The World Congress of Families, a loose alliance of organizations that seeks to stop advances in LGBT equality and reproductive rights throughout the world, announced today that former President George W. Bush will recieve an award at its annual event in Tbisili, Georgia, later this month.
Update: A spokesperson for Bush tells Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder that while the former president is “flattered,” he had previously declined an invitation to participate in the event and was “not aware of the award in question.”
Update II: Although he will not be attending the conference, Bush has penned a welcome greeting for the event:
Around the world, families provide that beacon of freedom and the source of help, hope, and stability for individuals and nations. As one of the pillars of civilization and the bulwark of liberty, families must remain strong and we must defend them. To ensure that future generations are prepared to face new opportunities and challenges, as President, I took steps to promote strong families, preserve the sanctity of marriage and protect the well-being of children. Laura and I have always believed in encouraging adoption and supporting the crisis pregnancy center programs to help us continue to build a culture of life.
I commend your efforts to recognize the importance of families in building nations. Your work improves many lives and makes the world better.
WCF, which is run out of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, an Illinois-based think tank, has been holding conferences since 1997. But it attracted greater attention two years ago when it planned to hold its annual congress at the Kremlin in Moscow, hosted by prominent allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and advocates of the country’s recent crackdown on its LGBT citizens . WCF’s leadership had supported Russia’s spate of anti-LGBT laws, including signing a letter in support of a law banning gay “propaganda” to minors. One WCF official, Larry Jacobs, said that the law was a "great idea” and that the “Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”
WCF eventually withdrew its official support from that conference after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although the event went ahead as planned , with the participation of officials from WCF and other U.S.-based Religious Right groups. Last year’s conference was held in Salt Lake City, where organizers attempted to deny the organization’s work promoting homophobia globally, even as Rafael Cruz, the father of then-presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, used the event to warn that the LGBT community will “try to legalize pedophilia.”
Bush is set to accept the award at an event whose speakers include Putin allies, anti-LGBT extremists and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.
Along with Bush, this year’s WCF will feature prominent U.S. anti-gay activists including the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, who coordinated with WCF to travel to Russia to support the country’s anti-gay policies in 2013. Also scheduled to speak is Natalia Yakunina, the wife of former Putin ally Vladimir Yakunin, who was instrumental in organizing and funding the Moscow event, and Vladimir Mischenko, a top official at a foundation run by Yakunin.
The Tbisili event will also feature several speakers from WCF’s global network, including the Howard Center and WCF’s founder Allan Carlson, who helped define the idea that the organization promotes of a “ natural family” based on traditional gender roles. Also speaking will be WCF spokesman Don Feder, who warned at a previous WCF event that the human race is financing “ its own extinction” through birth control and who sidelines as an extremist anti-immigrant columnist.
WCF’s Russian representative, Alexey Komov, will also be speaking. Komov, an enthusiastic supporter of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, was a main organizer of the WCF Moscow event, and has reportedly helped to direct funding to a pro-Putin propaganda effort in the U.S. At a memorable press conference in Washington leading up to the Moscow conference, Komov lost his cool and started spouting conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks and the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Also on the docket is WCF’s regional director in Africa, Theresa Okafor, who at a previous WCF gathering said that “you wonder if there’s a conspiracy” between Western governments that support LGBT rights and the terrorist group Boko Haram to “silence Christians.” Okafor, who has promoted repressive anti-LGBT laws in a number of African countries, was honored with WCF’s “Woman of the Year” award at last year’s conference. Joining her will be WCF’s French representative, Fabrice Sorlin, a far-right politician who once compared Russia’s defense of “traditional values” to its repelling of “the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan.”
Bush’s receipt of an award from the World Congress of Families makes some sense: The social conservative movement in the U.S. has been appalled by the Obama administration’s stated commitment to promoting protections for LGBT people around the world and is nostalgic for the Bush administration’s support for the Mexico City Policy, which blocked overseas aid to family planning groups that provide abortions.
But does the former president really want to be elevating the profile of a group that promotes repressive anti-LGBT policies like the Russian propaganda law?