Commentary Human Rights

Stoking Fire: A Global Look at the Right’s Anti-Gay Rhetoric

Eleanor J. Bader

A new report by People for the American Way examines the "globalization" of homophobia and offers chilling details about its spread.

During the 45-year Cold War between Western-allied countries and those of the Eastern bloc—1947 until the USSR collapsed in 1992—the right wing had nothing nice to say about Godless Communism, dubbing it the Red Menace. But a little more than two decades later, there’s been a complete shift—much of the world’s religious and secular right wing now sees the region, and Russia in particular, as “the savior of civilization.”

The reason? Hatred of homosexuality.

Globalizing Homophobia: How the American Right Supports and Defends Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown, a report produced by People for the American Way (PFAW), charts the growth of this movement and offers chilling details about its spread.

Report contributor and PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery told Rewire, “The right has lost support in the United States and Western Europe on the issue of LGBTQ equality. From their perspective, the work to save the family has to happen elsewhere. They presumably hope that if Russia and Eastern Europe can be turned on this issue, the ideology can later be exported back to the West. Rather than more traditional mission work to spread Christianity, these groups are now pushing on homosexuality.”

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They’re outraged that the United Nations has been used to promote the idea that LGBTQ rights are human rights and that these rights should be internationally recognized,” he said. “That’s why they’re going to Eastern Europe, Muslim countries, and the Vatican to seek allies.”

And it’s not just the U.S. right that had jumped full-tilt into the campaign. Despite the report’s title, Globalizing Homophobia notes that Collectif Famille Mariage, one of France’s most prominent anti-marriage equality groups, has aligned itself with other far right “pro-family” organizations in the country, including the nationalist Dies Irae, the Mouvement Catholique des Familles, and Catholiques en Campagne. One of their chief U.S. allies is activist Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Together, these groups have raised money to bolster anti-gay mobilizations in Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine.

The fundraising and organizing have paid off. Victories in Russia—from laws banning the dissemination of “gay propaganda” to prohibitions on actions, like those of Pussy Riot, that “offend religious feelings”—have been a shot in the arm to homophobes the world over. What’s more, through the World Congress of Families, a 17-year-old Illinois-based organization that was founded by conservative activist Allan Carlson to promote “the natural family”—an entity the WCF believes was “ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage”—a host of “pro-family” policies have been transported to foreign lands.

Alexey Komov, WCF’s man in Moscow, and his colleagues take great inspiration from the U.S. anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ movements. Among the victories he celebrates are newly passed laws restricting abortion for Russian women. Among the familiar-sounding hurdles, Russian women now need to wait between requesting the procedure and having an abortion. Equally pleasing to Komov are laws banning same-sex couples from adopting—they call it “corrupting”—orphaned or abandoned children who live in state-run facilities. But the icing on Komov’s cake is the fact that the 8th World Congress of Families, an event that will bring Eastern European, African, South and Central American, and Middle Eastern conservatives face-to-face with mentors from Focus on the Family, the Christian Broadcast Network, NOM, and FOX News, will be held in Moscow next September. The conference theme, “Every Child Is a Gift: Large Families, the Future of Humanity,” is a blatant attempt to forge international alliances between anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-gay activists.

That Russia is at the center of this movement and is seen by the right as “the Christian savior of the world” is mind-boggling. Komov, the report explains, sees his homeland as “the last bastion of moral values against a UN sponsored push to recognize gay rights around the globe.” His unlikely hero is Vladimir Putin. In defending Russia’s leader, Komov argues that “Putin and other Russian leaders have not only turned away from their Communist past and involvement with the KGB, but are Bible-believing Christians today.”

Imagine that.

But Bible-thumping aside, it is the ideology of hate—the notion that if same-sex couples are allowed to marry and rear children, there will be a slew of “negative developments all over the world”—that is most concerning to PFAW. They’re also troubled by the hyperbole used to drum up anti-gay hysteria. Some of the most egregious examples come from French nationalist Fabrice Sorlin, who the report quotes as “comparing Russia’s anti-gay stand to its protection of Europe against Mongol hordes in the thirteenth century and against fascism in the twentieth.” U.S. leaders who tie gay sexuality to Satanism and child molestation are, of course, equally culpable in revving up discrimination and prejudice.

What’s more, while the Russian and Eastern European embrace of anti-gay policies has clearly pleased the American right wing, this is not the only part of the world to capture financial or on-the-ground support from American activists. “Infamously,” Globalizing Homophobia continues, “American religious right leaders’ financial and political support has been inflaming anti-gay passions in Uganda for years, leading to the 2013 passage of a bill that imposes a life jail sentence for ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ American conservative activists Lou Engle and Scott Lively traveled to Uganda to help rally support for the bill, spreading apocryphal stories of the harms that come from gay rights.”

These men have also had a hand in helping conservatives in Belize uphold that country’s criminalization of homosexuality. Similarly, the U.S. right has raised funds and worked behind the scenes to promote homophobia in countries as disparate as Jamaica, Peru, and Nigeria. Indeed, momentum has been so great that in mid-February Scott Lively and Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, formed the Coalition for Family Values. Whether this group will compete with, or complement, the World Congress of Families is anyone’s guess.

Despite these developments, PFAW’s Peter Montgomery says fissures between different factions of the right wing have become increasingly apparent in recent weeks. “In mid-March, Concerned Women for America announced that it was pulling out of the WCF’s 2014 Summit because of Russia’s bad behavior toward Ukraine,” he said. “Some on the right are clearly trying to figure out what their next best move is and there are evident conservative splits. A few weeks before the CWA pulled out, Ted Cruz spoke at a Heritage Foundation event and he slammed Putin. While many of his religious right allies are saying that Putin is the savior of world Christianity and are extolling him, others want to hold Putin responsible for his aggression. We need to push that divide.”

That said, Globalizing Homophobia reminds us that a tangled web of right-wing organizations are working hard to reverse LGBTQ civil rights at home and curtail gay activism abroad. These groups are well-funded and well-connected, and while same-sex marriage is the hook they use to ensnare followers, their actual agenda is far more insidious. The goal? To shove queer communities back into the closets of denial and self-hate. Scott Lively, for one, said as much at a press conference announcing the formation of the Coalition for Family Values. When asked what about the group’s raison d’etre, he told reporters that unlike other “pro-family” efforts, it will condemn all things homosexual, not just same-sex marriage, as an affront to decency and civilized behavior.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights.