Meet The U.S. Religious Right’s International Friends

This year’s World Congress of Families global summit of social conservatives officially gets under way in Budapest on Friday. Many participants will also be taking part in a “demographic summit” on Thursday, which will be addressed by Hungary’s strongman leader and WCF “hero” Viktor Orbán.

Earlier this week we reported on some of the American figures speaking at this year’s summit, the first global event since the WCF became a project of Brian Brown’s new International Organization for the Family. Today we take a look at some of their allies from around the world, many of whom actively support laws that not only criminalize same-sex sexual conduct but also criminalize advocacy for LGBTQ equality.

A number of the WCF’s scheduled speakers joined Brown in Cape Town, South Africa in December to launch the IOF and its so-called Cape Town Declaration, an anti-LGBTQ manifesto that can be seen as the international counterpart to the U.S. Religious Right’s Manhattan Declaration. Many also attended last year’s WCF summit in Tbilisi, Georgia, at which a major theme was railing against the secular, decadent West, and the 2015 event in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Several Orbán government officials will be speaking, including Katalin Novák, the Secretary of State for Youth, Family and International Affairs, who helped launch the IOF and who heads the local organizing committee for this year’s summit. Also speaking is Zoltan Balog, a cabinet member who heads the Ministry of Human Capacities. Other government officials include Inga Yumasheva from the Russian Duma’s Committee for Families, Women and Children and Toby Okechukwu, a member of the Nigerian parliament.

Here are some of the activists the U.S. Religious Right will be embracing this weekend:

  • Levan Vasadze was director of last year’s WCF in Georgia, where he bitterly criticized the West for funding nongovernmental organizations that he said were “poisoning” the minds of the younger generation and breeding a “spirit of anti-traditional cynicism” through a “totalitarian dictatorship of liberals” in education and media.
  • Alexey Komov, the WCF’s representative in Russia, works closely with an Orthodox billionaire who literally wants to make Vladimir Putin a Tsar. At a 2014 WCF press conference in Washington, D.C., Komov responded to questions about Russia and Putin with a ranting critique of the U.S. that included 9/11 conspiracy theories. In December, he was in South Africa to help Brown launch the IOF and pledged to generate support in the Russian parliament.
  • Theresa Okafor is a WCF representative in Africa who was honored at the Salt Lake City summit. Okafor enthusiastically defends some African countries’ laws calling for long jail sentences for homosexual conduct. At the 2012 WCF in Madrid she even speculated that Western countries advocating for gay rights in Africa were involved in a conspiracy with terrorist group Boko Haram to “silence Christians.”
  • Rebekah Ali-Gouveia is WCF’s representative for the Caribbean and was honored with WCF’s Natural Family Award in part for her work organizing WCF regional gatherings that brought many U.S. Religious Right activists to the region. She is also an allied attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
  • Sophia Kuby is the director of European Union advocacy for the international arm of the Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom. In April, she participated in a meeting of another international social conservative network, the Political Network for Values; the theme of that gathering was “How Far Can We Get?” Adina Portaru is also affiliated with ADF International.
  • Ignacio Arsuaga runs HazteOir, an online organizing platform for social conservatives that is based in Spain. HazteOir hosted WCF’s 2012 summit in Madrid and in 2013, bused supporters into France to take part in anti-marriage-equality protests. Arsuaga is also a colleague of Brian Brown’s on the board of CitizenGo, which sponsored this year’s multi-country anti-transgender bus tour and billboard campaign.
  • Luca Volonte, an Italian politician who received WCF’s Familia Et Veritas Award in 2015, is president of the Novae Terrae Foundation and also a member of CitizenGo’s board of trustees. In 2010, he led a successful effort in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to withdraw a report on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In April, BuzzFeed reported that Volonte was under investigation by Italian prosecutors “for allegedly accepting millions in exchange for helping muzzle Europe’s top human rights body.”
  • Natlia Yakunina, with Sanctity of Motherhood, helped organize the not-officially-WCF summit in Moscow in 2014; a brochure described her and husband Vladimir Yakunin alongside Putin as staples of the “pro-life and pro-family movement in Russia.” She has called WCF’s Larry Jacobs “our old friend and ally in pro-family movement.”
  • Željka Markić, who led a successful anti-marriage-equality initiative in Croatia, is on the Citizen’s Committee proposing a Mum, Dad & Kids Initiative in Europe that would strike protections for LGBTQ families from EU regulations. Her family and her group, In the Name of the Family, are well connected to conservative Catholic organizations in Croatia and Europe. She spoke at the IOF launch in South Africa, saying, “We all have to continue to fight for protection of marriage and family because this is the only future the human race has.”
  • Maria Hildingsson is Secretary General of the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations. She is also a member of the Mum, Dad & Kids Citizens’ Committee. She opposes promotion of “gender ideology” and opposed the marriage equality referendum in Ireland. Her group joined an international effort to oppose an inclusive definition of family during UN deliberations on sustainable development goals.
  • Errol Naidoo, is president of the Family Policy Institute in South Africa, a group he started after a six-month “training mission” at the Family Research Council. He also has a working relationship with the Alliance Defending Freedom. Naidoo spoke at the launch of IOF and its Cape Town Declaration.
  • Ann Kioko, founder and president of the African Organization for Families, was an organizer of a WCF regional gathering in Kenya last year. Her group will co-sponsor another regional conference in Malawi this October, which is designed to “resist the increasing secular influence in the world to follow the culture of death.”
  • Lola Volarde is the UN representative for the Family Policy Institute, which is based in Madrid and works primarily in Europe and Latin America to promote the “natural family.” Volarde is a repeat WCF speaker.
  • Christine de Marcellus de Vollmer of the Latin American Alliance for the Family in Venezuela[] promotes an educational curriculum that teaches, among other things, gender difference and “complementarity.” At the not-officially-WCF summit in Moscow in 2014, she said her efforts were meant to help counter pressures on families and “laws imposing anti-life and anti-family ideologies.”
  • Francisco Tatad, a former senate majority leader in the Philippines, spoke at the 2015 WCF summit, where he said those who threaten the family are people who hate God and have made Him their arch-enemy.
  • Lyle Shelton represents the Australian Christian Lobby, which has been resisting marriage equality in Australia.
  • Silvio Dalla Valle, another WCF regular, works with the Association for the Defense of Christian Values, which is “inspired by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” and is active in Italy and Eastern Europe; in 2010 he received a “Global Leadership Award” from WCF’s former parent organization, the Howard Center.

Also participating are a number of religious leaders from Hungary and around the world:

  • Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary
  • Msgr. László Bíró, Bishop for Family Affairs, Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  • Bishop Dr. István Bogárdi Szabó, parish president of the Hungarian Reformed Church Synod
  • József Steinbach, Bishop, Reformed Church in Hungary
  • Slomo Köves, Executive Rabbi of EMIH Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation
  • Péter Gáncs, Evangelical Bishop (video message)
  • Rev. Dmitry Smirnov, Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarchal Commission on the family
  • Apostle Lawrence Khong, Senior Pastor, Faith Community Baptist Church, Singapore