The Human Rights Campaign released a new report this week detailing how one U.S. group, the World Congress of Families, is pushing an anti-gay agenda that has ties to North Africa’s anti-gay laws and Russia’s gay propaganda bans.
The Illinois-based World Congress of Families claims to support a “pro-family” ideology, and is active in several different countries. Labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group’s next big annual international convention will take place in Salt Lake City in October, the first time that the convention will be held on U.S. soil, and the HRC is keen for people to know exactly what kind of a group the World Congress of Families is, and what it is doing in the world.
The report (pdf), called “Exposed: The World Congress of Families,” stresses that the group has a variety of links to American-based religious conservative groups, religious authorities and, even, politicians:
WCF is an organization with strong ties to American religious and conservative groups — including Focus on the Family, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association and Family Research Council — and religious groups — such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Knights of Columbus. High-level elected officials, including former President George W. Bush and members of his administration, have supported and praised WCF’s efforts.
It also notes that the board of the WCF is exclusively American. It receives some support from its parent organization, The Howard Center, but it is largely funded by outside sources, including other religious conservative organizations and, the HRC claims in this report, also some oversees donors from places like Russia — that said, most of its funding, which the WCF has claimed adds up to about $216 million a year, appears to be from American sources.
The report notes that in recent times the WCF, whom the infamous Scott Lively has had close dealings with, has set up footholds in several nations but has perhaps in recent times been most actively engaged in Russia. Indeed, it appears to have had a considerable hand in supporting Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, and has subsequently sought to defend the law by arguing that the law never expressly discriminates against LGBTs — which of course it demonstrably does, and for good measure has been interpreted to make any and all LGBT rights advocacy in danger of being quelled.
All the WCF’s work in Russia was meant to culminate in a Congress being held in Moscow this year, but with the annexation of Crimea, the WCF’s American backers began to get cold feet and the Congress has been suspended indefinitely — as a result, and as noted above, the group now plans to hold the event in Salt Lake City.
The WCF’s anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights work isn’t confined to just Russia, however. The report notes that WCF events have been held in countries like Poland, where the WCF pushed for “Don’t Say Gay” in school legislation, and that the group has made its presence felt in other Eastern European nations like Serbia where it played a role in cancelling the Belgrade pride event by beefing up the numbers of an opposition rally that the authorities said meant the Pride event would turn into a security risk.
Venturing over to African nations, the report highlights how the WCF’s continued advocacy of its anti-gay, anti-women’s rights stance has contributed to the push in several North African nations to further criminalize LGBTs and to roll back or stop progress on women’s rights, sex education and sexual health screenings.
Indeed, the WCF has been caught encouraging countries like Nigeria to break its international commitments:
In 2011, longtime WCF partner Sharon Slater gave an address at a WCF-sponsored event in Nigeria attended by high-level government officials and policymakers. Slater urged these leaders to resist calls to decriminalize homosexuality. The following year, Larry Jacobs spoke at a WCF event in Lagos, Nigeria, with the theme “The School, The Family, The Student.” Jacobs delivered two addresses, titled, “Children’s Rights vs. Children’s Needs” and “Alive To The World: A Complete K-12 Curriculum for Values, Democracy and Healthy Sexuality.”
WCF has also been working hard in Australia where, knowing that so-called propaganda laws won’t float, it has been trying to stop marriage equality:
As early as 2006, WCF founder and International Secretary Allan Carlson praised the Australian national government for blocking civil union legislation in the Capital Territory. Carlson went on a tour of Australia in 2008, giving speeches and meeting with activists in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. In Perth, he addressed more than 200 people at the national convention of the Australian Family Association, according to a WCF newsletter. Carlson returned to Australia in 2010 to give the keynote address at “National Marriage Day,” which commemorates the passage of Australia’s Marriage Amendment Act of 2004, defining marriage as “a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”
The HRC report also offers us this very interesting tidbit of information regarding the WCF’s connection with the current anti-gay marriage Australian government:
2013′s World Congress in Sydney was attended by 600 activists and leaders. One attendee and longtime WCF leader was conservative activist Kevin Andrews. Andrews was later appointed Minister of Social Services by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott has staunchly opposed marriage equality, calling it the “fashion of the moment.”
It appears that the World Congress of Families might be running low on support in Australia however, as reports tell that the organization has been finding it hard to find a venue to host a meeting there.
The WFC also remains active in the United States. The group has previously been given space to hold a meeting on Capitol Hill by House Speaker John Boehner. As noted above, it now plans to hold a meeting in Salt Lake City which is expected to draw around 3,000 people. The WFC’s theme for this event will be “religious liberty.” While we’ve yet to see official programs detailing exactly the kind of talks that will be happening at the event, we can expect that this will probably contain speeches about how same-sex marriage rights and wider equality legislation are “infringing” on religious rights, something that has become a go-to for religious groups who, seeing that out-and-out anti-gay positions get little support, are trying to play the victim card.
We may ask why this report is really needed given that the WFC is still only one group, but it is important to stress just how active some American groups are in promoting their anti-gay agendas abroad. What’s more, it serves to show that while we definitely should appreciate and be glad for the gay rights progress in countries like the United States, we must remain mindful that while the U.S. Religious Right isn’t as powerful domestically on this issue, it is showing considerable muscle abroad, something that is actively hurting Europe and Africa’s LGBT communities.