Monday, September 1, 2014

Demonstrators Protest Outside World Congress of Families Conference

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


  1. As an Australian myself, I was actually disappointed I didn't live in Melbourne, as I found this conference all rather morbidly fascinating, and would've loved to have been a fly on the wall at it. I remember first hearing of it a month or two before it happened, and being not-at-all surprised to see who would be speaking at it (the politicians included!); it was a real "who's who" of the Australian religious right (my first reaction to a lot of the names on the program was "You're still alive?!"). Unfortunately, being the cross-dressing metalhead I am, I would've found it hard to attend the conference and fly under the radar of the other attendees, as most of my wardrobe consists of (at one extreme) heavy metal T-shirts and (at the other) pretty satin shirts, so it would've been hard just to find something to wear to the event that would not have immediately marked me out as a member of the forces of evil (I could well imagine all the other people there taking one look at me, pointing at me, and uttering terrible, alien-sounding screams a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

    Not at all surprised to see that Kevin Andrews was to have been one of the speakers. He's a smarmy prick that one. One of his previous dubious "achievements" was coming up with something called Workchoices: an Orwellian (and widely reviled) piece of industrial relations legislation that was intended to smash the unions and strip workers of most of their rights (the only "choice" it gave most employees was "Sign this shitty new contract (one that slashes your pay and strips you of most of your previous entitlements), or go look for another job!"). While that legislation was thankfully rescinded, many in his party (including a lot of the God-botherers) are itching to bring it back, constantly espousing as they are the virtues of "workplace flexibility": a term that's become a dog whistle here for making workers virtual slaves of their employers (not surprisingly, the "flexibility" is intended to go only one way!). Sort of funny how these people are claiming that it's the decline of the nuclear family that's the leading cause of poverty, rather than the shitty economic neoliberal policies they promote!

    1. Zosimus -- Glad to hear you're a metalhead who marches to a different drum. Heavy metal fans are always welcome here.

      I wasn't aware of Andrew's policies, but they sound troubling. He'd fit right in with the American Religious Right. You make an insightful point -- the far right definitely uses distractions to mislead people about the true roots of poverty, and it's time people called them out on it.

  2. Sure abortion is in the same category as ISIS violence. Every time a suicide aborted fetus blows up it destroys everyone in the clinic. I wonder if these people are actually capable of rubbing two brain cells together?

    1. Christian -- Hyperbole, not logic, is their strong suit. I wonder how victims of ISIS violence feel about Hanrahan's comment?


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