Following the shooting of a security guard at the anti-gay Family Research Council, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called it “reckless” for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to say the FRC is a “hate group.” He further suggested that calling the FRC “hateful” is an example of “inflammatory labels” and “hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies,” and questioned why the SPLC considers the FRC a “hate group” alongside the KKK and Aryan Nations. Throughout the piece, Milbank describes the FRC as “a mainstream conservative think tank,” “a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions,” “a mainstream Christian advocacy group,” and “driven by deeply held religious beliefs.”
But Milbank’s appraisal of the FRC as something other than hateful is only possible because of his complete refusal to examine the actual substance of the organization’s infamous “conservative Christian positions.” For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the group’s so-called “mainstream Christian advocacy,” the claim that they aren’t hateful is so plainly ridiculous that the very word “hate” is meaningless if it doesn’t include the FRC.
An accusation of hatefulness certainly isn’t something to be thrown around lightly – it has to be earned. The SPLC does not consider organizations to be hate groups merely because they have strong political or religious views, but because they repeatedly make false and defamatory claims about LGBT people. And the FRC has been working overtime since its inception to do just that. They’ve made no effort to hide their extraordinary attacks on the LGBT community; for anyone who cares enough to look, all of this is a matter of public record.
The FRC is pervasively opposed to the recognition and acceptance of transgender people. In one edition of their “Washington Update,” they criticize the rules of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for providing undocumented transgender detainees with continued access to hormone therapy rather than forcibly de-transitioning them. As they see it, trans people as a group are not even entitled to receive their own prescribed medications. Contrary to the recommendations of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which recognize gender transition treatments as beneficial and medically necessary, the FRC considers this “exacerbating a mental health crisis like cross-dressing.”
Testifying before the Maryland State Senate, FRC senior policy fellow Peter Sprigg – whose medical qualifications include being a professional actor and an ordained Baptist minister — again claimed that trans people should only receive “mental health treatments to help them become comfortable with their biological sex.” He further added that they transition “to fulfill their sexual desires,” which he describes as “transvestic fetishism.” In a policy document on gender identity nondiscrimination ordinances, which Sprigg labels “bathroom bills,” he argues against trans people being allowed to present as their identified gender, calling them “often highly unconvincing and therefore disturbing to witnesses.” To Dana Milbank, this is just “mainstream Christian advocacy,” which apparently includes denying health care and legal protections to entire classes of people and calling them sexual fetishists who are ugly.
The FRC and its staff have also used distorted and debunked studies to claim that LGBT people are unfit parents and are more likely to molest children. FRC president Tony Perkins describes pedophilia as “a homosexual problem,” and senior fellow Timothy Dailey has claimed that “disproportionate numbers of gay men seek adolescent males or boys as sexual partners.” An FRC pamphlet from 1999 stated: “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”
They’ve recently cited Mark Regnerus‘ widely criticized study, which included hardly any examples of long-term same-sex parenting and was found to be severely flawed in an audit by the journal that published it, to claim that children of gay parents were more likely to be sexually abused, and “fare worse on most outcomes.” The study’s author admitted that it was not representative of stable families with same-sex parents, and the journal Social Science Research believes the paper’s methodological flaws should have disqualified it from publication. The FRC called it a “gold standard” of research. Is misrepresenting the competence of same-sex parents and the welfare of their children just one of those “deeply held religious beliefs”?
Of course, the FRC isn’t content with merely opposing the recognition of our families and depicting us as sexual predators – they’ve repeatedly challenged the very legality of our consenting, adult relationships. In 2010, Peter Sprigg appeared on Hardball and stated, “I think that the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas which overturned the sodomy laws in this country was wrongly decided. I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”
The FRC was also found to have spent $25,000 lobbying Congress against approving a resolution condemning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would institute the death penalty for anyone who had gay sex more than once. Their explanation was that while they don’t support the Uganda bill, they only wanted to remove “sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.” It’s not that they want us dead or anything – they just don’t think we have the right to do what heterosexuals do every day without facing “criminal sanctions,” like death.
And these aren’t just exceptions to an otherwise respectable record. At the FRC, such extreme stances are the rule. Whether they’re calling to “export homosexuals from the United States,” asking public health organizations to tell people to quit being gay as if it were a cigarette habit, recommending that teenagers be discouraged from identifying as LGBT in order to reduce teen suicide, comparing gay marriage to a man marrying a horse, describing efforts against anti-gay bullying as “telling school children that it’s okay to be immoral,” or comparing gay pride events to “adultery pride” and “drunkenness pride,” the FRC has made a name for itself. And that name is hate – proud, shameless, unapologetic hate.
What does Dana Milbank have to say about this?
Offensive, certainly. But in the same category as the KKK?
I have to wonder: if the KKK restricted itself to calling people of color child abusers and immoral sexual deviants with pedophiles for prophets, and demanded that they be denied health care and subject to “criminal sanctions,” would Milbank similarly object to calling them a hate group? Or would it be obvious that these are unambiguously hateful beliefs?
In asking us not to call this hateful, we’re expected to accept people wanting us demonized, detained, deported and dead as a normal part of American political and religious life. We’re the ones being told we must tolerate this as a simple difference of opinion – after all, it’s just “mainstream Christian advocacy.” To call them hateful is “reckless” and “inflammatory” of us; to be that hateful is mainstream and conservative of them.
There’s a remarkable irony in Milbank’s attempt to gloss over the particulars of the FRC’s beliefs by simply saying they’re “Christian.” He accuses us of calling Christian and conservative beliefs hateful, and yet he’s the one claiming that this unbelievable hostility toward our lives is just another element of Christianity and conservatism. Which is really worse: calling out hate groups for truly hateful behavior, or saying that mainstream American religion involves hating every aspect of our existence?
Not all deeply held Christian beliefs are hateful, and not all conservatism is hateful. But hate is still hate regardless of its religious or political origins. If these are your deeply held religious beliefs, then your deeply held religious beliefs are hateful. If these are your conservative Christian positions, then your conservative Christian positions are hateful. And if the FRC can’t be called hateful, then what can?
Zinnia Jones is an atheist activist, writer, and video blogger focusing on LGBTQ rights and religious belief. Originally from Chicago, she’s currently living in Florida with her partner Heather and their two children.
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