Republican Leaders Asked to Skip Values Voters Summit

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com September 11 2012 12:34 PM ET

Since its launch in 2006, the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. has become a must-do event on the Republican political calendar, where high-profile hopefuls court influential religious conservatives in an atmosphere infused with antigay messages and demonstrable falsehoods.

This year a coalition of human rights groups including LGBT advocacy organizations is urging top Republicans such as vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor to decline invitations in order to avoid legitimizing the “demonizing lies” of the host, the Family Research Council. The host and one of the cosponsors, the American Family Association, have falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia and the Holocaust, among other untruths that have been debunked by researchers and scientists.

Calling the FRC “far outside of the mainstream,” seven groups sent a letter to invited speakers last week saying, “We urge you not to lend the prestige of your office to the summit.” The letter concluded by saying, “We urge you to decline the FRC’s invitation and not share the stage with and lend your credibility to an organization that spreads demonizing falsehoods about other people.”

Congressman Ryan and Majority Leader Cantor are scheduled to speak during the morning plenary session at the summit’s opening day this Friday. Good as You reports that scheduled speakers also include Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The letter was sent by leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Council, National Council of La Raza, Faithful America, and People for the American Way Foundation. Representatives from most of the groups spoke to reporters in a press briefing call Tuesday morning.

“It is entirely inappropriate for mainstream elected officials who are responsible for advocating for the best interests of American’s divers constituents to appear at an event for a group that actively works to banish LGBT people to the outskirts of society,” said HRC president Fred Sainz. “The only thing FRC advocates for is the demonization of those who do not fit into their narrow worldview.”

While the FRC opposition to marriage equality may contradict the emerging majority of Americans in favor, its president Tony Perkins last month exerted control over language in the Republican Party platform that opposes same-sex marriage, calls for a federal constitutional amendment banning such unions, and endorses the Defense of Marriage Act. Romney and his running mate, Ryan, also support those positions.

The FRC has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a classification that Perkins and others blamed for the nonlethal shooting of a security guard at the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last month. During the call Tuesday, SPLC president Richard Cohen reiterated his group’s explanation that the classification comes not from the FRC’s religious views or opposition to marriage equality, but from its “baseless and incendiary name-calling and lying about the LGBT community.”

Representatives on the call conceded that Republican leaders may be unlikely to skip a meeting with active conservative voters at the height of election season, but they claimed credit for the cancellation of at least one prominent speaker. Faithful America director Michael Sherrard said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York had been promoted on the schedule, but his office confirmed he would not attend after more than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking him not to speak. It was unknown whether Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had formally been invited or just listed by the summit’s organizers.

“It’s unclear whether he was actually on the schedule to begin with, but it’s equally clear that they were acting in response” to the petition, said Sherrard.

If leaders such as Ryan and Cantor do not heed the letter and attend the Values Voters Summit as scheduled, the human rights groups intend to bring the elected officials’ far-right association to the attention of media. Some of the other speakers include anti-Muslim activists such as Frank Gaffney, opponents of gay parents including Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, and Lila Rose, who has “called for abortions to be performed in the public square,” according to People for the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan.

“What's remarkable about the summit is that it really does show how closely aligned the so-called mainstream conservatives are with these extreme groups,” he said. “Elected officials can’t pretend to be mainstream figures while appearing at an extremist event.”