Monday, September 22, 2014
When People You Respect Break Bread with the Far Right
For the most part, it's easy to condemn the Religious Right when it engages in disturbing activism, such as attacks on LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights. What do you do, however, when the Religious Right collaborates with people you respect on important issues?
The Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation is one such collaboration that leaves me with mixed feelings. According to its website, the coalition was created to address pornography, help victims of sexual exploitation, and allow activists to network and share resources.
I believe that we as a society need to have public conversations about unethical practices in adult entertainment, the harms of depicting violence against women in porn, and the consequences of commodifying sexuality. We need to have public conversations about what healthy, egalitarian sexuality looks like, and how we can promote an enlightened sexual ethic for all people. In that sense, I respect efforts to foster that public conversation and aid those who have been ill-treated by the adult entertainment industry. However, when organizations with dubious reputations join that effort, I find myself wondering what their motives are.
The website for the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation has a list of member organizations, which includes both feminist groups and right-wing groups. The feminist organization Stop Porn Culture was among its members. Unfortunately, so were countless Religious Right Organizations, including C-FAM, American Family Association, Family Research Council, Family Watch International, Illinois Family Institute, and Concerned Women for America. I was alarmed to see a feminist organization listed among so many right-wing groups. What's an organization like you doing with a crowd like this? I thought.
In May 2014, the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation took part in an anti-pornography conference in Tysons Corner, VA. Hosted by Morality in Media and PornHarms, the conference featured well-known anti-violence and anti-pornography activists. Gail Dines, president of Stop Porn Culture and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, delivered workshops entitled "Sex, Identity, and Intimacy in a Porn Culture" and "Winning the Argument: Messaging to Young Adults". Cordelia Anderson and Sharon Cooper, board members of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, participated in a panel discussion on "Pornography and the Colonization of Childhood".
I was pleased that Dines, Anderson, and Cooper were among the speakers, since they have worked hard to confront violence against women and children. Unfortunately, alongside these advocates were activists with less savory backgrounds. Among them was Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International and one of several anti-gay activists profiled in the Human Rights Campaign report Export of Hate. Slater was scheduled to deliver a workshop entitled "Exposing and Halting the International Sexual Rights Agenda: There is Something Everyone Can Do". Laila Mickelwait, manager of policy and public affairs at Exodus Cry (an anti-trafficking ministry), took part in a panel discussion entitled "Inside Porn: What Is the Real Truth?" Exodus Cry is a department of the International House of Prayer, a New Apostolic Reformation ministry with a history of anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, and patriarchal rhetoric.
Moreover, the conference was co-sponsored by right-wing groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, and Family Watch International. The Family Research Council was one of several organizations that provided scholarships for attendees.
When I saw advocates I respect on the conference program alongside Religious Right voices, my heart sank. I oppose trafficking, exploitation and adult entertainment that dehumanizes its participants, but I do not trust the Religious Right to tackle those problems without ulterior motives. Can organizations with long histories of anti-LGBTQ and patriarchal messaging be trusted to promote an inclusive vision of healthy, egalitarian sexuality? I don't think they can.
I struggle to understand why otherwise enlightened activists are breaking bread with Religious Right groups. Is it because these issues are so important that they can't afford to be picky about allies? Is it because they seek to promote anti-trafficking, anti-violence discourses wherever they can, even in right-wing quarters? Is it because left-leaning organizations are reluctant to engage in anti-pornography efforts, compelling anti-porn activists to seek allies elsewhere? I don't know.
I worry that alliances with right-wing organizations could come back to haunt these well-meaning activists. The world is becoming increasingly aware of the Religious Right's activities at home and abroad, and well-meaning organizations that collaborate with the Religious Right may be criticized for those collaborations later. Furthermore, if the Religious Right dominates the public conversation on adult entertainment and sexuality, they could shape the conversation in unpleasant ways. I could imagine that conversation veering away from how to create a healthy, egalitarian vision of sexuality, and veering toward a heteronormative, patriarchal vision. In our efforts to tackle social problems, we must be discerning about who we embrace as allies.