Last week’s repeal of Houston’s equal-rights ordinance was the biggest setback for the LGBT equality movement in years.
And now, confidential documents provided to The Daily Beast by a leading LGBT-rights organization reveal for the first time that the backers of the repeal were not the “usual suspects” on the Christian Right, but a uniquely Texan consortium of sword-swinging, Bible-swearing, fire-breathing extremists who want Texas to secede from the union and who pray for God to smite city officials, backed by a shadowy network of mostly anonymous donors.
First is the lead organizer of the Campaign for Houston, Steve Hotze. If that organization sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Back in 1985, Hotze organized the “Campaign for Houston Straight Slate,” led by then-mayor Louie Welch, who said that the best way to control AIDS would be to “shoot the queers.”
Credit Hotze for consistency. In 1982, he said of gays that “they proliferate by one means, and one means only, and that’s recruiting. And they recruit the weak. They recruit children or young people in their formative years.” And in May 2015, he said, “Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they have to recruit, and they start with children.”
Hotze is also the founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, a home-grown vitamin salesman whose medical treatments have been widely discredited, and the “singer,” if that’s the word, of two auto-tuned piano pop songs about resisting the “tyranny of the federal government” and seceding from the United States (“Texas should be free—it should be an independent nation”).
“What would Davey Crockett do?” Hotze sings. “I know what I’m going to do—defeat Obamacare.”
This summer, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Hotze launched a “Faith Family Freedom Tour” in Houston, at which time he drew a sword and said, “Our strongest weapon in the fight is the word of God. The word of God is like any two-edged sword. For thousands of years, men fought with swords. Can you imagine that piercing right through the enemy like this? That’s what the word of God does. I’ve decided, I’m not going to fight the homosexuals with sweet words. I’m going to fight them with God’s word.”
But of course, the sword is just a metaphor, right? Unclear. “Drive them out of our city,” Hotze exhorted. “I don’t want them in our city. Send them back to San Francisco.”
Hotze also distributed a “manifesto” from 1987 meant to satirize the outrageous claims being made about gay people, and read it aloud as if it were a real manifesto (“We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lies.”)
Interestingly, Hotze himself signed an actual manifesto, the Coalition on Revival’s 1986 “Manifesto for the Christian Church” (PDF) that states, among other things, that women must offer their husbands “gentle, submissive obedience, and not… weary them with constant criticism” and “den[ies] that Christians should marry non-Christians, and that sexual attractiveness or other carnal considerations should dictate a Christian’s choice of a mate.”
Then there’s Pastor David Welch. After HERO passed the City Council (by a vote of 11-6), Welch was one of the pastors under investigation for improperly soliciting signatures for a political petition in church. This investigation led to the disastrous PR move of the city subpoenaing Welch’s sermons, among other records.
It turns out that the subpoena, while terrible optics—the City of Houston seemed to be telling pastors what they could and couldn’t preach—was quite justified. In fact, Welch was in frequent contact with national organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom as the anti-HERO fight took shape. And in a video posted last year by Equality Texas, he’s seen training people on how to obtain signatures.
Still, of his subpoena, he said, Ben Carson-like, “as close as anything I’ve ever seen to Nazi Germany on our soil.” (Guess he hasn’t seen KKK marches or swastikas painted on synagogues.)
But that’s just the beginning. Welch also urged “imprecatory prayers” against the Houston officials examining the suspect signatures. For those of you who skipped that day of Sunday School, imprecatory prayers are those asking God to smite His enemies.
And in his weekly column for the far-right World Net Daily, Welch said of President Obama, “A Christian? I doubt it.”
Hotze and Welch were joined by former congressman and indicted crook Tom Delay. Delay spoke at several anti-HERO events himself, and his longtime lawyer and political crony, Andy Taylor, was also the lawyer for the anti-HERO coalition.
Taylor, incidentally, has not only bailed Delay out several times, but was also the lawyer in Delay’s 2003 effort to redraw Texas’s congressional districts, for which he billed taxpayers over $750,000.
The Liberty Institute might well be called the Lying Institute. As Media Matters has revealed, they advanced a bogus claim that a soldier was discharged for stating his religious views (in fact, he was at the end of his term) and a bogus story that a Texas track star was disqualified after pointing skyward after a run (he was actually giving someone the finger).
Saenz has called evolution a “left-wing ideology” that “any respectable scientist” would disagree with, and called the nonexistent “War on Christmas” “a key front in the radical movement to remove all religious expression from the public square.”
These local activists were assisted by national right-wing organizations, led by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council. That partnership of local extremists and national names is one reason the anti-HERO campaign was so successful. For example, the locals’ initial anti-HERO message was “Unequal Rights,” an anodyne phrase that sounds like a 1990s throwback. Smart consultants shifted it to “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” a “Big Lie” that convinced many voters that the anti-discrimination ordinance was really about sexual predators in restrooms.
That’s the strategy that ADF and its ilk are now preparing to replicate Houston nationwide.
Finally, there is the tangled web of dark money that bankrolled the HERO repeal. Documents provided to The Daily Beast reveal a plethora of committees involved, including the Conservative Republicans of Texas, Conservative Republicans of Harris County, Campaign for Texas Families, and Citizens for American Restoration. But all have the same treasurer, Bart Standley.
And they seem interrelated. For example, the Campaign For Houston (run by Hotze) donated $79,000 to Conservative Republicans of Harris County (also run by Hotze).
Then there’s a separate, statewide Campaign For Houston, with separate donors and separate finances. In its filings with the State Ethics Commission, this Campaign For Houston included two line items totaling $200,350, and listed merely as “American Express.” The Campaign For Texas Families, meanwhile, received $50,000 from the Texas Family Values PAC, and a handful of five-figure individual donors.
The leading individual donors appear to be real estate executive Allen Hartman, who donated a total of $206,000, and Steve Hotze himself, who gave $146,000.
That money bought a lot of lies. An equal rights ordinance meant to protect LGBT people from being fired from their jobs was twisted into a law meant to let men use women’s restrooms. A broad coalition of racial and gender justice organizations were depicted as a radical gay lobby. And transgender people were demonized, misrepresented, and denied their very existence.
But perhaps the biggest lie of all was that the opposition to HERO was led by a broad, faith-based coalition of moderates and conservatives. Hardly. It was led, and won, by the wingnuts.
Correction, 11/10/15, 3:44 p.m.: A previous version of this article confused the Liberty Institute with the Liberty Council, which represented Kim Davis.