The new rise of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious right

Illustrations of far right protesters
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Throughout Mike Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary of State in the Trump administration, PGN reported on his gutting of State as well as his efforts to turn U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — the State Department’s foreign aid arm — into an evangelical anti-LGBTQ+ fiefdom.

Pompeo, who last month decided against adding his name to the dozen candidates running on the GOP ticket, was director of the CIA prior to being tapped as secretary of state. But throughout his years as a congressman from Kansas, Pompeo’s history of religious zealotry and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric put him on GLAAD’s radar for their accountability project.

Pompeo has relevance to the current spate of anti-LGBTQ+ court rulings in that he has been a key figure in driving a resurgence of the religious right in both the U.S. and abroad under the aegis of the State Department and USAID. While the new head of USAID is former UN Ambassador Samantha Powers, the breadth of damage Pompeo wrought is still being felt and will be likely for decades to come.

Just days before the 2020 election, Pompeo made the U.S. a signatory on an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ declaration he designed. The “Geneva Consensus Declaration,” with 32 member states in the United Nations — many of which are authoritarian regimes or considered flawed democracies — was crafted to further radically reframe U.S. foreign policy to meet the evangelical Christian standard Pompeo set for the State Department and USAID.

Amnesty International USA said the signatories were “willingly endangering people’s health and lives.”

That declaration remains in place. It was Pompeo’s belief that “the previous [Obama/Biden] administration” did not support religious freedom and he “intends to correct that and uphold religious freedom as America’s most fundamental value.” 

On July 7, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported that Greg Slater, vice president of global regulatory affairs for the U.S. multinational Intel Corporation, has been “actively responsible for exporting, financing, and spreading hate, homophobia” on the African continent for decades, through the anti-LGBTQ+ group Family Watch International, which Pompeo previously supported while at State and which was founded by Slater’s wife, Sharon.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and extremist groups in the U.S., says “Family Watch International works within the United Nations and with countries around the world to further anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances. Founder Sharon Slater promotes anti-LGBT pseudoscience that includes the falsehood that homosexuality is a mental disorder derived from childhood trauma, and that so-called ‘conversion therapy’ can effectively eliminate same-sex attraction.”

Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and other nations have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills that impose harsher punishments with the assistance of these U.S. groups. On July 11, the Washington Blade reported on intensified anti-LGBTQ+ actions in Tanzania.

In 2020, during the height of Pompeo’s partnering of USAID with far-right anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and even rogue states, Open Democracy reported on how “‘Hate group’ Family Watch International is teaching high-level politicians across Africa how to campaign against sex education and LGBT rights.”

Now international news organizations report that in the U.S. and abroad, it is these U.S. religious right groups that are stoking anti-LGBTQ+ animus. The Guardian reports how it was Scott Lively, the evangelical president of Abiding Truth Ministries, which is also listed as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, who convinced Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni that homosexuality was a threat to children and the family.  

Lively, whose film “God Loves Uganda” is an anti-LGBTQ+ screed, influenced Museveni who would then sign a law making same-sex relationships punishable by death. Museveni parroted Lively, saying that  western groups and gay people were “coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality.”

These same groups are pushing similar narratives in the U.S., with the result being more GOP-led and evangelical Christian and Mormon-fed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the states. What Lively was telling Ugandans 15 years ago is being reiterated on a daily basis through the U.S., where gays are being targeted as “groomers” and “pedophiles” even though all statistics on sexual assault of minors points to cishet men and minor girls as the victims.

The Guardian reports that, “Fine-tuned in Africa and elsewhere, arguments used to attack rights overseas have been re-imported to the US as the religious right warns again that the left and gay people are ‘grooming seven-year-olds’ and ‘promoting pedophilia.’” 

“The policy ideas and solutions that are traveling the globe look rather similar,” said David Paternotte, a sociologist at Université Libre de Bruxelles. “The US is a key player in that game, but the circulations can go in different directions.”

Open Democracy reported “$280 million in ‘dark money’ was spent by U.S. Christian Right groups globally with support and cash from “Trump’s lawyers and allies.” Open Democracy called the cash infusion “alarming” during the Trump administration and called for “urgent action to increase transparency.”

It never came.

Now, these same messengers of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric are supporting causes like the prohibitive and highly questionable Supreme Court case of Lorie Smith where the court allowed discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, as PGN reported. The legal aid group that represented Smith, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has been a litigator in numerous QAnon-style cases as well as transgender healthcare bans, anti-abortion laws, challenges to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, access to medical abortion, and restrictions on conversion “therapy” for LGBTQ+ minors. Erin Morrow Hawley, wife of Sen. Josh Hawley, is Senior Counsel and Vice President of Center for Life & Regulatory Practice with ADF.

ADF has won more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ+ rights cases in recent years. In addition to ADF, former Donald Trump attorney Jay Sekulow runs the American Center for Law and Justice and the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ). Sekulow’s organizations support attacks on LGBTQ+ activism and civil rights in the EU. His groups have supported anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Poland and Hungary, which PGN has reported on. 

In a legal brief, the ECLJ defended the Polish municipalities trying to establish “gay-free zones.” The brief states — much like the recent SCOTUS ruling — that there is nothing inherently discriminatory “in considering that pro-LGBT+ social pressure is the vector of an ideology, and in refusing to promote it among children.” 

The ECLJ has also provided legal assistance defending Italy’s ban on gay marriage, and for other human rights cases at the EU level.

Like the Family Watch International, Moms for Liberty has pushed similar anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in the U.S., resulting in days of protests in Philadelphia during their convention last weekend.

The ADF general counsel Kristen Waggoner wrote in a statement about the SCOTUS ruling: “Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it.”

In a previous legal brief to the EU human rights court defending some nations’ forced sterilization programs for trans people, the ADF wrote that protecting those laws “is a powerful way of ensuring that human rights are properly protected whilst at the same time mitigating the risk of human rights imperialism.”

The EU won that case. But others will follow and the religious right will continue to fight back against any wins for LGBTQ+ civil rights — well-funded and well-taught by these U.S. groups.

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