As discussed in a prior post, the World Congress of Families had a stressful week. The WCF's 2014 Melbourne conference, scheduled for August 30th, was beset by multiple venue cancellations, as well as negative publicity from the release of a hard-hitting report by Human Rights Campaign. Eventually, Catch the Fire Ministries in Hallam (a suburb of Melbourne) agreed to host the conference, but WCF's problems did not end there.
Earlier this year, World Congress had named Australia's Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews as its 2014 "Natural Family Man of the Year", awarding a similar accolade to Nigerian anti-gay activist Theresa Okafor. Members of the Australian Senate urged Andrews and other MPs to avoid the conference. Andrews, who was scheduled to open the conference, eventually backed out, as did Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark and other political leaders. Danny Nalliah, head of the right-wing Rise Up Australia party, called Andrews' withdrawal a "cop out", according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
When the conference finally took place over the weekend, opponents organized an on-site protest. ABC News (Australia) reports that roughly fifty demonstrators protested outside Catch the Fire Ministries on Saturday, condemning the anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ content of the conference. Pink News reported that over one hundred protesters were present. Police were on hand to prevent altercations between protesters and conference attendees. David van Gend from the Australian Marriage Forum called the protesters a "feral mob", reports the Age.
During the protest, some demonstrators made statements with festive costume, music, and performances. Burlesque performer Freckles Blue took part in a rainbow ice bucket challenge to show her support for inclusion. Additionally, American cosmologist Lawrence Krauss was on hand to show solidarity with the protesters.
Progressive organizations used the protest to send a clear message to the World Conference of Families and its allies. "Their idea of love and family and so on is to straightjacket women back into that authoritarian, patriarchal family, and to closet lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex people," said Debbie Brennan of Radical Women in a video posted at SBS News.
At least one protester brought her message inside the event. The Age reports that inside the conference, a female infiltrator ran on stage and poured fake blood on her white clothing, shouting "We don't want your backyard abortions" before being escorted out by security.
Meanwhile, conference speakers shared troubling messages with the audience.
- Larry Jacobs, managing director of the WCF, insisted that marriage and nuclear families were key to ending poverty, arguing that "Ninety per cent of poverty can be solved simply through the affirmation of marriage," according to the Age.
- According to the Guardian, American anti-abortion activist Angela Lanfranchi repeated her claim that abortion is correlated with increased risk of breast cancer (ignoring ample evidence to the contrary).
- Paul Hanrahan, executive director of Family Life International Australia, put abortion in the same moral category as ISIS violence in the Middle East. "Many people lately have been upset at the terrible atrocities being committed in the name of religion in Iraq and Syria and other places," he said, according to the Age. "Terrorists and terrorists' kids holding severed heads is certainly gruesome. Answer me this: how is it worse?"
As long as the far right continues to promote backwards messages that are not grounded in reality, enlightened people will condemn them. Kudos to the many voices that called out the World Congress of Families conference and protested their event in Australia.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The Guardian: I went to the World Congress of Families and all I got was this lousy foetus stress toy
GLAAD: The World Congress of Families sparks protests in Australia. Let's examine why.
Sydney Morning Herald: Allowing unpleasant views to be heard exposes them to ridicule they deserve
Right Wing Watch: Australian Politicians Back Out Of World Congress Of Families Event, Citing Far-Right Ties