America’s Ambassadors of Hate

The global battle for LGBT rights will not start, or end, with rainbow flags in Sochi. American activists are spreading anti-gay fear and anger around the world.

Denis Doyle

While gay rights are expanding and public acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is growing rapidly in the United States, American activists and missionaries who’ve built their careers condemning homosexuality have taken their message overseas, and with horrifying success.

From Kingston to the Kremlin and the streets of France, they’re warning that “what happened in America could happen to you,” stirring up hatred, helping to promote antigay laws like those in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, attempting to defeat pro-gay laws in Europe, and tacitly encouraging the persecution of activists in places like Cameroon, where one was found brutally murdered in his home last year. Another died last month after he was imprisoned for texting love-letters to a man he admired.

“The messaging is coming from the United States,” Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign told an attentive audience at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. “We are exporting the hate from our country to their countries.”

The messengers are pretty far out, even by Tea Party standards, but they’re taken all too seriously when they go abroad, and they use that to try to regain credibility in the United States. “They have this access to policymakers overseas that they just don’t have here,” says Rebecca Parks at the HRC office in Washington. “We laugh them off as members of the fringe at our peril.”

Take American evangelist Scott Lively author of The Pink Swastika, blaming the Holocaust on Nazi homosexuals. . He is also the co-founder of a group that the hate-trackers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls “the virulently anti-gay” and “currently active more in Eastern Europe than in the U.S.” And Lively proudly takes credit for his role campaigning since 2006 for the law passed last year by the Russian Duma, which ostensibly bars homosexual “propaganda” targeting children. “Go Ruskies!” he proclaimed at the time.

That law was just part of a wider gay-bashing campaign in Russia. Paul Cameron, often described in the United States as a “discredited” psychologist, was welcomed in Moscow to talk about “family values.” Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the most polished anti-gay activists, addressed the Duma last year to argue against adoptions by homosexual couples, and a few days later, the ban was written into law.

Such messages are fueled by what the Human Rights Campaign’s Griffin calls “fake science” purporting to prove that homosexual unions and homosexuality itself are inherently dangerous to innocent children.

A slick pamphlet (PDF) from the Family Research Council is a case in point. It argues that people choose whether they want to be gay or not, they can change their sexual orientation, they can be made to change, and they are supposed to pose a greater danger to children than heterosexuals. There are many disclaimers in the pamphlet: “This does not mean that all homosexuals are child molesters—no one has ever claimed that.” But, of course, that is precisely the message heard by the anti-gay movement as it takes to the barricades with slogans about defending families and protecting kids.

Partly because of such propaganda and its impact, well-known journalist and author Masha Gessen and her partner decided to take their two kids out of Mother Russia altogether. “The legislation and the propaganda is all presented in the guise of protecting children and, among other people, the children have to be ‘protected’ from their own families and parents,” Gessen said. “The [Russian] parliament is intent on passing a bill that would remove children from their parents. … That’s not a negotiable risk. We have to leave.”

It’s been widely reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies may blight the Winter Olympics due to kick off in Sochi later this week. Several openly gay athletes are part of the United States delegation. Many a rainbow flag may be unfurled in protest.

But the battlegrounds between a global revolution fighting for gay rights, and a counterrevolution that claims to be fighting for family values are not limited to less-developed countries where dictators rule, or for that matter to the dwindling number of American states in thrall to the Tea Party on these issues. The ideology of bigotry can be found all over Europe, in fact, and its ugliness is spreading like gangrene, especially in France.

Yes, France.

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Amid widespread social discontent, the fear and hatred of LGBT people and their struggle for equal rights is used to catalyze all kinds of anger and prejudice.

Weekend before last, protestors poured through the streets of Paris in a “day of rage” against the deeply unpopular government of President François Hollande. Their inchoate fury lumped together anger at same-sex marriage, at foreigners and at “the system.” It was an orgy of anger at “the other,” whoever that might be, and many who participated also embraced the old rhetoric of anti-Semitism.

The unfunny comedian Dieudonné, best known for his diatribes against Zionists and for his crypto-Nazi salute called the “quenelle,” has no trouble stirring LGBT issues into his stew of hatred. Same-sex marriage “is a Zionist plot aimed at dividing people,” he declared last year. And that sort of message hit the streets with a vengeance in the protests on January 26.

“Jew, France doesn’t belong to you,” shouted young toughs, some of whom carried signs denouncing “Pedophile criminal Zionist satanic Europe.”

A week later, a much bigger, much calmer demonstration filled the streets of Paris and Lyon with perhaps 100,00 people. Watching the second protest follow the first was a little like watching the “good cop” enter the room, all civility and conciliation, after the “bad cop” has scared the hell out of people. The anti-Semitic rhetoric was dropped, but the crowd—including many fresh-faced children brought by their parents and their Catholic congregations—kept up the drumbeat against gay rights.

When mass protests last year tried to block the Hollande government’s legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, NOM’s Brian Brown showed up to report to his supporters in the United States in a video that proclaimed a new “French rebellion” and concluded, “Vive le mariage! Vive la France!” But the law passed anyway.

This time around, the protestors focused their fight on gay and lesbian parents, aiming to make sure that assisted procreation for lesbian couples and surrogate mothers for the children of gay men would not be allowed under a new French family law due to be debated in April. In fact, neither was contemplated in the draft.

On Monday, the Hollande government backed down, announcing it would not even consider the new family bill this year.

Chalk up another victory abroad for the emissaries of hate.