGBT rights, citing recent support of church members for ENDA.  While it may be true that members of the church are evolving their views, recent news of the Church itself, the body that governs LDS members, shows little sign of change. The Church has continually told its members that it is their duty to oppose gay marriage, saying that “unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared told to be unchangeable.” One of the Church’s highest leaders, Russell M. Nelson, recently said, “Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fullness of life on Earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued.” While it is encouraging that members of the church may be changing their views on LGBT rights, the Church itself, which yields a great deal of financial and ideological influence in U.S. government, continues to oppose marriage equality. In Hawaii, before marriage equality was passed earlier this month, the Mormon Church lobbied extensively against the law.

Being Gay Now Grounds For Asylum in European Union
The EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice, ruled this month that being gay is now grounds for asylum. LGBT people fearing imprisonment in their home countries will now have grounds for seeking asylum in any of the 28 EU member states. The case in question centered on three gay men from Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Senegal who had unsuccessfully fought to be given refugee status in the Netherlands. The Dutch Council of State asked whether homosexuals could be considered a “particular social group”, since under international law a particular social group with a well-founded fear of persecution can claim refugee status if the persecution amounts to a severe violation of human rights. The Court ruled existence of laws imprisoning gay people “may constitute an act of persecution”, although the mere existence of a ban on homosexuality is not grounds in itself for seeking an asylum request.

This Past Month Has Been Big For Marriage Equality

http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

In slightly less than a month, three states have passed marriage equality. On October 21, LGBT New Jerseyans began to marry at midnight. Just hours later, Gov. Chris Christie announced his plans to drop his appeal of the law. On November 13, in Hawaii, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a marriage equality law after a Special Session during which legislators discussed why marriage equality matters to same-sex couples and their families. LGBT people in Hawaii will begin to marry on December 2. Finally, on November 20, in Illinois, Gov. Pat McQuin signed the freedom to marry law after it was approved earlier this year by the State House and Senate. LGBT couples will begin marrying there in June, 2014. As of right now, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marriage equality, with over 38% of the U.S. population living in these states. It also seems possible that the high court in New Mexico may rule in favor of marriage equality by the end of the year, although some state Republicans are already creating a plan to strike back by pursuing a statewide constitutional referendum to ban the unions.

Zambia First Lady Deserves Praise for Pro-LGBT Speech? Think Again.

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

The global North LGBTI and Human rights groups have heralded Zambia’s First Lady Christine Kaseba’s “positive” statement on homosexuality. But if you read her full remarks in context, there’s isn’t anything praiseworthy about it.

At a reception hosted by UNAIDS on November 5, 2013, Dr. Kaseba told a group that “Silence on men having sex with men should be stopped,” and added “no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. .. Personally, I am concerned about the vulnerability of our women married to or in intimate relations with men who also have sex with men.” On this basis, she joined many Human rights defenders in calling on Zambians to have an open and civil discussion on homosexuality which, as she argued, is the key to fighting HIV and AIDS. Because of the demonization of LGBT persons across Africa, many Africans gay persons are forced to live a lie—married to women during the day, and gays at night. Her statements made global headlines, and many international human rights organizations lavished her with praises for standing up against homophobia.

However, the international community seems to have missed the rest of the First Lady’s speech (posted below). Like many African politicians, Dr. Kabesa falsely claimed that young people are “enticed” or recruited into same-sex relations—the same claim used by Scott Lively and other anti-gay figures both in the United States and Africa to promote widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence. In the very same speech to UNAIDS, Dr. Kabesa says, “We have anecdotal evidence especially in colleges where young men are enticed into having sex with men but at the same time also have young girlfriends on the side.”

As a Zambian national and human rights defender, I found her statement misleading, and a major distraction to the plight of LGBT persons in Zambia and the rest of Africa.

When I first heard about Dr. Kaseba’s statement, I wanted to know what Zambian LGBT persons thought of her position on homosexuality. I read a short post from an outspoken Zambian LGBT advocate (I’m withholding her name because of threats of violence she’s received), questioning the logic of Dr. Kaseba making such a statement while two LGBT Zambians, James Mwape and Phillip Mubiana sit in Zambian prison simply being gay, and Paul Kasonkomona is facing charges for speaking openly about homosexuality on TV.

I think the Zambian LGBT author rightly interpreted the First Lady’s statement as little more than nice words mean to entice donor’s dollars. In fact, the Zambian media reported that Dr. Kaseba made these remarks at the international donors “reception”—which happened to be UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board Reception with Key Partners.

Dr. Kaseba knows that her husband, President Michael Sata, who sees nothing wrong with Africa’s longest reigning dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, needs something big to win him donor support. Is the First Lady’s statement on homosexuality the key to new dollars?

Regardless, the statement sought to distract international attention from the systematic persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, and inter-sex persons in Zambia.

Combatting HIV/AIDS within the LGBT community is crucial to human rights, but so does the freedom to work, expression, association and live peaceful lives—which Zambian LGBT citizens are currently denied. So in as much I applaud the good portion of the First Lady’s statement, I find it insulting that those who heard her speak failed to ask her to declare her position on her husband’s administration’s persecution of LGBT citizens, failed to ask that something be done about the LGBT Zambians sitting in prison, and failed to ask why she was perpetuating the blatantly false lies about “gay recruitment.”

The celebration of the First Lady statement in international circles and the down-playing of the same by local activists suggest the lift between wealthy global North activists and poor African activists. Western activists continue to fail to seek guidance from Zambian activists when getting involved or commenting on local stories. They cannot ignore Zambian voices, assuming “we know better.”

Press statements alone do not translate into human rights—actions do. Dr. Kaseba is not new to Zambian politics and knew very well her husband’s policies on LGBT persons—she is aware that Human rights defender Paul Kasonkomona is fighting his case in court; she is aware that James and Phillip were snatched from the privacy of their home in April, dumped in prison and denied bail.

If the International community needs to celebrate Dr. Kashiba’s courage, they should ask her to step up and do something. Ask her to have the charges against Paul Kasonkomona, Phillip Mubiana, and James Mwape dropped immediately and release them from prison. Ask her to work with her husband to stop the persecution of LGBT persons in Zambia. Only then can I, and I believe many LGBT rights advocates in Zambia, join the world in celebrating her courage.

As for now, her statement is meant to deceive the world that LGBT persons have a home in Zambia, so she can collect donor money.

Zambian First Lady Christine Kaseba Speech to UNAIDS by PoliticalResearch

While Sochi Olympics Spark Global Outrage Over Anti-LGBTQ Laws, Local Groups Fight for Real Change

 

photo credit: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/08/la-councilmembers-protest-russian-sister-city-with-rainbow-flag.html

photo credit: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/08/la-councilmembers-protest-russian-sister-city-with-rainbow-flag.html

Russia’s recent surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation has prompted responses from human rights defenders around the globe. The upcoming Winter Olympics (set to be hosted in Sochi, Russia) has become a significant platform from which to demonstrate and encourage resistance, and activists have employed a wide variety of tactics to apply pressure and demand change.

The outrage resulting from Russia’s “anti-propaganda” law was initially channeled into a call for athletes to boycott the event (this approach was largely abandoned when folks eventually thought to consult with Russian LGBTQ activists who were unsupportive of the tactic). Other targets of protest have included the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, as well as Stolichnaya (a popular Russian vodka).

As the games draw near, additional responses have emerged. FCKH8.com is producing a Russian language coloring book entitled, “Misha & His Moms Go to the Olympics,” set to be distributed widely to children in Sochi and Moscow. All Out and Athlete Ally have designed a strategy for athletes to display their dissent without risking punishment. The Human Rights Campaign is mass-producing t-shirts that read “Love Conquers Hate” in Russian.

Over the course of the last few decades, many cities around the world have developed ties with “sister cities” in Russia as a means of cultural exchange and economic advancement. These connections have also become a site of protest as city officials have responded to Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws with condemnatory proclamations, by promoting asylum opportunities for LGBTQ Russians, or by simply severing ties completely. In one unique case, residents of Portland, Maine recently hosted LGBTQ activists from their city’s Russian counterpart, Archangel, as a means of identifying ways in which they can be better allies to one another.

The question remains, however, what will happen after the games? Who will keep watching after the athletes, spectators, sports broadcasters, and journalists have all gone home? Once Sochi is out of the spotlight, will we remember to be outraged?

While attention spans may dwindle elsewhere in the world, I have complete faith that folks in Springfield, MA will continue in their diligent watchfulness and relentless resistance.

Anti-LGBTQ crusader Scott Lively, who is currently being charged for “crimes against humanity” in Springfield’s Federal Court, is infamous for his role in creating the “Kill the Gays” Bill in Uganda. Unfortunately, his influence isn’t limited to Africa—just last month he was in Moscow, and he has longstanding ties in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus. His rampant homophobia is echoing far and wide, but Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and a brave cadre of human rights defenders in Western Mass are hard at work, seeking to hold Lively accountable for the damage he’s done and to take responsibility for the role that their neighbors and community members play in the ongoing globalization of U.S.-born culture wars.

The Stop the Hate & Homophobia Coalition emerged in the Fall of 2010 when members of ARISE, a Springfield-based social justice organization, learned that their neighbor, Scott Lively, was a major propagator of anti-LGBTQ violence. Teaming up with Out Now, a local LGBTQ youth organization, and other concerned members of the community, the group began meeting regularly and strategizing ways to effectively “clip the wings” of their jet-setting neighbor. Their efforts have ranged from hosting vigils outside of the coffee shop run by Lively’s local ministry to publishing advertisements in the local newspaper exposing the true nature of Lively’s work, and through the help of Pam Spees, CCR’s lead lawyer on the SMUG vs. Lively case, the Coalition has established relationships with LGBTQ activists in Uganda with whom they’re able to consult and collaborate.

As Spees points out, “It is essential that those of us in the U.S. own the problem as stemming from the United States, and take the lead in this fight against U.S. extremists, in solidarity with those most affected, and not paternalistically. We can’t expect people abroad, who are being brutally targeted, to trace these guys all the way back to their home communities in the States. We are the ones to stem that tide.”

Proclamations, petitions, boycotts, and social justice swag may have their place, but nothing will ever compare to the on-the-ground work of grassroots, person-to-person movement building in our own communities. After all, it’s only when we’re in relationship with one another that we become able to see the deeper connections between our lives, our families, our communities, and our movements.

Nazism, Godwin’s Law, and the Far Right

obama hitler

There is an internet adage coined in the 1990s by Mike Godwin called Godwin’s Law. The rule states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the possibility of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” This adage is often invoked to signal desperation in an argument. The use of such inappropriate and hyperbolic language suggests the side making the comparison has exhausted any substantive rhetorical devices.

Among the Far Right’s favorite phraseological bricks to throw at anything or anyone they do not approve of are the terms “Nazi” and “Hitler.” Comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are nothing new in politics, and people from both the Far Left to the Far Right have invoked the Third Reich for comparative fodder for decades. In 2011 Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) compared Republican plans to repeal Obamacare to Nazism and the Holocaust. George H.W. Bush called Saddam Hussein the “new Hitler,” while building support for Desert Storm.

Members of the Far Right, however, outshine their peers in their cavalier and demagogic use of Nazi terminology.

This name-calling phenomenon is a good example of using a word to invoke a meaning that does not reflect the actual nature of a concept. Instead, it reflects an attempt to conflate anything the Far Right finds objectionable with Nazism. But the Far Right leaders’ use of Nazi terminology is not thoughtless. Their practice of invoking Nazism and Hitler is both shrewd and fraught.

There are political benefits to reducing something as complex and nuanced as the current state of the United States to being a direct analogue to the Third Reich. At this year’s Values Voters Summit (VVS), former Arkansas legislator Jim Bob Duggar compared the current state of the U.S. to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, saying “that’s where we are at in our nation.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has compared those skeptical about defunding Obamacare to “Nazi appeasers.” By using Nazi terminology and conflating it with anything “bad”, people such as Duggar and Cruz are able to conceal conceptual complexity under rhetoric that is both inflammatory and simplistic.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer and anti-LGBTQ crusader Scott Lively both claim gays were responsible for the Nazi Party and the Holocaust (suggesting an understanding of German history based solely on Mel Brook’s The Producers). Fischer also claims LGBTQ Americans are “literally” Nazis and will launch a new Spanish Inquisition. Glenn Beck was quoted on Honest Questions With D.L. Hughley saying, “ I think Jesus Christ and Hitler had a lot in common, and that was they could both look you in the eye and say, ‘I’ve got an answer for you, follow me.’ One was evil; one was good.” Mixed metaphors such as Fischer’s and Beck’s are par for the course when talking about the Far Right and Nazi terminology.

The Far Right’s weaponized soundbites are, on one hand, an attempt to vilify anything they disapprove of by linking the issue in question to one of the darkest moments in history. Institutions and people that the Far Right have compared to Nazis and/or Hitler include: the IRS, feminists, NPR, religious pluralism, secularism, Boy Scouts, Obamacare, gun laws and background checks, and abortion. Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel has cited an “exact comparison between those who stood by silently during the Nazi Holocaust and those who today stand by silently and allow, accept the abortion holocaust.” Again, a mixed metaphor, but in a way, whether or not such comparisons hold up to scrutiny does not matter. Mention of Nazi Germany can engender a reflexive and involuntary sense of disapproval that allows Far Right leaders to bypass conceptual complexity and accuracy in favor of a passionate knee-jerk response.

Nazi rhetoric also justifies an evangelical, pre-millennial dispensational ideology. Many people thought that Hitler and the Third Reich were a sign of the end times, and that no atrocity could be more horrific. If humanity is going to usher in the end times and the second coming of Christ, humanity must be in a state that rivals or is worse than that during the Third Reich. Pat Robertson speaks to this effect, having stated that the “abortion holocaust” has been more lethal than Hitler’s Holocaust. Truth In Action has also released content claiming that the US “is becoming Nazi Germany.”

Along these lines, another way to look at this rhetorical phenomenon is how it represents an ideal for the Far Right. It seems that they wish that the United States were more like the Third Reich. Such conditions would create a call to action they so desperately desire. If, in the U.S., Christians were being persecuted like the Nazis persecuted Jews, if homosexuals were Nazis, and if abortion provided a direct corollary to the Holocaust, then the Far Right might be justified in their outrage. This idea is reflected in the hypothetical nature of a lot of the Nazi rhetoric being used by the Far Right. Glenn Beck has commented on how the Obama administration could “shut down the Tea Party” and “round up” Tea Party members like Hitler did to the Jews. It isn’t happening, but it would justify Beck’s rancor if it were.

In a way, the Far Right is attempting to reverse engineer a Nazi state by labeling anything they disapprove of as an analogue to the Third Reich. Far Right leaders wish to invoke Nazism as a way to justify their vitriolic hatred of any number of diverse groups, people, and ideas.

Labels create a favorable condition in which complex, nuanced, and often abstract ideas can be reduced to simple words and concepts. They are often useful for groups of people who want to gain political room, but can be problematic and reductive when a person or a group of people let the word choose the meaning, instead of the other way around. The Far Right ignores the loaded nature of such terminology, choosing to use Nazi rhetoric to evoke passionate fear and anger. From an outside perspective, though, the Far Right’s use of Nazi terminology seems to suggest a group of people who have lost an argument and have resorted to petty name-calling. So while the Far Right may be using Nazi terminology for a purpose, that purpose seems mainly to be desperation.

Profiles on the Right: Brian Brown

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marraige

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marraige

Brian Brown, perhaps most infamous for his tendency to equate the LGBTQ community to pedophiles, is the current president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and a hard-line member of the Christian Right. A Quaker turned Roman Catholic, Brown has been a key player in the anti-equality movement for over two decades—even moving his family to California in 2008 for the sole purpose of defending the now-repealed Proposition 8 ballot initiative. Brown’s most recent anti-LGBTQ crusades have involved the exportation of homophobia to Russia and, on a domestic level, supporting the anti-transgender movement in public schools.

Co-founder and original executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, Brown succeeded Maggie Gallagher as president in 2010 when she accepted the title of president at the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, an anti-marriage equality think tank. NOM’s main goal is defending the “traditional family,” meaning that the organization does everything within its power to prevent same-sex couples from gaining civil rights, most particularly the right to marry.

One of the organization’s biggest strengths is its ability to keep the sources of its funding secret.  In a previous report that details the anti-LGBT movement, it is recognized that Brown uses the promise of anonymity as a fundraising tool, telling prospective donors that “unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from same-sex marriage protestors.” NOM has also defended its financials by suing states such as California and Maine when they have asked for the organization to disclose its financials. PRA’s profile on NOM also notes: “In response to a 2010 ethics investigation from the state of Maine, NOM committed millions for litigation to delay disclosure in the courts as long as possible.”

NOM’s desire to shroud its monies in secrecy should come as no surprise, given that the IRS recently opened an investigation on the organization’s financials.

Brown also employs results-driven strategies against his opposition, and carefully avoids placing blame on individuals, instead asserting that “good-hearted people can have ideas that are profoundly wrong.” He further deflects blame away from himself by claiming he has friends and family who are gay, and that they “can disagree on all sorts of things and still care about each other.”

If Brown cares about his “gay friends” at all, it’s certainly not apparent in his actions. In June, Brown headed to Moscow on the invitation of Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an organization that has been hell-bent on forwarding horrific anti-LGBTQ legislation abroad. In Moscow, Brown and other WCF supporters testified before Russian Parliament in support of banning same-sex couples from adopting children. In a transcript posted by the Duma, Brown told Russian lawmakers that “We will unite. We will defend our children and their normal civil rights. Every child must have the right to normal parents: a mother and a father.”

Brown and WCF certainly touted some influence in Moscow, days after Brown left, the Duma not only passed the adoption law, but also began to debate a frightening proposal to remove children from the homes of LGBTQ parents.

Another aspect of Brown’s stratagem is the utilization of fear-driven hyperbole. In a 2011 newsletter that reflects on the Senate hearings on repealing DOMA, Brown declared “President Obama and the hard-left core of the Democratic Party in Washington declared war on marriage, on federalism, on democracy and on religious liberty.”

In another NOM newsletter, Brown described the push to legalize same-sex marriage as analogous to accepting pedophiles. He inquired if the “pedophiles [will] become “minor-attracted persons” in our culture? Will courts which endorse orientation as a protected class decide down the road that therefore laws which discriminate against ‘minor-attracted persons’ must be narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest?” However skewed his rhetoric, Brown is still careful to not demonize the individual.

Brown’s crusades are not limited to the LGB community though, his most recent domestic crusade is against transgender students in California public schools. In August, 2013, California passed a bill that allows transgender students to use facilities and participate in after-school activities that correspond with their gender identity. The bill, scheduled to take effect in January 2014, gives California transgender students a chance at equality in an already-uphill battle.

Brown characterizes the new bill as “horrible,” a “weapon,” and said that it “doesn’t prevent bullying – it is bullying. It is not about protecting kids; it damages kids.” Brown further urges readers to sign a petition drawn up by Privacy for All Students (PAS) in an effort to overturn non-discrimination requirements, claiming the legislation “is politically-correct madness that risks the privacy and security of our children and grandchildren.”

NOM and PAS only support gender-conforming youth, refusing to even refer to the students they’re persecuting as transgender, preferring to say they have “so-called gender identities.”

As strategic as he is, Brown’s rhetoric is causing him to fall out of public favor. At the 2013 Values Voters Summit, Brown complained that media outlets such as ABC and CNN seldom give him air-time anymore.  But make no mistake, NOM still reaches many, as exemplified by the wide support the 2013 “Marriage March” on Washington, D.C. garnered. And Brown only seems to be motivated by equality victories. After the defeat of both Prop 8 and DOMA, Brown called the DOMA decision “an absolute travesty” and in The Huffington Post said “The National Organization for Marriage intends to vigorously urge Congress to safeguard the remaining portion of DOMA, which protects the right of states to refuse to recognize same-sex ‘marriages’ performed elsewhere.”

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Profiles on the Right: Sandy Rios

Sandy Rios

Sandy Rios

Sandy Rios is the right-wing radio host of Sandy Rios in the Morning on American Family Radio, as well as a regular contributor to FOX News and conservative blogger. Her on-screen/on-air persona takes an unfiltered, unapologetically hard line on current social and political issues such as marriage equality, women’s health issues, universal health care and gun control. When off the air, she serves as vice president of Family-Pac Federal, a political action committee dedicated to funding “pro-family, Conservative candidates,” and is the former president of both the Culture Campaign and Concerned Women For America.

She takes to the airwaves every morning, Monday through Friday, espousing her views on current events, taking calls from listeners, and hosting special guests such as Ann Coulter. Her style of political analysis mirrors the homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and conspiracy theorist viewpoints of her conservative talk show peers such as Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity—all of whom she has enjoyed guest appearances with. A theme she promotes frequently throughout her work is the idea that there is a cultural war afoot against evangelical Christian values, painting an epic struggle in politics between good and evil, allies and enemies. She frequently cites victories in civil rights, free speech, and women’s health as proof that morality has disintegrated in America and the nation is on a path of self-destruction. Rios freely mixes political analysis with religious rhetoric, often asking or claiming that God will intervene in current events and enact retribution.

Like many other conservatives who continually attack President Obama, Rios delivers frequent paranoid diatribes against him, calling Obama a communist and a radical Muslim-sympathizer. In some of her more disturbing anti-Muslim and anti-Obama segments, which are often intertwined, Rios has accused President Obama of building bridges with Islamic leaders at the expense of American and Christian lives.  “We have every right to suspect a dangerous connection,” she writes, between President Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the aftermath of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood by former Army Medical Corps officer Nidal Hasan, Rios and others blamed Obama and his tolerance of Muslims for the incident.

Sandy Rios recently received negative media attention for statements she made at the conservative 2013 Values Voters Summit. She delivered a speech describing Matthew Shepard’s murder as a “complete fraud”  and manipulative tool of the LGBT movement to gain popular sympathy (watch: http://bit.ly/19zRGu6), capitalizing on the publishing of a new book by Stephen Jimenez which purports the motive for Shepard’s murder stemmed from  a “drug deal gone bad” and not his sexuality.

Fighting the steady advance of the LGBT rights movement has been one of Rios’s staple topics of discussion recently, especially as the tide appears to be shifting toward a more tolerant, or at least silent, stance within the Republican Party platform. In 2011, she wrote bitter articles questioning Mitt Romney’s commitment to conservative values and she recently wrote a blog post condemning moderation with regard to marriage equality, urging Republicans to hold to the party platform that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. She accused those, like Dick Cheney and Laura Bush, who have eased their stances on the issue of “fickle, feckless leadership in dangerous times.” She has linked such events as the advent AIDS, the Penn State sex abuse scandal, and reports of poor national scholastic performance to gains in equal rights for LGBT persons and is a strong proponent of the so-called “ex-gay” movement.

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