Lou Sheldon, one of the leading homophobes of the past few decades, has died at age 85.
Sheldon died Friday in Southern California, his son-in-law James Lafferty told The Orange County Register. Lafferty said the cause of death was “a long-standing condition” but did not elaborate.
Sheldon, originally a Presbyterian minister and later an Anglican clergyman, founded the Traditional Values Coalition in 1980 “to spread a ‘moral code and behavior based upon the Old and New Testaments’ and to warn Americans of the rising ‘gay threat,’” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive watchdog organization that designated the coalition a hate group.
“Sheldon, a protégé of Christian Right evangelist Pat Robertson, launched TVC in Anaheim, California, before moving its headquarters to Washington, D.C.,” the SPLC notes. “His anti-LGBT rhetoric — calling homosexuality a ‘deathstyle;’ claiming child molestation is the real ‘homosexual agenda;’ suggesting AIDS victims should be forced into leper-like colonies — pushed TVC to the forefront of the battle against equal rights in the 1990s.”
Sheldon and his organization were cozy with Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the U.S. House and with other Republican politicians, such as Trent Lott, who served as a U.S. senator from Mississippi. Lott appeared in a 1993 video for TVC, Gay Rights/Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda. And the group persuaded members of Congress to hold a hearing in 1995 on school activities that supposedly promoted homosexuality, which devolved into ridiculous allegations that federal funds for AIDS treatment and prevention were being used for gay orgies.
Also in the 1990s, Sheldon supported Clarence Thomas during hearings on Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination. Thomas was confirmed despite former colleague Anita Hill’s accusations that he had sexually harassed her.
In the 21st century, Sheldon had access to the White House when George W. Bush was president. He met with Bush eight times, according to the SPLC.
Sheldon frequently conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. “As homosexuals continue to make inroads into public schools, more children will be molested and indoctrinated into the world of homosexuality,” he once said. “Many of them will die in that world.”
He and his group also campaigned against the admission of openly LGBTQ+ people into the military. In 2010, when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, the TVC put out a press release saying, “LGBT activists are doing a victory dance over conquering our U.S. military — but this is only a skirmish in a long battle to homosexualize our entire culture. I expect to see an effort down the road to include ‘transgenders’ in the military. That should be an interesting debate.”
He was active in the fight against marriage equality or anything approaching it. He campaigned against civil unions legislation in Vermont and appeared at “protection of marriage” events, calling for bans on same-sex marriage. The TVC was also known for its opposition to abortion rights and demonization of Muslims.
As Sheldon aged, his daughter Andrea Lafferty took on a bigger role in the TVC, and she became its president in 2011. She made transphobic statements in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2013, then in 2015 sued a Virginia school district over its antidiscrimination policy, which covered LGBTQ+ students and employees. The suit was eventually dismissed.
In recent years the TVC has become less of a presence. It received criticism for its lobbying activities, which included taking money from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to oppose anti-gambling legislation. The SPLC reported in 2018 that the TVC website had vanished and its phone had been disconnected. A search today by The Advocate, however, did turn up a site for the TVC’s Education and Legal Institute, saying it “represents tens of thousands of churches to educate and inform voters on how to take action and make their voices heard.” The institute maintains a Facebook page as well, but the most recent posts on the page are from 2018.
“My father was a key figure in Christian conservative activism,” Andrea Lafferty told the Register. “During the 30 years I worked by his side, I saw daily examples of extraordinary faith and patriotism.”