We sure are seeing a lot of John Stemberger lately.
On background, he is the longtime "pro-family" activist who was behind prominent campaigns like the amendment that banned marriage equality in his home state of Florida. In the more immediate sense, he is now the public face of the current national effort to keep the Boy Scouts discriminatory, which he calls "On My Honor." But who is John Stemberger really?
He claims his current cause against the Boy Scouts is non-discriminatory. However, this is the same guy who opposed basic nondiscrimination ordinances in his home state of Florida because he claims equality activists are "a radical group of political operatives who want to force their aberrant views on human sexuality upon the rest of society by the mandate and penalty of law."
He denies that he is out to harm any kinds of families, yet he admits he sees two moms or two dads as "an objectively inferior choice" amid claims "that homosexuals as a population have disproportionally higher rates of social, mental and physical pathologies." He's even claimed that "[b]ased upon the best interest standard the law probably ought to also prohibit gay foster care, but it does not."
He acts like he has no problem with Boy Scouts who have what he refers to as "same sex attractions." But for years now, his organization, the Florida Family Policy Council, has hosted an extensive resource page on "leaving the gay lifestyle," with links to truly fringe groups like the Restored Hope Network.
He chastises corporate support for equal scouting. Only thing? He had no problem promoting a prominent fast food COO's claim that marriage equality is "inviting God's Judgement on the nation."
He pretends he is fine with kids living as they are, so long as what he sees as a political cause is kept out of scouting. But this is the same person who once gave a political speech where he used (read: exploited) a transgender kid's story and his opposition to it as an example of what motivates him to do his own advocacy work. He decried that this five-year-old's gender identity as being "a sinful little thought."
This weekend (Sunday, 5/5), Mr. Stemberger will team up with the Family Research Council, an organization that has never met an LGBT-accepting cause it couldn't decry, for an event they are calling "Stand with Scouts Sunday." But I ask again: who is this John Stemberger and what really motivates him to join forces with groups whose leaders make no bones about their animus and pastors who compare same-sex unions to those that might exist between a human and a dog or horse? Is Mr. Stemberger's cause, which he positions as one of "honor," really just about this one institutition and its supposed need to "protect" young boys from gays?
Like all of the open questions that surround the anti-equality movement, its groups, and their voices, the only thing I have to go on is what they themselves have given us. And if Mr. Stemberger is being honest, he will admit that he thinks that the entire LGBT equality movement is an "artificial socio-political agenda that is dangerous." If he fleshes out his underlying goals, he will own the fact that he thinks things like marriage equality are "affirmatively harmful—to children, to culture and to the common good of society." Again, he said this stuff. I didn't say it—Mr. Stemberger did.
With LGBT equality debates, we all have a tendency to view the individual cause in isolation. When someone is fighting against a certain policy, we confine our coverage and advocacy on just what the opposition is saying about that particular proposal. We do this for obvious reasons, since we need to focus on the task at hand. I get that.
But at the same time, it is both impossible and silly to detach the oppositional voice's telling comments from whatever he or she may be saying about his or her current fight. In the case of Mr. Stemberger, he will surely spend his time at the upcoming "Stand with Scouts" event talking a good game about the supposed need to "protect" and "defend" the Boy Scouts of America. But what, are we supposed to just forget that he, in his heart, sees all of us who are LGBT—boy or man, scout or not—as innately "aberrant"? Are we supposed to just ignore that his organization wants to "change" gay people? Are we supposed to deny that he refers to homosexuality (@5:53) as "the pathology of homosexuality"? And are we supposed to pretend we didn't hear that time he equated laws that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples with laws that prevent him from trying suicide?
I might be willing to do that if I knew how. But I don't. And I won't. I can't just "un-know" what I do in fact know about John Stemberger's multi-year fight to make life a harder for LGBT men and women (or boys, as the current case may be). After all, this is what he said and did to build enough of a national platform to headline speaking gigs with the Family Research Council.
Who is John Stemberger? I say we do what any good and honorable scout would do: we judge him on his own merits and by his own pledges. He may be wearing khaki now, but his play began long before he got into his current costume.