Facebook Executive To Headline Anti-LGBT Religious Conference

Guest author Crystal Cheatham explains why a Facebook executive has no business representing Facebook at a conference of some of the nation's most anti-gay activists.

This coming Monday, a conference of some of the country's most notorious Christian Right leaders of the anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim movement will gather in Nashville, Tennessee. And despite the group's mandatory anti-LGBTQ pledge for members, Facebook's Global Politics and Government Outreach Director, Katie Harbath (photo), will headline the Digital Media Summit at the National Religious Broadcasters conference.

The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is an international network of fundamentalist Christian communicators with an expansive amount of cultural and political influence. Some of the most notorious American propagators of anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-choice ideologies are on NRB's roster, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and megachurch pastor Rick Warren. NRB is specifically working to enact legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people through its promotion of a redefined understanding of religious freedom—one that carves out arenas of public life where religious institutions, individuals, and even businesses can exempt themselves from civil rights and labor laws. Emphasizing this priority, NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson has declared that "NRB wants to be for the First Amendment, what NRA is for the Second Amendment."

Know Your Neighbors, a collaborative project between nonprofit social justice organizations Political Research Associates and Soulforce, has launched an online petition asking Facebook executive Katie Harbath to retract her agreement to speak at NRB's annual conference, Proclaim16, on February 22. As the Global Politics and Government Outreach Director, Harbath's involvement flags Facebook as more than the non-partisan organization it claims to be.

Facebook outwardly supports LGBTQ justice and equality and has in recent years gone to great lengths to support same-sex marriage and gender variant identities. In 2014, Facebook expanded its gender identity options to include more than 50 possibilities, and following the Supreme Court's 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage, the company coded a rainbow filter which boomed on user profiles. The petition begins by affirming these steps, and reminding Facebook "...you support our gender identities. You advocate for same-sex love. You help us tell our stories, make connections, build communities, and embrace each other worldwide. But actions speak louder than words... If you truly value and support LGBTQI people around the world, there's no excuse for Katie Harbath to openly represent Facebook at a right-wing conference."

Facebook requires personnel to "avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest," but the conflict of interest is clear—NRB's Code of Ethics (which all its members are required to sign onto) forbids members to speak positively or promote anything having to do with LGBTQ identities and culture (see ethic #8).

And NRB takes its organizational doctrine seriously—when a member of the coalition attempted to publish a book that was both pro-LGBTQ and Christian, the publisher was given an ultimatum and told to either drop the author or be removed from the NRB roster. The publisher was ultimately forced to relinquish its membership.

If only Facebook applied the same follow-through to its own stated mission: "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

So far the activists have not received word from Harbath or Facebook but with a rapidly growing list of signatures on their MoveOn.org petition, they hope to get some answers soon.

Guest author Crystal Cheatham is columnist for Philadelphia Gay News. As a queer faith activist she chairs the Spirituality & Religion steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign and works with Equality Pennsylvania, Soulforce and William Way LGBT Community Center's Out & Faithful Committee.

The New Civil Rights Movement from time to time publishes op-eds and personal stories, like this, to share views and experiences of our diverse community. 

Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr and a CC license

Don't let Silicon Valley control what you read. Get more stories like this in your inbox each day.

* indicates required

See a mistake? Email corrections to: [email protected]