According to one of the activists who successfully infiltrated last weekend’s World Congress of Families (WCF) event in Melbourne, Australia, Larry Jacobs—vice president of the U.S.-based Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and managing director of the WCF—said that what’s going on in Russia and Uganda is “very exciting.”
He’s referring, of course, to the Anti-Propaganda Law in Russia and the Anti-Homosexuality Act (formerly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”) in Uganda, as well as—no doubt—the equally regressive measures taken against sexual and reproductive health & rights (SRHR) in both countries.
To depict the persecution of LGBTQ people and the elimination of SRHR as “exciting” is to suggest that the steady erosion of human rights is like a sporting event that Jacobs happens to be a spectating, and his callous portrayal of legislation that effectively robs people of their safety, dignity, and freedom very clearly demonstrates the need for human rights advocates around the world to get out of their seats and onto the field.
In any case, Jacobs is far from being an innocent spectator in the ground game of global attacks on LGBTQ people and SRHR. In a Mother Jones article published earlier this year, Hannah Levintova writes, “[T]he rise of anti-gay laws in Russia has mirrored, almost perfectly, the rise of WCF’s work in the country, with 13 new anti-gay laws passed since Jacobs first traveled there. When I ask Jacobs if WCF’s work has contributed to this pattern, he laughs and says, ‘Yes, I think that is accurate.’”
The World Congress of Families was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson and is a project of The Howard Center based in Rockford, Illinois. The network of organizations that comprise its member base is essentially the who’s who of right-wing power players leading the charge against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice around the world.
Though it asserts itself as an international network, WCF’s Board of Directors is entirely U.S.-based and the vast majority of their support comes from the American Religious Right, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, United Families International, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Concerned Women for America.
The organization aggressively pursues a global anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda. WCF’s articulated “purpose” is to “defend the family and to guide public policy and cultural norms,” particularly concerning “divorce, devaluation of parenting, declining family time, morally relativistic public education, confusions over sexual identity, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, poverty, human trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, isolation of the elderly, excessive taxation and below-replacement fertility.”
Though much of their rhetoric is dominated by threats and warnings, occasionally, suggestions (completely lacking in any sort of research or reality-based backing) emerge. At the Melbourne gathering, for example, Jacobs told his audience, “We have to find the truth, and the truth says that statistically there is no better place for a child to be [than a conventional family]. Ninety per cent of poverty can be solved simply through the affirmation of marriage.”
Their dispersal of conservative ideologies largely takes place at international conferences, or “Congresses,” which have steadily increased in size and funding. These events have also served to build WCF’s international influence by bringing together elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars from around the world.
This most recent event was a smaller, regional gathering, but Australian human rights advocates rightfully treated it like the extreme threat that it is. A coalition of organizers and activists from a broad range of progressive struggles teamed up to expose, resist, and contain the influence of the WCF in Australia, utilizing a range of tactics and strategies:
- In order to prevent conservative participants from attending, activists RSVP’d en masse to limit the number of available seats for actual interested parties.
- Negative publicity instigated by activists forced four different venues to back out of hosting the event, creating mayhem for the event’s organizers as they were forced to repeatedly create alternate plans.
- Adding to the mayhem, activists also launched a pressure campaign targeting the handful of Australian politicians who were scheduled to participate in the conference. Less than a day before the event was scheduled to begin, most of them pulled out, including social services minister Kevin Andrews, who was set to receive WCF’s “Natural Family Man of the Year” award.
- The event itself, which did eventually find a willing host (of the right-wing variety, of course), was further disrupted by a large-scale “Unwelcome Ceremony,” a family-friendly “Block Party Against Hate,” human blockades aimed at preventing participants from entering the venue, and direct action protests inside coordinated by activists who successfully infiltrated the space.
Since PRA first began exposing the exportation of U.S. culture wars in 2009, we’ve been working closely with human rights advocates around the world to expand the conversation beyond the crisis on the ground in places like Uganda and Russia, where LGBTQ people are being increasingly persecuted and reproductive justice is under constant attack.
As our understanding and analysis of the global impact of right-wing U.S. evangelical Christians—like those involved with WCF—has begun to gain national and international attention, LGBTQ people, progressive faith leaders, human rights advocates, and many others are increasingly asking the inevitable question, “What can we do?”
Australian activists have just offered us a beautiful template.
Our research has repeatedly demonstrated that the crisis of today is made possible by years and years of systematic, targeted, and carefully choreographed campaigns designed to restrict bodily autonomy, propagate restrictive definitions for family, love, and relationship, and persecute LGBTQ people. Consequently, for us to achieve the liberation that we dream of, the response to the question, “What can we do?” requires a similar level of planning, organization, creativity, and commitment, built on a strong foundation of deep understanding and thoughtful analysis rooted in intersectional approaches to collective liberation.
The World Congress of Families will be hosting their next major gathering here in the U.S., in Salt Lake City, Utah in October 2015. What can we do to ensure that the true nature of their work is made known and their impact—both locally and internationally—is restricted?