U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF

About Cole Parke

Russia WCF.1

Earlier this week, representatives of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups from Russia, Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, France, Serbia, and the United States (including the infamous Scott Lively) convened in Moscow to make plans for the World Congress of Families VIII, which will be held there in September 2014.

As reported by Right Wing Watch in a recent series of articles exploring the slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation (and violence) in Russia over the last several months, the World Congress of Families’ choice of venue is no coincidence. To say that the WCF is the primary force behind this onslaught of legislated homophobia would be far too simplistic of an assessment; however, we would be foolish to ignore the role that it plays.

The WCF was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson and is a project of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society based in Rockford, Illinois. Though it aims to be an international network of social conservative groups, their Board of Directors is entirely US-based and the vast majority of their support comes from the U.S. Religious Right, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, United Families International, the Alliance Defense Fund, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Concerned Women for America.

It is, in short, the “who’s who” of right wing power players leading the charge against LGBTQ people in a merciless struggle to eliminate anyone who doesn’t fit into their cookie cutter mold of what Carlson calls “the natural family.” Below is the definition of “natural family” provided on the WCF’s website:

“The natural family is 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, for the purposes of:

  • satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love;
  • welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
  • sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
  • building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning;
  • extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.”

Interestingly, much of Carlson’s understanding of the family is drawn from the work of Pitirim Sorokin, a Russian-born sociologist, and in fact the very idea for a “world congress of families” began in the mid-1990s when Carlson met with Dr. Ivan Schevchenko, head of the Russia’s right-wing Orthodox Brotherhood of Scientists and Specialists.  Which necessarily provokes the question, “When it comes to the culture wars, who’s exporting and who’s importing?”

It seems that the Cold War-era arms race has reemerged as a present-day pogrom—a race to see who can out-hate the gays first.

Following the passage of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law last month, WCF signed a letter of support for the legislation, ignoring the international outcry that erupted in its wake. Praising Russians as the “Christian saviors of the world,” WCF’s managing director

Larry Jacobs
clearly sees Russia as a model to be replicated. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (another WCF partner) declared that the new law was precisely the kind of “public policy that we’ve been advocating,” lamenting only that he wished it had been even more expansive in its oppressive scope. Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (yet another WCF affiliate) said, “Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth.”

Is it possible that these leaders in anti-LGBTQ activism here in the U.S. might also feel a tad jealous of Russia’s success? And as they drool over the censorship and silencing and cheer the potential destruction of LGBTQ families, what are U.S. leaders learning from their Russian heroes? Besides the obligatory assortment of tacky souvenirs and mementos (for members of their “natural families,” of course), what might the U.S. attendees of next year’s WCF-Moscow event bring home with them?

With Russia as their model, will anti-LGBTQ leaders in Tennessee finally succeed in passing the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that is anticipated to be re-introduced next year? Will we see an increase in attacks on same-sex parenting here in the U.S.? Will U.S. Pride parades become less celebratory and more dangerous?

As we seek to understand the various ways in which U.S. players are contributing to the rising homo-hysteria in Russia, we must also be mindful of what they might be bringing back from their travels abroad. No doubt, some souvenirs will be best left unwrapped.

Cole Parke, research analyst at PRA, studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, earned their Master’s in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, and has been working at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality as an activist, organizer, and scholar for more than a decade. Their research and writing examines the infrastructure, mechanisms, strategies, and effects of the Religious Right on LGBTQ people and reproductive rights, both domestically and internationally, always with an eye toward collective liberation.