This week, four months after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, a U.S.-based international anti-LGBT hate group is hosting a four-day conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference, called The World Congress of Families IX, is a powerful reminder that, despite the significant advances in the fight for LGBT equality at home, the anti-LGBT extremists who once dominated the U.S. political scene have not disappeared. Instead, American anti-gay activists are working to spread their extremism abroad, fanning homophobic attitudes and legislation in the countries they target.
The conference is an annual gathering that serves as a meeting space for hundreds of international antigay activists to share tactics and intelligence in their fight against LGBT rights. The conference is organized by the World Congress of Families — a U.S.-based “pro-family” international alliance that works to impose a narrow, Christian right definition of “family” as an international norm. The organization’s “pro-family” work has earned it the designation of an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The 2015 conference marks the first time WCF has held its event in the United States. Since WCF announced the Salt Lake City event over a year ago, LGBT rights organizations have been working to expose and condemn WCF’s role in spreading homophobia around the world.
Most notably, WCF has been linked to the extreme and international anti-LGBT movements taking place in Russia and Uganda in recent years. Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones has documented WCF’s activism in Russia as being largely responsible for the 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law passed before the Sochi winter Olympics. Similarly, U.S. News & World Report linked WCF to the rise in anti-LGBT legislation and attitudes in Africa. Earlier this week, Theresa Okafor, WCF’s Nigerian coordinator who has worked to advance laws in Nigeria and Uganda to ban gay sex and relationships, was honored with a WCF lifetime achievement award.
As journalists and LGBT rights organizations have spotlighted WCF’s anti-LGBT activism abroad, WCF has attempted to deny its contribution to antigay laws in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere. To try to exculpate itself, WCF takes advantage of its own structure as an “international gathering” rather than a centralized organization. WCF itself has a limited budget and a small staff, allowing it the flexibility to distance itself from anyone not designated an “official” representative of the organization.
But WCF’s conference serves as a space for anti-LGBT extremists to gather and exchange strategies and policies designed to marginalize LGBT people. As a review of the latest documentary exposing WCF’s anti-LGBT lobbying notes, “View footage of any high-level meeting to draft draconian, homophobic legislation, anywhere in the world, and it seems you'll find a WCF member or affiliate lurking in the corner of the frame.”
Given the recent progress of LGBT rights in the U.S. over the past few years, it might be tempting to brush off the WCF conference as irrelevant to the domestic fight for LGBT equality. But while groups like Family Research Council and National Organization for Marriage wield less power and influence over U.S. politics than they once did, the WCF conference gives these groups and other anti-LGBT activists an opportunity to export their homophobia abroad. WCF is only a four-day conference, but the connections made there will allow U.S.-based groups to grow their international reach and continue the global spread of anti-LGBT extremism for years to come.