The 2018 anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families (WCF) began today in Moldova, led by former National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown and attended by several pro-Russian leaders, including Moldovan President Igor Dodon. Although Brown has lost much of his influence domestically in the time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his anti-marriage equality effort in California, he has cozied up with pro-Russian foreign leaders and worked to export his anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad.
Brown serves as president of both WCF and NOM, which he also co-founded and which was instrumental in banning marriage equality in California in 2008 through the Proposition 8 ballot initiative. Proposition 8 defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the state’s constitution, but same-sex marriage was reinstated in California in 2013 after a lawsuit over the proposition made it to the Supreme Court. In the years since, NOM has lost much of its domestic influence and funding (though it still works with prominent anti-LGBTQ groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom), but Brown has focused his efforts abroad and particularly worked to increase his profile in Eastern Europe.
Brown was named president of WCF in 2016, although he had worked with the group for years before then. Brown and WCF worked closely with Russian lawmakers, activists, and officials as the country shaped its so-called “gay propaganda” law, including Brown directly meeting with the law’s architect, Yelena Mizulina, a regular attendee of WCF conferences. That law “has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships,” according to Mother Jones, and it has led to both activist arrests and increased violence against LGBTQ people in Russia.
In 2014, Mother Jones mapped out many of the relationships between WCF and anti-LGBTQ Russians, noting that they “were already deeply connected before they kicked off their planning this fall through ties forged while advancing anti-gay sentiment and legislation in Russia.” In the years since, Brown and WCF have cozied up to even more high-profile leaders in the region. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at last year’s WCF conference, held in his county, and this year’s event includes Moldovan President Igor Dodon (who spoke at the 2016 conference just months before his election) and several other influential politicians and individuals. Dodon’s wife’s foundation, Din Suflet, is supporting the event.
Brown seems to have cultivated a close working relationship with Dodon over the last few years, posting about several meetings with him on Twitter this year. Dodon is a supporter of anti-LGBTQ Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has tolerated the execution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. Dodon has called him a “patriot” and campaigned on running “Moldova just the same way Putin runs Russia.”
This year’s WCF schedule features several anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice sessions: “Against the Family - The International Networks Undermining Family and Faith,” “Human Life - The Challenges Facing the Sanctity of Life, and the Strategies to Confront Them,” “New Media - Promoting Life, Marriage and Family in the Age of Hashtag Activism,” “Motherhood - Where the Sanctity of Life, the Meaning of Marriage, and the Ideology of Gender Intersect,” and “Gender Ideology - The Latest Attack on the Family and the Legal Challenges It Poses.” In past conferences, speakers have made extreme and hateful remarks, such as Pastor Rafael Cruz, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, who said in 2015 that LGBTQ people are working to legalize pedophilia. Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has been listed as a WCF partner as recently as 2017 and has been active in supporting the conference for years.
In addition to Dodon, the conference includes other notable attendees: Mizulina, a Russian politician and the architect of the country’s “gay propaganda” law; Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state; Russian politicians Olga Epifanova and Tamara Pletneva; Moldovan politician Irina Vlah; Slovakian politician and member of the European Parliament Anna Zaborska; and several religious leaders, including Russian Orthodox Church Archpriest Dmitriy Smirnov.
Additional research by Brianna January.