June July 2016
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The Advocate

Why Is a Facebook Exec Headlining a Right-Wing Conference?

Facebook global politics and government outreach director Katie Harbath
Facebook global politics and government outreach director Katie Harbath

As thousands of conservative writers and pundits gather in Nashville to attend the annual National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, progressive activists are crying foul on a Facebook executive's participation.  

The four-day conference, which begins Tuesday and is this year called "Proclaim 16," bills itself as a "jam-packed event that connects, equips, and edifies thousands of Christian communicators." 

But LGBT activists contend the annual gathering serves as a brain trust for some of the most notorious anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, and anti-choice groups in the country. In a guest op-ed at The New Civil Rights Movement, self-described queer faith activist Crystal Cheatham explained the dangerous influence of NRB:

"The National Religious Broadcasters is an international network of fundamentalist Christian communicators with an expansive amount of cultural and political influence. …

"NRB is specifically working to enact legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people through its promotion of a redefined understanding of religious freedom — one that carves out arenas of public life where religious institutions, individuals, and even businesses can exempt themselves from civil rights and labor laws."

In addition to hosting a presidential candidates forum where Republican hopefuls Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are confirmed to appear, Proclaim 16 has scheduled speakers that include megachurch pastor Rick Warren, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, noted homophobe and syndicated radio host Steve Deace, and Katie Harbath, Facebook's global politics and government outreach director. 

Harbath's participation, headlining the conference's Digital Media Summit on Monday, is particularly egregious, according to Cheatham, who also works with LGBT faith and social justice organization Soulforce. 

"As the Global Politics and Government Outreach Director, Harbath’s involvement flags Facebook as more than the non-partisan organization it claims to be," writes Cheatham. "Facebook requires personnel to 'avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest,' but the conflict of interest is clear — NRB’s Code of Ethics (which all its members are required to sign onto) forbids members to speak positively or promote anything having to do with LGBTQ identities and culture."

At press time, more than 1,000 people had signed a petition hosted at MoveOn.org asking Facebook to "pull out from [the] fundamentalist gathering." Drafted by Know Your Neighbors, a collaboration between Soulforce and Political Research Associates, the petition aims to persuade Harbath to rescind her agreement to speak at the conference. 

"Facebook, you support our gender identities," reads the petition background posted on the site. "You advocate for same-sex love. You help us tell our stories, make connections, build communities, and embrace each other worldwide. But actions speak louder than words." 

Facebook has not yet responded to the activist's calls to back out of the conference.

But a former NRB member — who was removed from the organization when he came out as gay — recently weighed in on a Facebook page connected to the petition:

"The NRB was the organization that funded my tv show and aired my show on the NRB Network," wrote Azariah Southworth. "As soon as I came out, I was told to turn in my key. I know from first hand experience, they're very anti-lgbtq. They're very much the Oz behind the curtain when it comes to setting standards for religious broadcasting. If you can change NRB then you've changed the entire religious broadcasting community."

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