The Southern Poverty Law Center's decision to add several anti-gay Religious Right organizations to its list of hate groups has attracted much attention these past few weeks. Anti-gay organizations such as the Family Research Council, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH), and the American Family Association are among the groups that the SPLC categorized as hate groups due to their homophobic statements.
In response, a plethora of right-wing groups and conservative political leaders have signed a statement expressing solidarity with the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and other "pro-family" organizations recently labeled hate groups by SPLC. The web page for this statement, ironically named "Start Debating, Stop Hating", calls SPLC a "liberal fundraising machine" and frames its recent actions as an "attack" on groups that embrace Judeo-Christian moral values. Right Wing Watch has commentary on the statement and its implications here. In response, the SPLC published a commentary at Hatewatch reminding readers about the false and homophobic claims that several designated hate groups have made about the LGBT community.
SPLC's decision to label these organization as hate groups was not made lightly, but rather was due to these group's repeated false assertions. In a December 7th webcast, SPLC president Richard Cohen and SPLC Intelligence Project director Mark Potok discussed the anti-gay rhetoric these groups have set forth and the SPLC's reasoning for labeling them hate groups. At the 4:01 mark of part one, Cohen and Potok explain that the Family Research Council was categorized as a hate group because of its false claims linking homosexuality to pedophilia.
COHEN: So Mark, summarize for us the basic reason, or the key reason why we've listed the Family Research Council as a hate group is what?Potok elaborates at the 8:18 mark of part one.
POTOK: Their continued association of homosexuality, or gay men in particular, with pedophilia, something that's been shown scientifically to be completely false.
POTOK: Our view at SPLC, as a general matter, is that whole each person is entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own set of the facts. So when groups go out and say gay people live thirty years shorter than heterosexuals, and so on, that gay people are vastly overrepresented among child molesters, that ... Hitler was a gay man, and so on, these are absolute falsehoods. These are provably false assertions that have the effect of demonizing an entire group of people, and that kind of demonization ultimately leads to criminal violence in many cases, and we're talking about a community, the LGBT community, which is incredibly overrepresented among victims of hate crimes.The false claim that homosexuals abuse children is a well-worn homophobic tool. Right Wing Watch has meticulously documented claims by the AFA's Bryan Fischer, AFTAH's Peter LaBarbera, and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins that incorrectly correlate homosexuality with child sexual abuse.
Cohen and Potok explore the potential of this hateful rhetoric to foment violence against LGBT persons. At the 1:31 mark of part 2, Cohen and Potok discuss the relationship between anti-gay propaganda and homophobic hate crimes.
COHEN: We've never accused, you know, any of their members of engaging in violence or anything like that. I know it's not even a criterion for our listing them as hate groups. But would you say that the rhetoric of these groups, like the Family Research Council, like some of the other groups that we've listed, like the Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, the American Family Association, all these benign-sounding names. Do you think in some way their rhetoric contributes to an atmosphere where violence occurs?
POTOK: I absolutely do. You know, it's one of those unprovable propositions, because who's to say exactly what is influencing one particular hate criminal's mind at a given moment. But it seems clear that, among other things, gays and lesbians have been defamed probably more consistently than any minority, certainly over the last 15-20 years in this country, so it's very little surprise when these groups and individuals come out and really say quite extraordinary things. "These people" are coming to recruit your children for homosexuality in the school, they are really Nazis, or the Nazis were really gay men, and so on. It's no surprise at all that we see this kind of rhetoric translate into criminal violence.
COHEN: I guess if you describe a group as evil, immoral, disease-ridden, it's basically saying they're less than the rest of us.
POTOK: That's right. And I think the part about frightening people about their children has probably been their single most effective scare-mongering tactic.
Homophobic claims by some Religious Right groups are not only untrue, but contribute to a cultural atmosphere of anti-gay hostility. If we are concerned about the discrimination and hate crimes that LGBT people encounter, we need to be concerned about anti-gay statements by the Family Research Council and like-minded groups
For commentary on anti-gay rhetoric and the SPLC's decision, visit the following links.
Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Religious right leader admits to using bad research to demonize gay community, sees nothing wrong with it
Box Turtle Bulletin: An Answer to LaBarbera's Challenge to the SPLC