In the summer of 2013, 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 the spreading of “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 an orphanage than with a gay mother or father.
Throughout this process, Russian gay rights groups reported a surge in anti-gay hate crimes.
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 strengthen 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 country’s role as the host of the 2014 winter Olympics.
But throughout all this, one faction 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 American Religious Right leaders have spoken loudly in favor of Putin’s crackdowns on gay people and political dissenters.
American conservative groups haven’t just praised Russia’s crackdown on LGBT people. 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 including Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.
In this report, we investigate how American activists influenced Russia’s new anti-gay laws by supporting Russian anti-gay activists, testifying before lawmakers, and providing faulty research to fan the flames of anti-gay sentiment. This effort in Russia provides a glimpse into the American Right’s role in an international movement that promotes and defends the harshest anti-gay laws around the world.
'Today the Whole World Is Looking at Russia'
On June 13, 2013, just days after the Russian Duma passed laws banning gay “propaganda”; and actions that “offend religious feelings,” a delegation of five French Catholic anti-gay activists — at least one with ties to the far-right National Front party — traveled to Moscow at the invitation of the Duma committee on family, women and children to discuss, among other issues, Russia’s plans to tighten its ban on adoption by same-sex couples abroad. Joining them was one of the most well-known figures in the American anti-gay movement, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown.
Brown had worked closely with the French anti-gay movement in its protests of the country’s marriage equality law, traveling to Paris to demonstrate against the law and writing a fundraising email for Collectif Famille Mariage, one of the most prominent groups working to oppose marriage equality in France. (Excerpt: “You are the people who invented Gothic art and built these wonderful cathedrals soaring toward the sky, inspiring the entire civilized world… The new cathedral that you are building right before our eyes is composed of living stones: you, dear Resistance fighters, young people and adults, men and women, boys and girls!”)
The French activists joining Brown were far-right thinker Aymeric Chauprade; activist Odile Téqui; François Legrier, president of the Mouvement Catholique des Familles; and Hugues Revel, president of Catholiques en Campagne.
The French delegation was led by Fabrice Sorlin, head of the far-right nationalist group Dies Irae. Dies Irae, which is named after a liturgical poem about the Day of Judgment, has been accused of racist and anti-Semitic behavior and, according to Box Turtle Bulletin, “had been working to create autonomous militias in France under the inspiration of American white nationalist [William] Luther Pierce’s conspiracy-laden novel The Turner Diaries.” (The group has denied the charges.) Sorlin is a former candidate for the far-right National Front party and chair of a group called Alliance France-Europe Russia, which is dedicated to forging a “strong connection between Europe and Russia” and uniting “the Anglo-Saxon world” against the emerging economies of China and India based, in part, on shared “Christian values.” Building a stronger alliance with Russia is a project held dear by many in the French far right.
According to Russian news reports, the French activists and Brown attended two events in Moscow. One was a joint meeting on changes in international adoption laws with the Duma’s committee on foreign affairs and its committee on family, women and children — whose chair, Yelena Mizulina, authored the ban on “homosexual propaganda,” along with the adoption bill.
The other event was a roundtable discussion on “Traditional Values: The Future of the European Peoples,” hosted by the St. Basil the Great Foundation — a Russian Orthodox group run by Konstantin Malofeev, the head of a private equity group and a spirited anti-gay activist. The event was also sponsored by Mizulina’s committee, the right-wing Center for Social-Conservative Policy, and a new multi-party group of Russian MPs formed — with approval of the Russian Orthodox Church — to “protect traditional Christian values” and fight “aggressive liberalism” in reaction to Pussy Riot’s protests. Among the measures the “Christian values” group worked to push was the new law imposing jail time for “insulting religious feelings.”
The National Organization for Marriage did not publicly announce Brown’s participation in this international meeting of anti-gay minds. However, his presence was mentioned by Revel in a blog post about the visit, in which he noted that Brown gave a “remarkable speech in the Duma.”
The NOM leader also spoke to Russia 1’s Vesti news program. According to a retranslation of the Russian translation of the interview with Brown, he told the reporters that restricting Russian adoptions to gay and lesbian couples was a way of halting a slippery slope of “very negative developments all over the world”:
Right now you’re having the fight about adoption, but the adoption issue is indivisible from the marriage issue. If you don’t defend your values now, I’m afraid we’re going to see very negative developments all over the world.
We reached out to NOM for more information about Brown’s trip and a copy of the speech he gave to the Duma and did not receive a reply. But luckily, the committee that hosted the activists posted copies of all the speeches on its website.
In his speech to the committee (again, translated from English to Russian and back again to English), Brown warned of the dangers of allowing gay people to adopt children, saying, “Every child should have the right to have normal parents: a father and a mother.” He also shared some of NOM’s favorite stories of the supposed religious persecution of Christians following marriage equality in the U.S.:
But we are now convinced, having heard the presentations of our French brothers and sisters, that we are talking about very serious problems indeed. We are talking about violations of rights, we are talking about the rights and problems of children in their education. We should not shy away from this and should not forget about it and create an illusion for ourselves. A reconsideration of the definition and understanding of marriage is in fact a real threat to rights. Very soon after a law was passed that legalized same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, we saw that religious organizations were closing down, religious organizations that dealt with adoptions and that did not support adoption by same-sex families. They were closing one after another.
We have actually seen that in some schools, they are talking to children about homosexuality, but in fact they don’t have the right to learn about a lot of things like that until a certain age.
I think that this visit, the invitation to visit Russia, will enable the development of this movement around the world. We will band together, we will defend our children and their normal civil rights. Every child should have the right to have normal parents: a father and a mother.
After Right Wing Watch exposed Brown’s trip to Russia, Brown told the Russian news source Ria Novosti that he had been invited to testify before the Duma by “Russian activists working with the World Congress of Families,” a group whose influence we explore later in this report.
If anything, Brown’s speech was one of the most restrained at the Duma meeting. You can get an idea of the flavor of the event from the speech of one of the French activists, Aymeric Chauprade, who gleefully portrayed Russia as a guiding light for anti-gay activists throughout the world:
In this new battle, ladies and gentlemen [of the Duma], those who do not want the U.S. anti-missile shield, the dominance of NATO, or the war against Syria and Iran are in the same camp as those who refuse the loss of sovereignty, population replacement on a grand scale, FEMEN, gender theory, homosexual marriage, as well as the further commodification of the human body.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with President Putin and all the driving forces of Russia that your country has embarked upon an unprecedented shift in the military, geopolitics, economics, energy and spirituality that commands the admiration of French patriots!
Patriots around the world, as committed to the independence of nations as they are to the foundations of our civilization, turn their eyes at this time towards Moscow.
Fabrice Sorlin, the French nationalist leader, went even further, comparing Russia’s anti-gay stand to its protection of Europe against Mongol hordes in the thirteenth century and against fascism in the twentieth:
Dear friends, I say to you — The people of France taking to the streets today to defend fundamental values are watching you closely. For throughout history, if France has often played the role of rouser of our conscience, Russia for its part has always played that of protector of the nations of Europe.
To name but two examples, first let us recall the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan that you fought in the thirteenth century, thereby protecting Europe from their invasions.
But let us above all remember the twentieth century, where once again you were the shield as well as the sword of Europe, crushing the fascism that was then sweeping over her — paying for it the dearest human toll that any nation has ever paid.
But your role does not end there. For though times have changed, today another danger threatens France and Europe — that of the loss of its bearings, of its traditional values; in short, the suicide of our Civilization.
François Legrier, head of Mouvement Catholique des Familles, put it this way (translated from French to Russian to English):
Our European governments are coming up against this ideology that puts them at risk and that may drive them to social suicide. This means both demographic suicide, because homosexuality is the same as infertility, but also moral suicide, because in this situation a person does not know where he comes from and where he is going. Such a person will become only a resentful person who has no reason to love either his family or his motherland.
The only alternative is a return to reality, a return to Christianity, which is a genuine treasure that we must open for ourselves once again. This implies a policy that defends the family against that which would lead to its collapse.
Needless to say, this message was well received by the hosts of the two events. At a press conference after the Duma meeting, Mizulina, the committee chair who spearheaded the “propaganda” and adoption measures, said:
You heard what our French colleagues said: that today the whole world is looking at Russia with hope that Russia will hold fast and not give in to this unusual pressure from European governments and will conserve its own traditional family identity. It’s perfectly clear that Europe today, faced by the collision of two very serious values — the right of children to a family and the right of sexual minorities to a family — is making its choice in favor of sexual minorities.
This line of reasoning continued at the roundtable meeting. Malofeev, the head of the St. Basil the Great Foundation, who appeared to be the emcee of the roundtable, is fond of the message that Russia is the savior of civilization. He spoke at the 2013 World Congress of Families gathering in Sydney, where, according to one attendee, he promised, “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.”
Speaking at the roundtable, Malofeev called the passage of the gay “propaganda” ban “a great success and a big step forward for Russia.” He added that the world must follow Russia’s lead or risk human extinction:
Against the backdrop of what is going on in France and other countries, we are seeing the degradation of civilization. We can even use the term ‘anticivilization,’ and this anticivilization is progressing. Things are happening that will lead to the physical extinction of humans.
At another point in the meeting, Malofeev praised the French visitors for realizing that “Moscow is really the center of their salvation”:
The French have realized that Moscow is really the center of their salvation in this case, the center of salvation for conservative, Christian, European values. Russians need to recognize that we are already leaders. We should not strive to be like someone else, but rather need to help others so that they can become more like us.
Yurii Shuvalov, head of the Center for Social-Conservative Policy, another sponsor of the roundtable, told reporters at the meeting that it was incumbent on Russia to “present an alternative” to a world that is increasingly embracing LGBT rights and where “morality has been turned upside down and cannot gain a foothold.”
Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov, a Russian Orthodox leader, added that a “wealthy minority” supporting gay rights “is acting with undeclared motives that cannot be explained other than by Satanism.”
Besides Brown, there was another American guest at the roundtable who enthusiastically embraced the Russia-as-savior line.
Russian news reports mention that also present to give an American perspective on the issues at hand was a man named Jack Hanick. On his LinkedIn page and in interviews, Hanick describes himself as a founding employee of Fox News who worked there for 15 years as a news director. Fox News confirmed that Hanick was an employee from 1996 through 2011, clarifying that he worked in “a production role dealing with the visual aspects of the show” rather than in any “editorial capacity.”
Hanick told the roundtable that God had called on Russia to “stand up for traditional values” (translated from English to Russian and back to English):
When it came time to stand up for traditional values, this was the place. God called on this country to fulfill that role.
In an August interview with a Russian magazine, Hanick expanded on his view that Russia’s flirtation with theocracy should be a model for the United States (translation via Google Translate):
In the U.S., serious problems, including the decline of morals, brought the separation of church and state. According to the Constitution of 1787, the government had no right to make an official religion – that is how the separation of church and state was understood. But 200 years later, it has acquired a different meaning: everything about faith has been expelled from everyday life, it has been given a special place and time — a few hours a week, within the church. This is a horrific result because it shows that we have gone away from that promise with which our laws were written 200 years ago, have distorted it.
In Russia, the issue of separation of church and state, obviously, is much less of an issue, and I see this as a positive thing.
The appeals of the American and French activists at the meeting were effective. Five days later, the Duma passed a ban on the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and by single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.
One more American was prominently featurned in news reports about the event, although he was not present: University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus.
A New Life for Discredited Research
When Russian lawmaker Alexsei Zhuravlyov introduced a measure in September, 2013, that would allow the state to remove children from openly gay parents — classifying homosexuality along with drug abuse and child abuse as offenses that merit the loss of custody — gay rights activists noticed something interesting in the text of the bill.
Zhuravlyov, who insisted, “In the case when a parent has sexual contact with people of their own gender, the damage that can be inflicted on the psyche of a child is enormous,” had quoted extensively from a 2012 study conducted by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus that purports to show that having gay or lesbian parents harms kids.
New evidence shows that the Regnerus study also influenced the architects of Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda” and its ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by gay couples and single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.
At the June, 2013, joint Duma committee hearing and “traditional values” roundtable discussion, Regnerus’ research played a central role.
In her speech at the committee hearing, Yelena Mizulina, the chairwoman of the Duma’s committee on family, women and children and the sponsor of the “propaganda” bill, cited Regnerus to advocate for the adoption measure, claiming that Regnerus had provided the only “reliable” research on same-sex parenting:
At the same time, the American scholar Mark Regnerus, who carried out an extensive study over the course of one and a half years of 3,000 people who had been raised in same-sex families, showed the opposite, and the data are absolutely stunning, they are published. They called for him to be fired from the university in Texas [where he worked]. An independent assessment was ordered, an independent commission, who totally confirmed the scientific validity of the study’s representativeness and the reliability of its conclusions.
Mizulina went on to hypothesize that gay parents would teach their children to be gay just as parents might teach their children to drink or smoke. She compared the “social experiment” of marriage equality to the experiment of Communism in Russia:
It is established that if the parents in a family smoke, their child will likely smoke. And in these families the share of children who smoke when they become adults is higher. If parents drink, the probability that children in these families will drink is much higher than in families where parents do not drink.
Why and on what basis is there an exception regarding imitation of the behavior of parents when we’re talking about homosexuality? Why? Where do they get that children will not imitate this particular behavior? It’s untenable, even without scientific studies. But scientific studies would of course be important here, too.
But this type of experiment, this sexual revolution as they call what is happening in Europe today, is a social experiment that the West is conducting on its own children. Russia has had enough of social experiments.
Last century we had social experiments where the family was destroyed. It was argued that there would be no more families, that this institution would die out, and many others. And the West watched and did the opposite.
A member of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee who attended the joint hearing had his own take, claiming that gay couples “renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.'”
Why? By creating such pair — man with man or woman with woman — they renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’ What does this represent? It seems to me some very twisted logic.
Reporting on the meetings, the TV Tsentr channel interviewed a Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development psychologist, who insisted that “a same-sex pair may raise a child with a host of sexual problems.” His evidence? An American study published in the Social Science Research journal —the Regnerus study.
Makushkin: The life principles of such a child [who has been raised by homosexual parents] may be completely distorted. The child develops psychological problems, problems learning materials in school, problems integrating with peers, problems orienting themselves during puberty. Towards whom will a child who has been raised in a homosexual family orient? It’s probably that a change in sexual orientation may even occur. This is indeed a new problem. In this way, a same-sex pair will produce a child with a host of sexual problems.
Voiceover: According to the results of a study by American psychologists, 31% of children in lesbian families and 25% of children in gay families were forced to have sex with their so-called parents. In typical families in the U.S., this indicator stands at 8%. Almost one-third (28%) of children raised by gays or lesbian mothers cannot find steady employment.
At a July 4, 2013, meeting in France, a leader of the anti-gay group French Spring praised Mizulina for her adept use of the Regnerus study in pushing anti-gay measures.
The Regnerus study has captured the imaginations of anti-gay activists throughout the world. But in reality, it is complete bunk. Shortly after Regnerus published his work, the narrative behind the study unraveled. It turned out that Regnerus had relied on a slew of flawed methodology and had only studied two people raised by same-sex couples. As one sociologist charged with auditing Regnerus’ study for an academic journal put it: “Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything.”
But Regnerus had never intended to conduct an honest assessment of the outcomes of children raised by gay and lesbian parents. Instead, Regnerus was an ideologue with a point to make and funders on the Religious Right were ready to help him make it.
Regnerus received significant funding for his study from Religious Right groups: $700,000 from the Princeton-based anti-gay Witherspoon Institute and more than $90,000 from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. Both groups have deep ties with the movement to prevent marriage equality: National Organization for Marriage cofounder Robert George also cofounded the Witherspoon Institute and sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation. In addition, George helped draft the Manhattan Declaration, a religious conservative manifesto that has drawn the support of a who’s who of Religious Right leaders.
Documents obtained by the American Independent revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work, using University of Virginia professor W. Bradford Wilcox as a go-between. At the time, Wilcox ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on same-sex parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged him to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed on to an amicus brief, which extensively cited his own research, seeking to influence both cases.)
Wilcox’s interest in the Regnerus study went beyond influencing law and public opinion in the United States. He is also active in the Illinois-based World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay policies throughout the world. This year, Wilcox was a keynote speaker at WCF’s summit in Sydney, along with leaders from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
When word began to spread that Regnerus’ study was playing a key role in the Russian anti-gay movement, Regnerus backtracked, saying that the Russian effort to remove children from biological parents who are gay or lesbian was a “misuse” of his research.
While actively snatching children from gay parents might have been a step too far for Regnerus, he hasn’t stopped pushing his flawed findings around the globe. In fact, the same day that Regnerus claimed that Russian lawmakers had gone too far with his study, the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom announced that Regnerus would join it at a panel at the United Nations seeking to inject anti-gay politics into discussions of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.
The World Congress of Families and Russia's 'Christian Saviors'
In September 2013, Serbian authorities abruptly canceled 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 (WCF).
In its press release celebrating the parade’s cancellation, WCF highlighted its role in the 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 French nationalist activist who led the French delegation to the Duma.
It’s no coincidence that WCF was able to pull such a delegation to Belgrade: For the past several years, the organization has built an infrastructure in Russia to advocate for anti-gay policies there and throughout Eastern Europe. WCF-affiliated activists in Russia advocated for the country’s new spate of anti-gay laws. Through WCF, American Religious Right groups are able to quietly support 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, multinational 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.
WCF has friends in high places. The Bush administration’s representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women spoke at WCF’s 2004 world meeting in Mexico City, where she declared, “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, WCF has found itself in a different role, joining with groups like the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) to resist the administration’s efforts to include gay rights in its international human rights work and its loosening of restrictions on American aid to family planning groups. WCF has strongly opposed international efforts to decriminalize homosexuality, including defending Ugandan officials who sought to make homosexuality a capital crime.
The group continues to draw financial support from nearly every major Religious Right organization in the United States. 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 Defending Freedom and Americans United for Life. Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse is a member of WCF’s 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 2013 fundraising email, WCF quoted Brown as saying:
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.
In fact, it was WCF that arranged for Brown to testify before the Russian parliament in June, as Brown admitted after Right Wing Watch exposed his participation.
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. WCF’s work in Russia provides a telling example.
In September 2013, WCF and five other American groups signed a statement along with more than 100 organizations from around the world supporting Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” law and condemning the international outcry surrounding it.
In early June 2013, 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 U.N., 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 helped to build an anti-gay advocacy structure within the country.
In 2012, WCF helped found a Russia-based group called FamilyPolicy.ru, 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 WCF. FamilyPolicy.ru’s president, Alexey Komov (who spoke at the anti-gay rally in Belgrade) is WCF’s official “representative in Russia.” Komov also heads a program for St. Basil’s, the foundation that hosted the June meeting on anti-gay laws attended by American and French activists. 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, WCF’s Jacobs attended a Moscow conference that influenced Russian activists in adopting American anti-choice tactics.) It is a theme that Russian President Vladimir Putin has enthusiastically embraced .
FamilyPolicy.ru quickly became a prominent voice 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 had received “greetings and congratulations from many foreign colleagues representing the movement to protect the family.”
Komov has also 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 U.N.-sponsored push to recognize gay rights around the globe. In another interview, Komov praised Republicans and the Tea Party for defending “traditional family values” in the United States.
When the World Congress of Families announced that it would sign the international statement of support for Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” law, Komov and Parfentiev weighed in with 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. [via Google Translate]
Parfentiev added a statement comparing gay rights advocacy to “the use of toxic chemicals in baby food”:
[The] Russian law meets the generally recognized rules of international law. Protecting children from propaganda contrary to family and moral standards is a completely normal, routine step. In fact, it is no different, for example, from prohibiting the use of toxic chemicals in baby food — to which hardly anyone will object. It’s amazing how a far-fetched and artificial trend created outrage around this simple measure by those who seem to dislike the family and simple family values. [via Google Translate]
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 2014 world conference for Moscow.
Leading the “the hosting committee” for the event will be FamilyPolicy.ru’s Alexey Komov. Also on the committee is Konstantin Malofeev, the private equity head who convened the “Traditional Values” roundtable with NOM’s Brian Brown and the French activists that we discussed previously.
As we mentioned earlier, Malofeev spoke at the World Congress of Families 2013 gathering in Sydney, 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.”
In October 2013, WCF held a planning meeting in Moscow for the upcoming conference. Attending the meeting were Brown; Jack Hanick, the former Fox News employee who also participated in the June roundtable; the far-right French activist Fabrice Sorlin; and representatives from the prominent American conservative groups Focus on the Family, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute and the Christian Broadcasting Network. According to a WCF press release, the planning group met with Yelena Mizulina, the Russian legislator who coauthored the country’s “gay propaganda” ban.
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 to 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 a clear message about how far they are willing to go to promote anti-gay ideology.
This report was adapted from a series of blog posts published on People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch in October 2013.
Note on translations: All translations are by a professional translator, except where noted. We have noted when statements have gone through multiple translations (for instance, translated from English to Russian and back to English again). Google translations have been lightly edited for clarity.
American Activists Applaud Russia’s Crackdown on Gay Rights and Tightening Grip on Political Dissent
Even as tensions have grown between Russia and the United States, several Religious Right leaders and activist groups have spoken out loudly in favor of Putin’s crackdowns on LGBT 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.
- Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber lamented that Putin was being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.”
- The anti-feminist group Concerned Women for America hailed Putin’s prosecution of Pussy Riot, saying that the band had 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 some evangelical Ugandans’ push for the death penalty for gay people, 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.”
- Radio host 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 & 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 Families, Mission: 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 Anti-Gay Activism Around the World
While Russia’s embrace of anti-gay policies has lately captured the imagination of the American Right Wing, it is far from the only country receiving support from American activists in its anti-gay efforts.
Infamously, American Religious Right leaders’ financial and political support have been inflaming anti-gay passions in Uganda for years, leading to the 2013 passage of a bill that imposes a life jail sentence for “aggravated homosexuality.” American conservative activists Lou Engle and Scott Lively traveled to Uganda to help rally support for the bill, spreading apocryphal stories of the harms that come from gay rights. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins dismissed criticism of the Uganda law, saying the proposal was merely an effort to “uphold moral conduct.” The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer claimed Ugandan lawmakers were merely engaged in “talks supporting natural marriage.” Meanwhile, gay and lesbian Ugandans are fearing for their lives.
As we note in this report, the World Congress of Families is deepening its involvement in anti-gay movements throughout Eastern Europe, including in Serbia and Ukraine. In Ukraine, the issue of gay rights has been caught up in the country’s debate over joining the European Union, as anti-EU nationalist groups work to inflame anti-LGBT sentiments, a strategy similar to Putin’s in Russia.
In November 2013, Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver received an award from Peru‘s government for his efforts to resist what he termed the Obama administration’s exporting of “anti-God, anti-values” in Latin America. Meanwhile, the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom has worked for several years to preserve Belize‘s law criminalizing homosexuality.
In December 2013, Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality and Brian Camenker of MassResistance traveled to Jamaica to advocate for the preservation of the country’s criminal sodomy laws.
In addition, Religious Right groups in the United States nearly universally oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to promote gay rights as human rights throughout the world. In a 2011 speech announcing the administration’s new policy, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton specified that the administration would combat measures that criminalize homosexuality or encourage violence toward LGBT people.
The administration’s pledge to protect gay people from violence did not sit well with many in the Religious Right, who immediately leapt to attack Clinton. In opposing the new policy, many American anti-gay activists cited Nigeria‘s efforts to strengthen its penalties on homosexuality, which led to the arrests of dozens of gay men in early 2014. It is against this backdrop that American anti-gay groups have conducted their activism abroad.
NOM: Just About Marriage?
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) emerged in 2007 to lead the fight for California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned marriage equality in the state until it was overturned by the courts. Funded by a small number of mostly anonymous donors, NOM went on to launch campaigns against marriage equality in states across the country.
Throughout its history, NOM has attempted to distance itself from the Right’s more vitriolic anti-gay rhetoric, claiming that it simply exists to “defend marriage” and sidestepping many debates that are not directly related to marriage equality.
Yet Right Wing Watch‘s reporting on NOM president Brian Brown’s advocacy in Russia exposed the organization’s willingness to ally with extreme anti-gay positions … at least when they think that no one is watching.
Brown’s trip to Russia may have signaled the group’s intentions to expand its mission beyond the United States and beyond the issue of marriage. In September 2013, NOM announced that it was backing an effort to repeal a California law that protects transgender students. Then, in December, Brown joined the board of directors of CitizenGO, a Madrid-based group that opposes gay rights throughout the world and that has allied with anti-gay extremists including Scott Lively.
Brown, who took over the leadership of NOM from Maggie Gallagher in 2010, has in recent statements echoed the vitriolic language common in the anti-gay Right: he has accused marriage equality advocates of defending their “twisted worldview” by being “brutal bullies”; asserted that marriage equality erodes “the very nature of what it means to be a human being”; warned that marriage equality will lead to “normalizing pedophilia”; encouraged parents to send their children to an “ex-gay” event to prevent them from embracing “a destructive way of life”; and claimed that a same-sex wedding at a California parade was meant to “target children” and “indoctrinate kids.”
The gradual expansion of NOM’s mission under Brown’s leadership may reflect more than the new president’s personal priorities. It also speaks to the tremendous success of the marriage equality movement in the United States. Many anti-gay groups, while they continue to vocally oppose same-sex marriage, have found more success in recent years in opposing workplace rights for transgender people, advocating for “reparative therapy” or claiming that strengthened rights for LGBT people actively injure evangelical Christians. By expanding its anti-gay activism in the United States and carrying its agenda abroad, NOM may be working to build a broader anti-gay narrative that could bolster its anti-marriage efforts in the future.