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Fact checking at
Focus on the Family

Fact checking at
Focus on the Family


Washington State couple Dotti Berry and Robynne Sapp walked into Focus on the Family headquarters wanting to set the record straight on the conservative group's misinformation about gays. Instead they got arrested--but made an important statement all the same.

On Monday, February 19, Dotti Berry and Robynne Sapp walked into Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs and politely asked to talk to the conservative group's leader, James C. Dobson. The Blaine, Wash., couple wanted to set some things straight.

Dobson, an antigay Christian fundamentalist and ardent foe of gay parenting, is fond of saying that "more than 10,000 studies" show children do best with a mom and a dad, a claim that has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This December, Dobson continued his misrepresentation of the facts in a controversial Time op-ed piece in which he said, "The majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father."

Berry and Sapp sought out Dobson as part of the new "Focus on the Facts" campaign started by gay rights organization Soulforce, which models its civil disobedience campaigns after Gandhi's Satyagraha efforts in India.

The Advocate caught up with Sapp on Tuesday, after she and Berry left flowers at Focus on the Family.

Dotti and Robynne starting their act of civil disobedience and sit-in in the lobby of Focus on the Family headquarters. Courtesy Soulforce.

Why did you decide to infiltrate Focus on the Family and attempt to meet with Dobson? We've been involved with Soulforce for some years now. As a part of the organization, we have sent many letters to Dr. Dobson with requests to have conversations and dialogues, but he hasn't been willing to do so. After a while we figured it was time to up the ante and...we decided to take action. It's what happened with the civil rights movement. It was time for us to perform civil disobedience.

Were you prepared to be arrested? Dottie has been involved with Soulforce since 1999, when they were doing the same sort of thing with Jerry Falwell's church. She's been arrested so many times she can't even count anymore. I've been involved with Soulforce since 2001. This is my second time being arrested. We'll go to different Southern Baptist conventions, Catholic bishops, evangelical conventions to confront them about their toxic rhetoric that is harming our families. We live every day of our lives as a means to create tolerance. Our strategy is really one person at a time. Had you been to Focus on the Family before? The two of us have been inside two times. Just as private citizens. We've made friends who work there, and every time we go into Colorado Springs we visit them.| Tell me more about how the action went down. Our friend Diane saw us when we were going to take the 11 o'clock tour. She said, "You've been on the tour a bunch of times before; let me just take you around." And we told her, "To be honest, we're not leaving. We'd like to speak with Dr. Dobson out here or on the phone." What we wanted was for him to publicly recant his statements that he wrote in the December 18 issue of Time magazine. He distorted the work of prominent researchers Carol Gilligan and Kyle Pruett. Diane said she would see what she could do.

She left and then the head of media relations [Gary Schneeberger] came to us while we waited in the lobby and told us that we can't expect to talk to the "big guy." "He's heard your rhetoric before. He thinks it wouldn't be a dialogue but just a monologue. I suggest you leave." We told him that we weren't leaving. All of this was very peaceful--there wasn't any animosity or violence. We sat down in the lobby and we didn't leave until they brought extra security guards. They gave us one last chance and said that they would call the police. Then the police came and gave us the opportunity to leave without being arrested. We declined and the police took us to jail.

And then today you returned--with flowers? We went back with six vases of roses, for Dr. Dobson and the security people, and for our friends there. We wanted to thank them for their friendliness.

Now that you've successfully completed this action, what's next for you two? We have a Web site called where we kind of chronicle our outreach into straight America. We strive to create authentic connections with people so that it brings forth tolerance. We're not trying to change their minds, but as we get to meet people and have authentic connections, they shift. When they have a connection with gay people on a personal level, they do change.

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