To commemorate Pride Month this year, Hornet — the world’s premier gay social network, boasting more than 20 million users worldwide — unveiled a billboard campaign to counter the hate-filled rhetoric of anti-LGBTQ organizations. It was a show of resistance against the forces that would tear down the LGBTQ community and see our hard-fought-for rights rolled back.
“We are erecting these billboards across the country to draw attention to places from which hateful rhetoric and influence on anti-LGBTQ legislation stem,” said Hornet President Sean Howell. “The billboards are a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ residents of these areas and a reminder to local leadership that we will not be silenced and we will not be erased.”
Hornet’s billboards were placed in three American cities, each of which has been designated “headquarters of hate”: Washington, D.C., home of the Family Research Council; Topeka, Kansas, home of the Westboro Baptist Church; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of the Family Research Institute, the Pray in Jesus Name Project and Focus on the Family (FOF).
Interestingly, of those three national anti-LGBTQ organizations based in Colorado Springs, only the Family Research Institute and the Pray in Jesus Name Project are currently designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Focus on the Family, despite its founder James Dobson having spawned the Family Research Council from its ranks in 1980 (which, it should be noted, is designated as a “hate group”), does not enjoy such esteemed anti-LGBTQ accreditation.
Southern Poverty Law Center Senior Fellow Mark Potok’s excuses FOF’s lack of “hate group” status by noting the evangelical organization’s “move toward the middle” when it comes to homosexuality. And that “evolution” was even cause for a glowing review in The New York Times back in 2013. In that piece, Jim Daly, Focus on the Family’s Dobson successor — also its current president and chief executive — proselytized to Times readers about the new face of his organization. It was a face still wholeheartedly opposed to same-sex marriage, but its “rhetorical temperature” was presumably reduced from a fever to a hot flash.
Recently, in its coverage of Hornet’s current campaign, The Colorado Springs Gazette spoke to residents about the billboard on the city’s east side of town, all of whom feel the campaign “misses [the] mark.”
The Gazette spoke to FOF’s VP of Communications (“Some folks can’t seem to separate honest and sincere ideological, philosophical and theological disagreement from supercharged and dangerous words like ‘hate’”), a queer local reverend (“I don’t know that we need combative language here, specifically about the LGBTQ community”) and the Colorado Springs Chamber President (“The characteristics they suggest are entirely inaccurate and offensive to our community”).
But while it’s unsurprising Colorado Springs residents dislike seeing their hometown called “headquarters of hate,” why are its residents — and The New York Times, for that matter — OK with ‘looking the other way’ when it comes to the serious harm Focus on the Family enacts against queer people?
“We’ve created an animosity,” Daly told that Times reporter back in 2013, which is so understated a statement, it’s laughable. But while FOF’s talk of “fire and brimstone” was perhaps scaled back, the group’s hardline positions on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the transgender community have never changed.
“I don’t think we hear that level of vitriol spewed out from them,” Rev. Nori Rost told the Gazette, referring to a lack of anti-LGBTQ hate coming from the rank and file of FOF. She even seems to commend Jim Daly: “He hasn’t chosen to make LGBT rights a focus.” (In fact, Daly has said that if a gay marriage ban doesn’t happen, “civilization will go down,” and that Satan himself promotes gay marriage.)
But then what are we to make of Focus on the Family’s dated and disturbing stance on homosexuality? As part of its “When a Loved One Says ‘I’m Gay’” series, FOF assures parents going through “grief and pain” at their child’s coming out that being LGBT is indeed changeable. For a parent, Focus on the Family insists, learning your child is gay is “almost like having a death in the family,” and “the pain seems never-ending.”
FOF may couch its preaching in terms that seem loving and amenable, but statements like “Rather than seeing your friend as a homosexual, think of him or her as a person who struggles with sexual brokenness” and “Certainly men can help lesbian-identified women, and women can help gay-identified men to leave homosexuality” indicate this organization’s true motives: being gay is “a problem.” There is something inherently wrong with LGBT people; what they need is help.
Focus on the Family completely denies the science behind homosexuality (and believes “lesbianism differs from male homosexuality in significant ways, including how the change process often transpires,” hilariously). The group disputes that individuals are born gay; and much like with addiction, a multi-step program like “Homosexuals Anonymous (HA)” can help move gays along to “claim [their] true reality.” Focus on the Family opposes same-sex adoption and laws preventing workplace discrimination, and believes business owners should have the right to turn away LGBT customers.
Unsurprisingly, FOF’s stance on what it calls the “confusing issue of transgenderism” is ignorant and far removed from science as well. Trans individuals have “broken souls,” and in fact their existence is a “challenge.” Indeed, as FOF says in its report on “Transgenderism: Our Position,” “If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for individuals, marriage, family and society at large.”
“The transgender lobby” is apparently the “gay agenda” of the new millennium.
It’s important that we never take organizations like Focus on the Family to be what they outwardly claim to be. They do not get to hide behind flowery, graceful rhetoric, or a name that conjures all that’s good and decent in society. That would be the ultimate naiveté on our part.
Let us never forget — indeed, it is our duty not to — that “hate group” status notwithstanding, Focus on the Family and other anti-LGBTQ hate groups like it continue to invite serious harm upon the LGBTQ community, particularly our young. Whether its the ‘sweeping under the rug’ of queer youth self-harm and suicide caused by family rejection, or the now heavily publicized dangers of gay conversion therapy (rejected by all mainstream health organizations for decades and banned outright in several states), the platforms and actions of Focus on the Family have dire consequences.
We must never stop attacking affirmatively and head-on — as Hornet has done with its billboard campaign — the groups that seek to silence us at best and strip away our rights and dignity at worst.
That is the very least that we owe to young LGBTQs in our own backyards and around the globe.
Featured image by svetikd via iStock