Equality Matters' Carlos Maza, a proud gay man and extremely capable equality advocate, recently put his own emotional welfare at great risk in order to serve the movement. With an interest in hearing what the National Organization For Marriage's Ruth Institute (a youth-focused 501c3 operated by NOM's Education Fund) and its head, Jennifer Roback Morse, say about LGBT people when in like-minded company, Carlos signed up for the organization's annual "It Takes A Family To Raise A Village" (ITAF) conference, which is held each summer in in San Diego, CA.
Undercover yet open to the experience, Carlos went with a focus on research and understanding. Instead, Carlos left feeling like he's just lived through "one of the most disturbing and overtly homophobic experiences of my life." Let's examine.
ITAF's overt conflation of Christianity with intense homophobia left me dumbfounded. When I decided to attend the conference, I expected to be exposed to a good deal of pseudoscience about gay parents and same-sex relationships. For the most part, NOM has been open about its willingness to misinform people about LGBT families in order to slow the advance of marriage equality.But what I saw at the conference - selling a book that labels gay people as pedophiles worthy of death, distributing Bible quotes to college students similarly calling for gays to be killed, hosting entire speeches devoted to condemning gays and lesbians as deviant sinners - represented a brand of anti-gay extremism that I assumed even NOM would have shied away from.
Second, I think of the undeniably personal nature of this debate. Maggie Gallagher has been particularly forceful over the past decade warning her fellows in the fight that they are thes one who are at great emotional risk. "They will call us bigots" she frequently warns. "They attack our religious freedom," NOM press releases routinely blare. The general vibe is one where LGBT welfare is glossed over in full so that those who discriminate against LGBT people and our families can absolve themselves of the very real, very dangerous harms that stem from aggressive anti-LGBT advocacy.
Carlos, a long-engaged warrior, notes the reality:
From the comfort of my desk in DC, it's always been easy to think of NOM's anti-gay efforts as somehow being outside of my own life. I don't wake up each morning worrying about NOM denying me the ability to build my own family or raise my own kids. I'm legally allowed to marry and adopt children with a same-sex partner if and when I choose to do so. NOM's talking points were offensive and extreme, but I'd grown accustomed to treating them the same way I treated every argument as a debater in college - assess its merits, find its flaws, and debunk misinformation.
Being in that room, though, watching dozens of people craning their necks to hear [a speaker] explain the harms posed by same-sex parenting, I realized that he wasn't just talking about "gay parents" in the abstract; he was talking about me. Each time [the speaker] accused same-sex couples of sexually abusing their own children, he was questioning my ability to be a good parent one day, too.
That sensation of feeling personally targeted would stick with me for the rest of the conference.
Having been in both situations, I understand this distinction completely. When you read a press release or hear an interview (both of which are typically delivered in more pragmatic and measured tones), it's easy to think of this through the contrived "culture war" colors that we're used to experiencing. Because this fight has become so political, it's not hard to put on your MSNBC hat rather than fully internalize the intent of the human at point A and fully think of the receptive ears attached to the humans at point B. But when you are there, in the thick of it, with all the players on site? A lightbulb goes on. You start to realize that there is intent and there is reception. There is a goal and your life is at the center of it.
It's an oddly creepy feeling that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
So why did Carlos feel so targeted? Well, for that, we have to consider element number three: the element of denigration. Ever since Prop 8's unfortunate passage, those of us who fight on the side of equality have listened as NOM and its offshoot operations (i.e. The Ruth Institute) have tried to position the "protect marriage" cause as being the marginalized one. As being the downtrodden. As being the ragtag band of innocents merely trying to make it in a world ruled by some militant gay monolith. They certainly deny that opposing marriage equality means opposing LGBT people.
But what did Carlos see and hear, firsthand and in living color? Well, he heard a speaker claim that the majority of same-sex couples are "dysfunctional" and "erratic." He listened to speaker Robert Gagnon repeat his claim that "a homosexual relationship is worse than a polygamist one." He posed for pictures for a photgrapher who joked by saying: "Two gay guys walk into a mosque... they were never heard from again!" He marveled at the ludicrious assertion that lesbian relationships are more prone to instability because women's menstrual cycles sync up when they cohabit. He listened to the oft-repeated lie that same-gender parents create LGBT kids. He sat, jaw-dropped, as Ruth head Roback Morse encouraged attendees to buy a book that claims (among many other things) that "participation in same-sex intercourse is partly its own payback for turning away from the one true God." And so on and so forth. Or I should say: so off and sooooo animus-driven!
Oh, and Carlos also listened as National Organization For Marriage's Thomas Peters—NOM's Cultural Director, blogger, and golden boy of late—overtly disconnected gay people from "lifestyles," positioning our "attractions" as something we can and should choose to "leave":
PETERS: ...as a Catholic, the church doesn't believe in gay and lesbian people, per se, in the way they do. "Born that way," all this kind of stuff. What they believe is there are people born with deep-seated same-sex attraction. So as a Catholic a term which I use is SSA, same-sex attraction, and if you look at, it's also with people who have moven [sic] out of the gay lifestyle into saying "I was a person and am a person with same-sex attraction." That's, I think a fascinating discussion to have. The most effective and punchiest way to do that is go right back to the actual underlying question of, like, do you believe gay people are born that way, and then you can have a discussion about that.
In short—Carlos heard pure and utter condemantion, leading him to conclude that...
...NOM had spent the entire weekend trying to widen it by teaching her that gays and lesbians - including me - are unstable, dangerous, and unworthy of raising their own families. Despite the promise to focus on "marriage, not gayness," ITAF had been a veritable crash course in demonizing LGBT people.
Reading Carlos' piece, I don't see how anyone, of any ideological stripe could conclude otherwise.
On that note: GO. READ. HIS. PIECE. IN. FULL:
EXCLUSIVE: Undercover At NOM's Anti-Gay Student Conference [Equality Matters]