Larry Jacobs

One Year After Passage Of Gay Propaganda Ban, American Right Continues To Look To Russia As A Guide

The Human Rights Campaign released a report today to mark the first anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signing of his infamous ban on “gay propaganda” and related anti-LGBT legislation. HRC reports “an uptick in violent attacks on LGBT people” since the bills’ passage that has accompanied a spike in “anti-LGBT sentiment” in the public square.

Yet despite the dangerous consequences of the increasing use of LGBT people as scapegoats — both in Russia and in neighboring Eastern European and Central Asian countries — and the place of anti-gay politics in Putin’s expansionist agenda, many on the American Religious Right continue to celebrate Putin’s crackdown on gay rights and even to hail it as a model for the United States.

The issue has been divisive on the Right. For instance, Accuracy in Media’s Cliff Kincaid — hardly a fan of gay people — got into a memorable shouting match earlier this year with World Congress of Families representatives, who he accused of cozying up to Putin.

It has also put some groups in tough positions. The World Congress of Families was forced to suspend its planned conference at the Kremlin, which was to be funded by a handful of people close to Putin, after Russia seized Crimea and groups including Concerned Women for America started backing out.

But we continue to hear right-wing activists heaping praise on Putin for his enthusiastic anti-gay politics and increasing embrace of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Just last week, Phyllis Schlafly praised Putin for “warming up to religious freedom” as “Americans are rejecting it”:

And earlier this week, WorldNetDaily announced that people around the world are “fleeing” to Russia to escape homosexuality in their own countries .

American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer continues to push for the U.S. to adopt a “propaganda” ban like Russia’s:

Anti-gay activists including Pat Buchanan,Peter LaBarbera,Franklin Graham,Scott Lively,Keith Davies,Linda Harvey,Randall Terry,Gordon Klingenschmitt,Janice Shaw Crouse, Austin Ruse, Bob Vander Plaats , Rick Scarborough and, of course, the WorldCongress of Families have defended Russia’s anti-gay crackdown or called for similar laws in the U.S.

And, of course, some have directly lent their support to the passage of anti-gay laws in Russia: the World Congress of Families has an active network in Russia and Eastern Europe and just days before Putin signed the propaganda ban recruited the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown to warn Russian lawmakers about the risks of gay rights.

The support for laws that have dangerously scapegoated LGBT people in Russia is especially ironic coming from a movement that claims that the gay rights movement in the United States is persecuting them .

Concerned Women For America Drops Out Of World Congress of Families Moscow Summit

As we’ve been reporting, the American Religious Right has found itself in a tough spot following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, since many Religious Right leaders have not only praised Putin’s anti-gay, anti-choice policies but are planning to attend a World Congress of Families summit at the Kremlin later this year.

Now, one such group that previously praised Putin has announced that it will pull out of the Moscow summit. Buzzfeed reported yesterday that Concerned Women for America will no longer be participating in the World Congress of Families event because, as the group’s CEO Penny Nance said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.”

CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.

Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.

A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.

In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.

The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.

As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia, along with his push to keep Ukraine out of the European Union. Riling up hostility to gay rights, in particular, has become a powerful wedge issue for Russian-aligned, anti-EU activists in Ukraine.

Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”

Nance is aware of the message that her group’s participation in the summit would send. Will anybody else follow her lead?

Will American Religious Right Groups Go Ahead With Their Kremlin Summit?

As President Obama and world leaders debate whether to go ahead with this year’s planned G-8 meeting in Sochi after Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, American Religious Right leaders are facing a diplomatic dilemma of their own.

In September, social conservative leaders from around the globe, including representatives of several major American Religious Right groups are planning to hold the annual World Congress of Families gathering at the Kremlin. The gathering is supported by political leaders in Russian Orthodox Church and will include a joint session with the Russian parliament.

American social conservatives have rallied – with varying levels of enthusiasm – to support Russian President Vladimir Putin as his government has passed aseries of anti-gay laws and joined with the church to take up other “family values” issues. These activists, in praising Russia’s renewed push on issues such as gay rights, have largely chosen to ignore the role that social issues are playing in Putin's larger plans.

Issues such as gay rights, abortion rights, and population growth aren't a side project for Putin – they're closely entwined with his tightening grip on power and what Julia Ioffe calls his “appetite for expansion.” For instance, as Buzzfeed's Lester Feder has reported extensively, Russia and its allies in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe have riled up anti-gay sentiment as part of a larger agenda of fomenting distrust of the EU and the West. Putin’s anti-gay crackdown has also been useful in promoting nationalist sentiment within Russia and to provide a useful scapegoat as he tightens his grip on power.

When Larry Jacobs of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families gushes that “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world” or when former Fox News producer Jack Hanick, who has been active in anti-gay causes in Russia, says that “God called on” Russia to “stand up for traditional values,” they are playing into Putin’s own narrative.

In October, leaders from major U.S. Religious Right groups including the National Organization for Marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family traveled to Moscow for a planning meeting for the upcoming conference, where they met with Yelena Mizulina, a member of parliament at the head of the Kremlin's social conservative push and coauthor of the infamous "gay propaganda" bill.

In addition, nearly every major Religious Right group in the country is an official paying “partner” of the World Congress of Families; groups including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, pay an annual $2,500 fee to support the organization, which is an offshoot of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.

The American Right has found Putin's Russia to be an ally of convenience as they work to build an international movement opposing gay rights, choice, and religious pluralism. But how far are they willing to take the relationship?

World Congress Of Families: Criticism Of Putin Is Liberal Media Hysteria

Representatives of the World Congress of Families held a news conference at the National Press Club on Wednesday to talk about their 2014 summit, which will be held in Moscow in September.  The WCF and the Religious Right groups it partners with are ardent promoters of anti-gay legislation worldwide, and they love Russia's anti-gay President Vladimir Putin. 

Earlier this week the WCF announced that the opening session would be held in the Congress Hall of the Kremlin Palace, that a special parliamentary session will also be held in the Russian Duma and a special scientific forum at St Petersburg State University. At today's press conference it was announced that the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is expected to address the gathering.

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs, C-FAM’s Austin Ruse, Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse, and Alexey Komov, WCF’s man in Russia, were delighted about anti-gay legislation that has passed in Moscow and were defensive about western criticism of Putin’s regime.

Given the record of the event organizers, none of that was very surprising. What was surprising is the way the press conference was hijacked by conservative activist Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, who pointed out that Putin was a product of the Communist-era KGB; he took the organizers to task for partnering with Putin and produced a list of political prisoners he said are being held in Russia.

Kincaid’s strident criticism of Russia’s history provoked Komov into a screed against real and imagined problems from American history, from the slaughter of Native Americans to political prisoners in Guantanamo, complete with references to the supposed killing of 200 witnesses to the JFK assassination and the question of who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Komov suggested that during the era of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. was free, pro-Christian, and pro-capitalist, while Russia was mired in communism. He suggested that under Obama and Putin, a role reversal is under way. He said he would hesitate to say which country is more free, Russia or the U.S.

UPDATE: Kincaid has posted video of the exchange. Watch:

Jacobs was clearly uncomfortable with Komov’s rant, perhaps because, as he had mentioned earlier, WCF has yet to finalize confirmations from Members of Congress who they hope will attend the Moscow summit.

Speakers said they were proud of what Crouse called Russia's "leadership role" on behalf of the family, and proud of what Ruse called the "massive network" of people organizing around the world on behalf of the family and in opposition to "the agenda of the sexual left."

Asked about bipartisan criticism of the increasingly anti-democratic nature of Putin’s rule, Ruse suggested that some people are “stuck in cold war amber” and are consumed by a “visceral hatred of all things Russian.” He energetically supported Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, saying “there is no human right to tell the gay narrative to schoolchildren.” And he dismissed concerns about Putin’s moves against freedom of the press, saying Russians had no “historical memory” of that kind of freedom.

Janice Shaw Crouse said she had “no problem whatsoever” with the prosecution of members of Pussy Riot, falsely claiming that they had disrupted a church service with the performance that landed them in jail.

All the speakers claimed that freedom of press and dissent is alive and well in Russia, saying that they have criticized Putin’s crackdown on homeschoolers and that bloggers are free to criticize the government. And they portrayed Russia as a sort of paradise where gay couples can stroll hand in hand without fear. (For another view, read Jeff Sharlet's recent reporting from Russia in GQ.)

Komov slammed “radical LGBT activists” who he said were trying to turn the Olympics into a “gay pride parade.” Komov said he opposed violence against gay people, but he insisted there was no correlation between passage of anti-gay laws and anti-gay violence in the country, dismissing the idea as “hysteria” from “the liberal media.”

Komov also opined that the Olympics were no place for gay rights: “Olympics is the place for sports and health and normal values that unite everyone ...And we know that if we want Olympics to be sports and health, we know, statistics show us that homosexual lifestyles are not healthy.”

UPDATE: Video of the comments taken by Kincaid:

 

World Congress of Families Plans New Push For Anti-Gay Policies in Ukraine

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s parliament took the first step toward passing a law, similar to one recently passed in Russia, that would ban the “promotion of homosexuality” – essentially a gag rule on any LGBT rights advocacy.

The Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families provided support for both laws: In May, the group’s two representatives in Russia, Alekey Komov and Pavel Parfentiev, sent a detailed memo defending the laws to the Council of Europe’s human rights commission. World Congress of Families has also joined an international coalition of groups defending Russia’s law.

In addition, it was representatives of the World Congress of Families who arranged for National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown to testify before a committee of Russia’s parliament in support of a law banning gay couples and single people in countries that allow marriage equality to adopt Russian orphans.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that before its upcoming world conference in Moscow, World Congress of Families representatives plan to meet with Ukrainian lawmakers to discuss “pro-family policies.” In a press release, World Congress managing director Larry Jacobs boasts of his group’s “support” for Russia’s “child protection law” (the “propaganda” ban) and adds that he’ll soon be taking his advocacy to Ukraine:

Prior to the Moscow meeting, Komov and WCF Communications Director Don Feder, along with Srdjan Nogo of the Serbian group Dveri (WCF’s newest Partner) and French pro-marriage activist Fabrice Sorlin, will be in Kiev for meetings with key Ukrainian leaders, including members of parliament.

Along with WCF spokesman Don Feder and Komov, the visitors to Ukraine will include Srdjan Nogo, the leader of the Serbian group that worked with WCF to get a recent gay pride parade cancelled in Belgrade, and Fabrice Sorlin, one of the far-right French activists (and a former Front National candidate) who accompanied NOM’s Brown to Moscow.
 

Globalizing Homophobia, Part 1: How The American Right Came to Embrace Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown

This is the first post in a four-part series exploring how American right-wing groups have supported Russia’s recent spate of anti-gay laws and its crackdown on LGBT citizens.

This summer, as part of a larger effort to channel political dissatisfaction by scapegoating minorities, the Russian government escalated its crackdown on the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual citizens. President Vladimir Putin and his allies found support and guidance in their anti-gay efforts from a group eager for an opportunity to notch some victories in the battle against LGBT freedom and equality: the American right.

On June 11, the Russian Duma passed a law banning “propaganda” about homosexuality to minors, essentially a gag rule criminalizing any advocacy for LGBT equality. (Moscow had already instituted a 100-year ban on gay pride parades.) Weeks later, on July 3, Putin signed a bill banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples abroad and by single people in countries that allow marriage equality. Shortly afterward, a member of the Duma proposed a law that would revoke gay people’s custody of their biological children. The bill’s sponsor said in an interview that children would be better off in orphanages than with a gay mother or father.

Throughout this process, Russian gay rights groups reported a surge in anti-gay hate crimes. Journalist Julia Ioffe has documented some individual stories.

Russia’s crackdown on LGBT people comes amidst a broad crackdown on the rights of minorities and political dissenters or, in the words of one lawmaker, a campaign “to defend the rights of the majority.” On the same day the Duma passed its ban on gay “propaganda,” it also approved a harsh anti-blasphemy law promising jail time for “offending religious feelings.” The blasphemy measure was meant to strenghthen the laws that led to the political prosecution of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were sentenced to two years in a penal colony for a performance that was deemed to offend “religious sensibilities.”

Russia’s repression of LGBT people and the Pussy Riot case have provoked an international outcry, intensified by the  the country’s role as the host of next year’s winter Olympics.

But throughout all this, one group has cheered on Putin’s actions: the American Religious Right and its international allies.

Even as tensions have grown between Russia and the United States, several Religious Right leaders have spoken loudly in favor of Putin’s crackdowns on gay people and political dissenters:

  • Conservative commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan praised Putin for “trying to re-establish the Orthodox Church as the moral compass of the nation” by going after gays and political dissent and suggested that the United States follow his lead.
  • The anti-feminist group Concerned Women for America hailed the Pussy Riot prosecution, saying that the band displayed an “utter lack of morality.”
  • Religious Right activist Bob Vander Plaats, whose Family Leader events in Iowa have become must-attends for Republican presidential candidates, praised Putin’s “decisive leadership” on anti-gay laws.
  • American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer declared that Russia’s gay “propaganda” ban was exactly the kind of “public policy that we’ve been advocating” and that, if anything, the ban didn’t go far enough.
  • Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality praised the propaganda law, writing, “Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth.”
  • Scott Lively, an American activist linked to Uganda’s push for the death penalty for gays, wrote that under Putin’s leadership, Russia has become a “beacon of freedom” while the U.S. has descended into a “gay version of the Soviet Union.” Lively also gave himself credit for “indirectly” assisting the ban on “homosexual propaganda,” calling it “one of the proudest achievements of my career.”
  • Vision America’s Rick Scarborough suggested that God would rebuke President Obama over his condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, saying that Obama’s criticism of the propaganda law “puts our country in a very precarious place.”
  • Radio host Linda Harvey, head of the group Mission: America, praised the gay “propaganda” ban, declaring that any “responsible adult” would support it.
  • Rush Limbaugh praised Putin for “putting [his] foot down” against gay peoples’ “full-frontal assault on what has always been considered normalcy.”
  • Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) called the Russian law a “good thing” and claimed that “most of the people in the United States” would support a similar measure.
  • Larry Jacobs of the Illinois-based World Congress of Families hailed the propaganda law for “preventing [LGBT people] from corrupting children" and declared  that "the Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world."
  • Six American Religious Right groups, including the World Congress of FamiliesMission: America and C-FAM , joined an international coalition of right-wing groups in signing a statement supporting the anti-gay crackdown and condemning the international outrage against it.

American conservative groups haven’t just praised Russia’s crackdown on gays. Working through several channels, American anti-gay activists quietly provided intellectual backing and international support that directly and indirectly fueled the resurgent anti-gay movement in Russia and in other former Soviet states like Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.

In a series of posts today and tomorrow, we’ll look at how American activists influenced Russia’s anti-gay laws by funding anti-gay activism in Russia, testifying before the Duma, providing false research to fan the flames of anti-gay laws abroad, and building an international movement to back the harshest anti-gay laws around the world.

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