More than 26,000 people have signed a petition urging Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to cancel his welcoming address to the antigay World Congress of Families' conference tomorrow in Salt Lake City -- an act that has been characterized as welcoming hate to the state.
The governor, however, has not responded to the petition, initiated by the international LGBT group All Out. Supporters of All Out made sure 40,000 Utahns saw that Herbert will address the meeting, with a targeted ad campaign on Facebook.
The World Congress of Families is a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, based in Rockford, Ill. The center bills itself as "a center for research on the natural family" and calls the congress "the world's premier pro-family gathering." Opposition to homosexuality is a hallmark of both the center and the congress, which together are designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
All Out is not the first group to object to Gov. Herbert's appearance at the meeting; the Human Rights Campaign put out a statement about the matter last month. "It's astonishing that the governor of Utah would allow himself to be mentioned in the same sentence as the World Congress of Families -- let alone be in the same room with them," said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global. "To be clear: This is a hate group that's literally convening thousands of extremists from around the globe to strategize and share information about their nefarious activism. Hate is not an American value, and we call on Governor Herbert to cancel his appearance."
The list of speakers and panelists for this year's meeting includes such well-known antigay figures as Rev. Rafael Cruz, father of Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz; National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown; Family Research Council fellow Peter Sprigg; columnist Robert Knight; publicist Frank Schubert, a leader of the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California; Mark Regnerus, author of a discredited study that disparaged the parenting skills of gays and lesbians; anti-marriage equality activists Janice Shaw Crouse and Jennifer Roback Morse; and minister Rick Scarborough.
Crouse, who is executive director of the conference, has in the past "urged the Ugandan government to take a 'biblical and cultural stand against the radical homosexual agenda' and traveled to Russia in support of the regime's deeply anti-LGBT 'propaganda' law," Cobb noted. WCF managing director Larry Jacobs has acknowledged, proudly, that the group has contributed to the anti-LGBT climate in Russia, Cobb added.
"WCF has praised Vladimir Putin as the standard-bearer for 'morality' and honored a Nigerian activist [Theresa Okafor] who claims LGBT advocates conspire with the terrorist group Boko Haram with a 'Woman of the Year' award," said Cobb. "Their advocacy abroad harms LGBT people from Russia to Nigeria and beyond. Try as they may to mask their views, WCF's positions and support for policies that target and marginalize LGBT people and incite animus around the world are undeniable."
Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune in September, Crouse replied that HRC and SPLC have mischaracterized the WCF. "She contends that the WCF gathers 'scholars, government and religious leaders, health care professionals and advocates' to share research and discuss issues that affect the family, including health, pornography, addiction and family stability," the paper reports.
Jon Cox, a spokesman for Herbert, confirmed that the governor will speak at the conference, the Tribune reports. (His wife, Jeanette, is also scheduled to appear, both at the welcome and on a panel.) A statement from Cox defended Herbert's record on LGBT issues, noting that he signed into law a bill that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Gov. Herbert's record is clear on the issue of nondiscrimination," Cox said. "He is proud to have signed into law SB296, which provides unprecedented protections for religious groups and members of the LGBT community."
However, under Herbert, the state defended its ban on same-sex marriage, and the governor, a Republican, accepted marriage equality -- reluctantly -- only after the U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling striking down the ban.
Utah's attorney general, Sean Reyes, who led the state's defense of the ban, is also scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Utah legislator Kim Coleman.