Globalizing Homophobia, Part 4: The World Congress of Families and Russia's 'Christian Saviors'
This is the final 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.
Last week, Serbian authorities abruptly cancelled a planned gay pride parade in Belgrade, citing “serious security concerns” about right-wing groups opposing the event. A few days later, an American group stood up to claim credit: the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families.
In its press release celebrating the parade’s cancellation, WCF highlighted its role in last week’s Belgrade protest against the planned parade. Speaking at the protest were WCF communications director Don Feder and the group’s top man in Moscow, Alexey Komov. Also present was Fabrice Sorlin, the far-right nationalist French activist who organized a delegation of American and French activists to advocate for anti-gay laws at the Duma in June, the subject of our last post.
It’s no coincidence that the WCF was able to pull such a delegation to Belgrade: For the past several years, the organization has built an organization in Russia to advocate for anti-gay policies there and throughout Eastern Europe. WCF staff in Russia actively advocated for recent anti-gay laws, including a ban on gay “propaganda” – essentially a gag rule on gay rights advocacy – and the curtailing of international adoptions to gay couples and single people in countries that allow marriage equality. Through WCF, American Religious Right groups are able to provide support to anti-gay movements in Russia and throughout the world.
The World Congress of Families was founded in 1997 by Religious Right activist (and former Reagan National Commission on Children appointee) Allan Carlson as a project of the Rockford, Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. WCF’s purpose is to be a multi-faith, multi-national coalition of social conservative groups working to push its vision in the United Nations and in governments around the world. But it draws its most prominent support from the American Religious Right.
The WCF has friends in high places. The Bush administration’s representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women spoke at the WCF’s 2004 world meeting in Mexico City, saying, “As one of the pillars of civilization, families must remain strong and we must defend them during a time of great change.”
Since President Obama took office, the WCF has found itself in a different role, joining with groups like the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CFAM) to resist the administration’s efforts to include gay rights in international human rights efforts and its repeal of the Mexico City Policy. WCF has strongly opposed international efforts to decriminalize homosexuality, and has even whitewashed the push by some Ugandan officials to make homosexuality a capital crime.
The group continues to draw financial support from nearly every major Religious Right organization in the United States. The WCF’s American “partners” include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Alliance Defense Fund and Americans United For Life. Concerned Women For America’s Janice Shaw Crouse is a member of its board. Leaders of many of these groups are also staples at WCF’s annual conferences.
The National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown is also an enthusiastic booster of WCF’s work. In an August fundraising email, WCF quoted Brown:
The World Congress of Families is THE group standing up for the family around the world. They have done amazing work in uniting all of those who stand for the truth about marriage and family. It has been an honor to partner with WCF and to be a part of their most recent Congress in Australia and regional conference in Trinidad and Tobago. I wholeheartedly endorse their work and urge you to financially support their efforts.
Through the World Congress of Families, American Religious Right groups that might shy away from international affairs in their more public work provide very direct support to efforts preventing international recognition of gay rights as human rights, and to the crafting of anti-gay policies abroad. And that is exactly what’s happening in Russia.
This month, the World Congress of Families joined with five other American groups in signing a statement with over 100 groups from around the world supporting Russia’s “gay propaganda” law and condemning the international outcry surrounding it.
In early June, shortly before the Russian Duma passed its ban on “gay propaganda,” World Congress of Families managing director Larry Jacobs told End Times radio host Rick Wiles that the ban was a “great idea,” as it would prevent gay people from “corrupting children.”
“The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world,” he said. “At the UN, they are really the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.”
Just a few days after the “propaganda” bill was passed, Jacobs took to Voice of Russia radio to defend the law, saying, “Russia is actually doing something that used to be pretty common in the west, which is trying to protect children from harmful materials.” Asked whether the U.S. should consider a similar law, Jacobs dodged: “Interesting question, and one that certainly politically would not fly, and again, mostly because of special rights and lobby interest groups on both sides of the issue.”
The World Congress of Families has done more than cheer on Russia’s anti-gay crackdown from the sidelines. It has also built an advocacy structure within the country.
In 2012, WCF helped found a Russia-based group called FamilyPolicy.ru, a group whose goal was “to build [a] highly efficient network of pan-Russian grassroots socially conservative activists, that would be able to consistently exert real influence on the family policy in Russia, at the U.N. and internationally.”
The top staff members at FamilyPolicy.Ru also hold positions with the WCF. FamilyPolicy.ru’s president, Alexei Komov (the one who spoke at the rally in Belgrade), is WCF’s official “Representative in Russia.” Komov also heads a program for St. Basil’s, the foundation headed by Konstantin Malofeev, the businessman and activist who hosted the June meeting on anti-gay laws attended by Brian Brown and Fabrice Sorlin.
In March 2013, WCF appointed FamilyPolicy.ru staffer Pavel Parfentiev to be its “ambassador to European institutions.”
Shortly after its founding, FamilyPolicy.ru held a “demographic summit” dedicated to providing “solutions to Russia’s well-below replacement fertility rate.” The summit featured Parfentiev, the World Congress of Family’s Don Feder and John Mueller of the Washington, DC based Ethics in Public Policy Center. The “demographic winter” theme is central to the scholarship and advocacy of WCF and the Howard Center, which fault feminism, gay rights, legal divorce, birth control and other progressive advances for falling population in the developed world. (In 2011, Jacobs attended a Moscow conference that influenced Russian activists in adopting American anti-choice tactics) And it is a program that Russian president Vladimir Putin has enthusiastically embraced .
FamilyPolicy.ru quickly became a leader in Russian anti-gay politics. In an interview with Voice of Russia radio in June, Parfentiev claimed credit for being an “initiator” of Russia’s ban on adoptions to gay couples and single people in countries that allow gay couples to marry. “As far as I know, I was one of the first people that publicly spoke about the necessity of such a move,” he said. “Of course, I would support this move because, in fact, I was one of its initiators.”
Parfentiev also advocated for Russia’s gay propaganda ban. In March, he sent a detailed memo to the European Commission for Democracy through Law defending the law (then still in progress) and a similar proposed measure in Ukraine. In May, he sent a similar memo to the Council of Europe.
When the Duma passed the propaganda ban in June, Parfentiev posted gleefully on Facebook that he “got greetings and congratulations from many foreign colleagues representing the movement to protect the family.”
Alexei Komov, meanwhile, has proved to be a prolific spokesperson for the anti-gay cause in Russia. In an interview with Voice of Russia radio in August, Komov announced that Russia remains “the last bastion of moral values” against a UN-sponsored push to recognize gay rights around the globe. In another interview, he Komov praised Republicans and the Tea Party for defending “traditional family values” in the United States.
When the World Congress of Families announced its participation in the statement of support for the gay “propaganda law,” Komov and Parfentiev sent out their own press release. The release quotes Komov as saying:
This announcement shows, despite the attempts of supporters of the interests of the so-called" sexual minorities "to create the opposite impression, that a huge number of people and human rights organizations around the world are supporting Russia in an effort to protect their children and their family values from aggressive immoral propaganda.
Parfentiev added a statement comparing gay rights advocacy to “the use of toxic chemicals in baby food”:
Statement organizations in the world confirms that Russian law meets the generally recognized rules of international law. Protect children from propaganda contrary to the family and moral standards - completely normal, routine step. In fact, it is no different, for example, prohibit the use of toxic chemicals in baby food - against which hardly anyone will object. It's amazing how far-fetched and artificial boom created outrage around this simple measure by those who seem to displease the family and family values are simple. Therefore, Russia today is very important this support of the international civil society."
Perhaps the clearest sign that the World Congress of Families is invested in Russia’s anti-gay renaissance – and sees it as a model for the world -- is that it has scheduled its next world conference for Moscow.
Leading the “the hosting committee” for the event will be Alexei Komov. Also on the committee is Konstantin Malofeev, the private equity head who convened “Traditional Values” roundtable with Brian Brown and the French activists that we reported on yesterday. The leading theme of the roundtable discussion was that Russia would be a leader for the world in stemming the trend toward greater freedoms and equality for gay people – a trend that Malofeev claimed would “lead to the physical extinction of humans.”
As we reported yesterday, Malofeev spoke at last year’s World Congress of Families gathering in Sydney, where, where, according to one attendee, he held out Russia as a model for the world, saying, “Now Christian Russia can help liberate the West from the new liberal anti-Christian totalitarianism of political correctness, gender ideology, mass-media censorship and neo-Marxist dogma."
Anti-gay activists in the United States, finding it increasingly difficult to push their agenda at home, have turned to Russia both as a place receptive to their politics and as a “savior” of the world against increasing social liberalism. In doing so, they have provided international backing for an oppressive, anti-democratic regime that is increasingly using LGBT people as scapegoats for broader political dissatisfaction.
When they support the World Congress of Families and attend its events – including the upcoming conference in Moscow – American groups send the clear message about how far they are willing to go to promote anti-gay ideology.
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