Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been attacking the media and others for citing the hate group designation conferred by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and trying to distance themselves from what they characterize as the “true hate” of well-known hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazi groups.
On September 6, a number of anti-LGBTQ and other hate groups signed onto a letter asking for the media to stop using the “hate group” label when discussing them, saying, “To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism. All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”
But the line for what makes a hate group does not begin at violence, Nazism, or white supremacy; anti-LGBTQ hate groups and others are designated as such for spreading dangerous lies and hateful rhetoric about the queer community that do real harm. The designation is also conferred for attempting to criminalize the existence of LGBTQ people both in the United States and internationally by pushing legislation like anti-sodomy laws. These anti-LGBTQ groups have a pervasive history of attacking and slandering queer people and pushing for policies that negatively impact their mental and physical well-being -- and that’s enough to label them with the word “hate.”
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are trying to discredit their hate designation because they are listed alongside Nazi and white supremacist groups
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Liberty Counsel have launched a coordinated, ongoing campaign against media outlets for accurately citing their hate group designation in reports. Each of those groups signed a September 6 letter -- along with the conservative Media Research Center and numerous hate groups from other extremist ideologies such as the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy and the anti-immigrant Immigration Reform Law Institute -- asking media not to use the label and lamenting that their groups were associated “with neo-Nazis and the KKK.” These groups and their allies in right-wing media have previously made a concerted effort to raise the bar for what should be counted as a hate group, often relying on that same argument that they should not be lumped in with neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the KKK.
Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver recently posted a video on YouTube criticizing his group’s SPLC-conferred hate designation, noting that the SPLC also “lists some organizations like the KKK and other real, violent organizations as hate groups, and certainly they are hate groups.” Staver also noted that organizations including Liberty Counsel were lumped “right in with violent organizations,” citing that fact as a reason to discredit the designation. In a June post, ADF wrote that “true hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence” and called its own efforts to limit transgender people’s access to restrooms “really just a disagreement.” Additionally, ADF’s Casey Mattox wrote in a September 5 op-ed that “a list of KKK, Neo-Nazi, and other violent groups could be a non-partisan service to the public.” But he attacked SPLC’s inclusion of other types of hate groups, writing, “The Southern Poverty Law Center has no problem lumping Nazis together with ordinary pro-family Christian policy and legal organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom.”
Since it was named a hate group in 2010, FRC has criticized the SPLC for “lumping us together with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan” and attempted to set itself apart from what it calls “genuine” hate groups like the KKK. Hate group American Family Association (AFA) published a post in August decrying the fact that groups that believe “that homosexual practice is sinful or that gays can change or that Bruce Jenner is not a woman” are considered anti-LGBTQ and that such groups appear on SPLC’s “hate list side by side with the KKK, neo-Nazis,” and others.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups’ allies in the media have also pushed this line. Mark Kellner of the “conservative-leaning ‘Get Religion’ website” asserted, “One may or may not like the legal advocacy of the Alliance Defending Freedom, but they’re not a bunch of hooded-sheet Klanners burning crosses,” according to The Washington Post. While interviewing an ADF representative, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said there was a “pretty broad understanding of” the SPLC’s inclusion of groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church in its hate group list before casting doubt on the inclusion of ADF. She called SPLC “a group well-known for their partisan designation of so-called hate groups” and said that though SPLC “sort of had a credible background” in the past, “they have swayed and gotten a lot of negative attention in the recent years.” Right-wing newspaper The Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet LifeSite also echoed the talking point.
Unsurprisingly, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups also engage in anti-LGBTQ extremism and spread the same kind of myths and hateful rhetoric that the anti-LGBTQ groups do, including that gay people can be “cured” or that they are more likely to molest children. Though neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are often violent, SPLC does not consider violence the only measure of a hate group. According to SPLC, its hate group designation applies to white supremacist groups that “range from those that use racial slurs and issue calls for violence to others that present themselves as serious, non-violent organizations and employ the language of academia.”
These hate groups spread demonizing and harmful myths about LGBTQ people, including comparing them to pedophiles
SPLC has said that its designation of anti-LGBTQ groups is “based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.” These myths have real consequences for LGBTQ people, who are often at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, and mental illness.
SPLC designated ADF a hate group because its leaders and allied lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” Former ADF President Alan Sears called pedophilia and “homosexual behavior … often intrinsically linked.” Similarly, FRC’s Tony Perkins has pushed the myth that gay men are linked to pedophilia, and another FRC representative similarly accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes.” Liberty Counsel’s Staver called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children" and has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.”
The myth that LGBTQ people are linked to pedophilia has been repeatedly debunked, and according to SPLC, “depicting gay men as a threat to children may be the single most potent weapon for stoking public fears about homosexuality.” The American Psychological Association found that “fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults … have received no scientific support.” SPLC also called the myth “probably the leading defamatory charge leveled against gay people.”
Anti-LGBTQ groups’ extreme rhetoric expands well beyond pushing the dangerous myth that gay men are pedophiles. Liberty Counsel’s Staver has said that same-sex relationships are “destructive to individuals and … destructive to our very social fabric.” A Liberty Counsel attorney said that LGBTQ peoples’ lives are “controlled by this lust, this passion, that has kind of overwhelmed them, and so you have kind of the essence of a lack of self control.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also said that homosexuality is “always and forever, objectively and demonstrably wrong. It is never good, natural, right or praiseworthy.”
FRC’s Perkins said that it’s “disgusting” to tell queer youth that their lives will get better. Though Perkins criticizes the SPLC for using “hate group” label for his organization, he has used similar language against LGBTQ activists, calling them “hateful, vile, … spiteful” and saying that they are the “height of hatred” and engaged in “an agenda that will destroy them and our nation.” When talking about the “homosexual agenda,” ADF’s then-President Sears once said, “There is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good.’” One ADF allied-attorney said that same-sex marriage is a sign of the “degradation of our human dignity” and that it has “led to a deification of deviant sexual practices.” And ADF’s senior counsel said in 2014 that “the endgame of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent.”
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that demonizes LGBTQ people by, for example, comparing them to pedophiles, poses a danger to an already at-risk community. An August report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that anti-LGBTQ “hate-violence-related homicides” have increased from 2016, including a sharp increase in trans women of color being murdered in America. Suicide rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times higher than that of their straight peers, and 40 percent of transgender adults “reported having made a suicide attempt.” The Trevor Project noted that “each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.” Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that “compared with other students, negative attitudes toward LGB persons may put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence,” also noting the “greater risk for depression, suicide, [and] substance use.” The CDC added:
“For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.”
Despite the CDC calling for safe and supportive spaces to address the mental health crisis among LGBTQ people, Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that “the most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts [among LGBTQ youth] is not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Liberty Counsel’s Barber has called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have advocated for the criminalization of homosexuality domestically and abroad
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have advocated for anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these groups filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws as part of the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case before the Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional to outlaw sodomy. The groups also condemned the court’s decision after it was announced. ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. when it filed its amicus brief in Lawrence, which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” Liberty Counsel and FRC also filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws. In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, an FRC representative agreed that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior” and said, “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.” Many states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, and gay men have been arrested as recently as 2015 for “crimes against nature.”
After they failed in their attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the United States, many anti-LGBTQ organizations turned to working to criminalize gay sex abroad. ADF called the Lawrence ruling “devastating” and has used the decision to raise money for its work abroad. In 2012, ADF officials spoke at a conference in Jamaica in support of its anti-sodomy law, which is still in effect and can punish LGBTQ people with “10 years of hard labor.” ADF has also provided “advice, legal assistance and strategy” to efforts to defend a law in Belize that criminalizes gay sex and has applauded a 2011 decision in India that restored a criminalization statute that could punish gay sex with up to 10 years in prison. There is still a pending court challenge to that case.
Liberty Counsel has also defended the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. In 2012, Liberty Counsel signed on to defend American anti-LGBTQ extremist Scott Lively, who “allegedly played an instrumental part in the Ugandan parliament’s adoption of a draconian anti-LGBT bill that originally included the death penalty in some instances.” Lively was being sued for his “involvement in anti-LGBT efforts in Uganda, which included his active participation in the development of anti-LGBT policies aimed at revoking rights of LGBT people, [and which] constituted persecution." The lawsuit against Lively was dismissed, but the judge in the case noted that “Lively proposed 20-year prison sentences for gay couples in Uganda ‘who simply lead open, law-abiding lives.’” LGBTQ rights activists in Uganda called the bill “essentially his creation.” In 2011, FRC, too, showed its support for criminalizing homosexuality abroad when it called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them. FRC suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans” and cited the AIDS crisis as an example.
ADF has pushed for other harmful anti-LGBTQ policies that have been ruled human rights violations abroad. In 2015, ADF International filed an intervention (like an amicus brief) in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding a case against “mandatory sterilization” for transgender people who are trying to change their names or gender on government IDs. According to SPLC, ADF attorneys “argued that European member states should have the right to determine what sorts of medical treatments and diagnoses they require of transgender citizens seeking new documentation, including sterilization.” ECtHR ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs and against sterilization requirements after activists “argued for years that the sterilization requirement was an institutionalized violation of human rights,” according to The New York Times.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups frequently push the myth that LGBTQ people can “change” and advocate for harmful “reparative therapy,” which the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calls “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” HRC noted that though those practices “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades,” the practice is legal and being used in many places across the United States. HRC compiled the positions of more than a dozen medical and counseling organizations against “reparative therapy.” For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the practice “can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that the so-called therapy’s potential risks “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Despite this universal condemnation, hate groups have explicitly endorsed “reparative therapy” and have even defended it in court. ADF represented a licensed psychotherapist who claimed he could help LGBTQ people get rid of “unwanted same-sex attractions” in Maryland, according to The Baltimore Sun. The therapist hired ADF to determine whether he could file a defamation case against a Maryland lawmaker who “introduced a bill … that would have banned licensed clinicians from providing [reparative] therapy to minors.” An ADF-allied attorney also represented a plaintiff in New Jersey who was challenging the state’s ban on ex-gay therapy. An FRC “Washington Update” post said that “gay-conversion therapy … has been hugely successful at steering young people toward their natural expression of sexuality.” FRC’s Sprigg has written a number of posts in support of reparative therapy on FRC’s website, and he has even accused medical groups like the APA of not being “immune to political and ideological bias, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.” Similarly, Liberty Counsel has also showed support for reparative therapy, with Staver submitting a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and testifying before Congress on what he called “the attacks on religious freedom of licensed mental health professionals, minors, and their parents.” Liberty Counsel also launched a “Change is Possible Campaign” in 2006, which encouraged students “to start Gay to Straight Clubs, and ask that the ex-gay viewpoint be included in all diversity day presentations that discuss homosexuality.”
The bar for what is considered hatred cannot be so high that only the KKK and neo-Nazis are considered hate groups, despite repeated attempts by anti-LGBTQ hate groups to set the standard there. These groups’ attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the U.S. and abroad and to demonize and slander LGBTQ people have had real, harmful effects on the community. Hatred has many forms and should be denounced on all levels, whether it is physical violence from neo-Nazis or attempts by anti-LGBTQ groups to criminalize the very existence of queer and transgender people.