Thursday, February 17, 2011

Saturday at CPAC: The Exhibit Hall

Exhibit room visitors could throw
eggs at pictures of Al Gore
and Michael Mann.

On Saturday, February 12th, I attended Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. to observe the presentations and exhibits. Before I describe the workshops I attended, I would like to provide some details on the exhibit room, which was a study in contradictions.

Judging from the mess on the floor,
throwing eggs was pretty popular.

As many readers know, controversy erupted when CPAC announced that conservative LGBT group GOProud would be a co-sponsor for the 2011 conference. Several right-wing groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America, and the Family Research Council, refused to participate in CPAC because of GOProud's participation.

However, some groups that participated in CPAC displayed anti-gay attitudes, as I quickly noticed in the exhibit hall. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), an organization that promotes "reparative" therapy, had a booth at CPAC, complete with copies of the controversial book Wild Elephant (also published under the alternate title, Chased by an Elephant). A CBS journalist at CPAC interviewed PFOX president Gregory Quinlan, which can be viewed here. CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, gave away free anti-gay materials at their booth, with titles such as Ten Persuasive Answers to the Question "Why Not Gay Marriage?" and Straight Answers: Exposing the Myths and Facts About Homosexuality. CitizenLink even shared free DVDs from Love Won Out, a Christian "ex-gay" program that has been criticized by LGBT voices such as Truth Wins Out and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

A certain dissonance surrounded Islam as well as LGBT issues in the CPAC exhibit room. On one hand, Muslims for America had a booth in the exhibit room. On the other hand, so did pro-Israel groups such as Christians United for Israel and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, while at a conference that hosted two screenings of Pamela Geller's film, The Ground Zero Mosque: Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks. Just as I wondered why GOProud wanted to be at CPAC, so too did I wonder why Muslims for America wanted to set up an information table in such an atmosphere. Perhaps they want to challenge stereotypes among conservatives, or soften right-wing attitudes toward their respective groups? I don't know.

A sign at the
American Tradition Partnership booth.

One information booth that caught my eye belonged to the American Tradition Partnership, an anti-green group that claims that environmentalism is detrimental to business, jobs, and the free market. One of the signs on its table read, "POP QUIZ: WHAT DO RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISTS HATE MORE?", with boxes underneath that read "FUN" and "JOBS."

One of the exhibit room's more controversial tables belonged to Youth for Western Civilization, which a recent article at the Advocate described as a "white supremacist group" and the Southern Poverty Law Center detailed at their Hatewatch blog. Their kiosk sported "Straight Pride" T-shirts and free copies of The Social Contract magazine, which devoted an issue to lambasting the SPLC. In an interview with Salon, Youth for Western Civilization founder Kevin DeAnna defined western civilization as a "cultural compound of Christian, classical, and then the folk traditions of Europe." (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

To read about some of the workshops at 2011 CPAC, click here.

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