|« Couple Allegedly Denied Bridgeport Home Sale For Being Black||A Tale of Three School Districts »|
GLBT Thu Aug 12 2010
Setting the Stage
Peter LaBarbera looked drained. His glasses drooped in weary harmony with the sandy hair barely populating his head, and even his suit seemed poised to crumple and fold. The soft-spoken conservative had clearly worked long hours trying to galvanize his newest venture, a group called Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH).
The non-profit, which describes itself as "a national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda," has done very little since its formation. Until last week, AFTAH mostly peppered its web site with opinion pieces on homosexual activist infiltrations, from Ronald McDonald to the DoubleTree Hotel.
LaBarbera must have wanted to escalate. Last week, AFTAH launched an ambitious three-day "Truth Academy" in Arlington Heights. Nine speakers were flown in from around the country to "answer the myths, lies and misinformation of the nation's Homosexual Lobby." For a daily $50 fee, Academy attendees were handed binders, name-tags and a discounted price on any DVD recording of the event. LaBarbera expected the Truth Academy would be "one of the most important and comprehensive pro-family conferences on homosexuality that has ever been held in the United States."
Groups such as AFTAH may be marginal, but they are ruthlessly dedicated to their cause. Their tautological arguments against gays and lesbians begin with religion and end with the archetypal homosexual scapegoat, that they are responsible for undermining the military and the government through an agenda that is at once elite and socialistic. These theories are neither new nor politically effective. Similar ideas took hold during the McCarthy era, but in the 1950s gays and lesbians were much less visible. In the past 30 years, the LGBT minority has been largely emancipated and openly accepted into the American mainstream. Anti-gay ideas are resurging today because of an environment of fear, exacerbated by a bad recession and perceived threats to national security. Exploiting these conditions gives groups like AFTAH what little power they have, and therein lies their potential for harm.
On Thursday morning, the first day of the Academy, LaBarbera announced that CNN was profiling one of his speakers, and that a large contingent of rainbow-clad protesters was expected around dinnertime. LaBarbera was not aware of the attendance of four undercover college students, queer and pro-gay writers such as myself who sat through the day's twelve-hour seminar and quietly took notes.
The local LGBT community was caught by surprise; anti-gay groups are generally unwelcome in the liberal northwest suburbs. The Academy's timing was especially inflammatory, coming in between a federal ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban and the annual weekend festival which celebrates Chicago's queer north-side neighborhood, Northalsted Market Days.
LaBarbera may have timed his Truth Academy to make a splash. After all, the 47-year-old advocate has nearly two decades of solid experience in anti-gay activism. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Elmhurst and Winfield, moving to Michigan at age 12. After earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan, LaBarbera spent time reporting on Central American Communism for The Washington Times. In 1993 he started a short-lived newsletter called The Lambda Report, the title of which was coded in terms familiar to the LGBT community in order to access and monitor the organized gay rights movement. The goal was to offer "practical advice on how to combat the gay agenda, reporting on what works and what doesn't in the struggles of citizens across the United States to fight pro-homosexual laws."
He has never strayed far from The Lambda Report. Within the lines of his resume, LaBarbera veers from the mainstream pro-family movement to a fringe faction just inches away from Fred Phelps. He has pulled stints at the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), Family Research Council (FRC), Concerned Women for America (CWA), and Accuracy in Media (AIM), yet none of these groups have been as extreme or as marginal as AFTAH.
In March, the Southern Poverty Law Center named 15 groups operating anti-gay "hate sites." AFTAH made the list, rubbing elbows with discredited psychologist Paul Cameron's Family Research Institute and other organizations which the SPLC classified as hate groups. The SPLC reserved this latter designation for groups which actively malign an entire class of people beyond the mere publishing of Internet material.
After the rigorous Truth Academy seminars last week, AFTAH may have finally earned that distinction.
Lessons on the Gay Agenda
"There will be no hate taught today," LaBarbera announced Thursday morning.
About two-dozen people were sitting in the old band room of the former Arlington Heights High School, but more would soon trickle in. Music stands had been cleared to make way for over a hundred folding chairs, all facing a carpeted podium, a large wooden cross and the painted script: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
When this high school closed down in 1984, a local pastor and home-schooling advocate named Paul Lindstrom moved his Church of Christian Liberty and Christian Liberty Academy (CLA) into the building. Today his son, the Rev. Calvin Lindstrom, shepherds the flock. When LaBarbera contacted Lindstrom in need of a venue for his Truth Academy, he offered the CLA. Lindstrom said he tried to contact about 150 local churches to participate. Not one responded. "I'm not sure why," offered the perplexed pastor.
The day's schedule was packed. Seven speakers had each been allotted an hour, and the roster was impressive. Beginning with Peter LaBarbera's talk entitled "From gay pride to gay tyranny," the lineup included a law professor from Liberty University in Virginia, an education activist from the Illinois Family Institute, the president of the ultra-conservative site America's Survival, a leader of the Young Conservatives of California, the director of a Jewish agency for ex-gays, and the outspoken ex-gay president of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays).
These ideological tour guides steered the attendees through the complex anti-gay canon, marshalling their own arsenal of statistics and data (data from the Family Research Council is favored over the American Psychological Association, which is deemed too biased). They each focused on a different component of a comprehensive gay agenda, but portrayed a coherent and fairly unified message devoid of any doctrinal disagreements. Their ideology inverts the traditional gay rights view by imagining the Christian fundamentalists as direct inheritors of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. They see themselves as the last bastion defending simple Judeo-Christian morality, beleaguered but determined to protect the Judeo-Christian family from the encroachment of legalized sexual sin, Marxist-driven pedophilia and rampant disease.
Religion underpins everything. As LaBarbera explained in his opening speech, pro-gay laws are incompatible with religious freedom. It was unclear whether he meant the current status of religious freedom or his idyllic future, in which all laws would return to their Biblical roots, effectively killing "the relativist concept of following or not following precedent."
Reading Bible passages that describe God's strictly heterosexual design for marriage, Professor Rena Lindevaldsen of Liberty University traced a history of court cases which systematically de-linked procreation from marriage.
"I firmly believe we got to where we are today because we as a nation strayed from God's standard," she said. In her view, the last U.S. Supreme Court case which correctly described marriage was Murphy v. Ramsey, a case on polygamy decided 125 years ago. Decrying Lawrence v. Texas, which protected citizen privacy from anti-sodomy laws, Prof. Lindevaldsen admitted that she didn't want "the government peeking into my bedroom." However, privacy in this case should be sacrificed because "laws normalize conduct."
While anti-gay federal laws would merely discourage bad conduct, pro-gay federal laws would effectively criminalize Christianity, according to LaBarbera, who cited the cases of Canada and England. In his example, laws which prohibit renters from discriminating based on sexual orientation would make it illegal to fulfill the Christian ideology.
This scriptural keystone explains the absolute inability of these believers to compromise on gay marriage. "Sexual sin is sexual sin," asserted LaBarbera. "The truth is the truth." To budge one inch for domestic partnerships or civil unions is moral cowardice, and would open the floodgates for normalizing other sexual sins such as adultery and incest.
One trick in the fundamentalist reasoning is to conflate biological inequality with political discrimination without acknowledging the logical steps to mandate that the latter flow from the former. LaBarbera railed against the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for demanding marriage equality, pointing out that homosexuals could never be the reproductive equals of heterosexuals.
"Nature clearly discriminates against homosexual behavior," LaBarbera declared. "Who can deny that?"
The second key to this ideology lies in its conception of homosexuality. Ryan Sorba, a dashing young activist who sports a soul patch and has served as the chairman of several conservative youth groups, gave a speech entitled "The 'Born Gay' hoax."
His thesis, which was consistently affirmed and uncontested by anyone at the Academy, was that a small group of sexually perverted older men invented the concept of a gay identity in the 1980s as part of a concerted political strategy, a brilliant tactic which would argue for "a pseudo-psychosexual identity rather than an antisocial behavior." Two men in particular, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, had laid this strategy bare in a book called After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90's, which Sorba describes as mostly about attracting young boys. "The other half is about how to brainwash Americans into thinking homosexuality is normal," he said.
Sorba went to describe a war conference in 1988 in which the "pro-sodomy movement" identified and targeted three groups in their quest to topple the Judeo-Christian consensus: psychiatrists, lawyers and courts, and the clergy. Using clever video propaganda and sexual recruitment (such as lesbian enlistment camps), the final goal would be the overturning of America's anti-sodomy laws. Thus, the term "gay" was coined so that homosexuals could cast themselves as victims.
"We need to essentially boycott the term 'gay,'" explained Sorba. "I like to use 'same-sex attraction' or 'they engage in sodomy.'"
For Sorba and the other speakers, the homosexual (as LGBT persons were often termed in the aggregate) is able to be both a calculating pedophile and a victim of subconscious recruitment, mentally sick and in need of curing. Sorba described training camps where many homosexuals are trained to tell their "sob stories" to unsuspecting Christians. At the same time he stated that becoming gay arises developmentally in children who may be influenced by unexplained "false memories" or "self-fulfilling prophecies," if not outright molestation by other, older gays.
"It is a psychological disorder. They are not functioning according to their natural design," he said.
Arthur Goldberg expanded on this theory. The New Jersey man, a disbarred attorney who in 1989 served prison time in connection with a $2-billion fraud scheme, now directs a group called Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). In his lecture, Goldberg offered a litany of psychological terms to explain why "the pre-homosexual boy" becomes gay: peer wounds make children feel alienated from their same-sex playmates, lack of individuation from the opposite-sex parent, internalizing of those characteristics, and a "gender wholeness model" which predicts homosexuality in people whose vision of the ideal member of their gender is too disparate from themselves.
"What homosexuality is to a large extent is a sexualized envy," he beamed.
At the same time, Goldberg asserted that homosexuals recruit their kind by molesting young boys. Citing figures from unspecified literature, Goldberg said that between 40 and 70 percent of male homosexuals have been abused at some point. When asked about lesbians, Goldberg said that in their case, molestation creates a distrust in males that leads to same-sex attraction (and increased physical violence).
Ultimately, discovering the causes of homosexuality is irrelevant. "Born gay or not, it is wrong," Sorba said offhandedly. His concern is to re-criminalize sodomy, not discover the gay gene. The time and energy spent on the "born gay hoax" discussion underscores its political importance to the anti-gay ideology.
Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute spent much of her time explaining why homosexuality is a behavioral condition akin to polyamory or incest, rather than a genetic and morally neutral trait like skin tone. According to Higgins, the "homosexualists" (gays and their supporters) manipulate rhetoric in order to paint Christian anti-gay activists as racists. Conservatives then retreat from the issue because they are afraid to be called prejudiced. If they can be convinced that homosexuality is volitional, more will be willing to fight the Gay Agenda.
The Academy speakers expounded theories about the causes of homosexuality purely as a political calculation, while at the same time condemning gay activists for doing the same. It is one of many moral rules rigidly applied to the gay-rights lobby but broken by the anti-gay movement, citing permission from a higher authority to do so.
Finally, the AFTAH ideology requires that homosexuals be viewed at once as both an inferior minority and as a powerful oppressor, manipulating societal attitudes through infiltration of the media, corporate industry, public education and the military. This disproportionate influence explains why the general population is deaf to the cries of a handful of Christian believers armed with both Biblical and scientific truth.
Cliff Kincaid is the president of America's Survival, Inc. (ASI) and editor of the Accuracy in Media (AIM) Report. More than anyone, Kincaid embodies the notion that public institutions have become mere tools of an international Gay Agenda, leaving the nation vulnerable to a dangerous sexual minority. After a bill surfaced in Uganda proposing capital punishment for homosexuals, Kincaid publicly defended the country as a victim of "homosexual imperialism." In May, his organization released a video which warned that "disease-tainted gay blood threatens our troops," and that repeal of the army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy would inevitably spread AIDS.
His presentation on homosexuality and the media last Thursday focused on the Marxist roots of gay activism, and especially its threats to the U.S. Army. Kincaid jumped on the case of Bradley Manning, the reportedly gay intelligence analyst suspected of releasing over 90,000 secret military documents to the Wikileaks web site. Suggesting that Manning was about to undergo a sex-change operation, Kincaid said that deep-seated mental problems had clearly caused him to lash out. Moments later, he asserted that Communist ideas drove Manning to act, hurting the war effort and putting the lives of troops in danger.
Drawing a broader conclusion about gays in the military, Kincaid said, "They believe they are the victims of American society, and that gives them the motive to hate our system and our culture." Asked whether this would change if policies like DADT were repealed, Kincaid said it was unlikely, since homosexuals would always hold a grudge.
For Laurie Higgins, who worked at Deerfield High School and witnessed the leakage of homo-Marxist materials into schools, public education has become the main theater of battle. Outraged at the lack of anti-gay literature available to students, Higgins began to campaign against the homosexual takeover of schools. She described the difficulty of getting anti-gay literature accredited in a nation whose most reputable reviewers and magazines subscribe to the Gay Agenda.
Reflecting on her work, Higgins said: "These are the mothers doing this, and this is a rough battle. There should be more men involved."
By the time 9:30 p.m. rolled around, the coffee was gone, the speakers were spent and the protesters drumming loudly outside had started to dissipate. In all, about 50 people had come to the Truth Academy, of whom the vast majority were middle-aged or elderly Christians from the surrounding suburbs.
These conference attendees, while espousing many of the same concepts as the Academy's speakers, were an entirely different kettle of fish. In contrast with the generally well-educated and articulate presenters, the attendees I spoke with appeared scatterbrained and nervous, often fixated on one aspect of the anti-gay ideology such as AIDS or public education.
On three separate occasions during our break periods, I was asked about a theory described in The Pink Swastika, a book which claims that Hitler and his inner circle were all homosexuals who masterminded the Holocaust to exterminate the more effeminate gays in the Nazi party.
One portly man from California described himself as a pro-male activist and wanted to talk about insemination laws, specifically referring to lesbians as "turkey basters" and posing a question about coprophilia during a question and answer period.
A Highland Park man told me about an experience he'd had while swimming in the Dead Sea. Upon discovering a gash in his foot, he was struck with the revelation that two boys kissing each other could spread AIDS without knowing that their lips were cut.
Several times throughout the conference, Truth Academy attendees and speakers expressed their anger and incredulity at the failure to draw more supporters. Peter LaBarbera denounced the lack of resolve in the GOP and in conservative churches, noting that AFTAH spends as much time fighting the gay agenda as it does fighting other conservatives who want to back off. At one point, an audience member asked how many pastors were in attendance. Nobody raised their hand. "That's the problem," he concluded.
The fatalistic mood permeating the Truth Academy was especially dark because a federal district judge had just struck down California's Prop 8 referendum banning same-sex marriage. In his decision [pdf], Judge Vaughn R. Walker established 80 findings of fact in the case, almost all of which directly contradict the Truth Academy ideology.
Prof. Lindevaldsen quoted some of these to the audience, receiving sharp gasps when she reached fact 77: "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians."
The Supreme Court is expected to take up the case, a frightening prospect for the religious conservatives who consider even Chief Justice Roberts too liberal. A federal ruling to legalize gay marriage could endanger Illinois' current status barring same-sex unions.
"Illinois, overall, is a moderate state," says Rick Garcia, the political director of the state's foremost gay-rights lobby, Equality Illinois. "The general public does not take well to hard right wing anti-gay politicians or organizations."
When Peter LaBarbera was still the executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, he clashed directly with Rick Garcia as IFI collected over 400,000 signatures for an anti-gay marriage referendum to be placed on the 2006 November ballot. Under Garcia, Equality Illinois painstakingly reviewed the signatures and found many of them to be illegitimate. The Illinois State Board of Elections refused to certify the referendum, determining that only 91% of the signatures were valid.
"I reacted to his forming AFTAH with a yawn," says Garcia. "AFTAH doesn't worry me because Peter and his new organization are as fringy as IFI and have been just as successful as IFI."
In 1996, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A majority vote in the General Assembly would overturn this, especially because there is no constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Two bills are pending in the state legislature, one which would grant equal marriage and one legalizing civil unions.
The Illinois Family Institute is currently directed by David Smith, who says that IFI works closely with AFTAH and is fighting the legislation in Springfield to legalize the pending gay-rights bills.
"It's interesting to note that the gay agenda started with a movement that said, Leave us alone, give us the privacy to do what we want in our own bedroom," Smith says angrily. "Now not only is it marching in the street every June, but now it's in the halls of government."
Despite these fighting words, Garcia remains convinced that AFTAH and IFI are politically irrelevant.
"Our legislators don't buy what IFI says or what AFTAH says ... legislatively and politically we're much, much stronger than they are."
As he wrapped up the day's seminar, Peter LaBarbera seemed to agree.
"We need to redefine the playing field aggressively," he said, jamming his finger into the podium. He paused a moment before turning to the audience.
"Aggressively, but always in love."