The Faces May Have Changed, But the Rhetoric Has Not

By Wayne Besen

The infamous anti-gay kingdom still sits ominously on the far right bank of
the river of misinformation. Guarded by its devoted holy warriors, it
remains a wealthy and powerful political force. But for the first time in a
generation, the throne eerily sits empty, waiting for a new potentate to
fill the vacuum created when King Pat Robertson recently "stepped down" from
the Christian Coalition.

The royal court is also in shambles. Prince Jerry Falwell was deposed
shortly after Sept. 11 by a palace coup led by his mouth. He still acts as
though he is a member of the Royal Court, but the rest of the kingdom knows
he is simply a court jester.

Additionally, former Family Research Council President, Gary Bauer, the
kingdom's lead general in its cultural wars, was toppled after his
presidential run came up flat. The kingdom's anti-gay elder, Jesse Helms,
has announced he will retire and perhaps just as significant, the lead wise
man, Ralph Reed, found new masters to serve.

In the far away LGBT empire, there has been much rejoicing over the
apparent demise of the Right's most prominent leaders. Some have even
suggested that the right is a paper tiger. Even social conservative leaders
like columnist Cal Thomas believe the Religious Right's influence in
politics is waning, and they should focus more on prayer than politics.

According to Thomas, "The meltdown marks the second time in a
century (the first being Prohibition) when an attempted marriage between
church and state failed both institutions…The time is ripe for
conservative Christians to spend less time trying to influence Caesar, to
consider what it means to render unto God, and to start rendering."

While I wish Thomas and other critics were right, I believe it is
premature to write the obituary of the Religious Right. According to
election experts, in the last presidential election the GOP got 15 million
social conservative votes. While not all of these social conservative voters
are anti-gay – many of them are – and they represent a formidable voting
bloc that can stand in the way of LGBT people achieving equality.

The main question is who will emerge to claim the throne and lead
this huge bloc of voters? In answering this, the axiom "the devil you know
may be better than the devil you don't" comes to mind. While Robertson,
Helms and company were incredibly mean-spirited and antagonistic, they were
still familiar foes. Their diminished roles do not mean that the new crop of
right wing leadership will offer better alternatives.

In fact, the attacks from the far right have not abated as the
barbaric warlords from smaller organizations compete for Robertson's coveted
throne. The American Family Association, for instance, has stepped up their
anti-gay attacks across America, recently launching several unsuccessful
anti-gay initiatives in Michigan. Included in AFA's repertoire are cartoons
marketed to children that promote physical gay bashing.

Focus on the Family and its powerful leader James Dobson are also
stepping up its anti-gay agenda, expanding their Love Won Out conferences,
which is a nationwide road show that spreads misinformation about gay
people. Recently, addressing a bill that would allow California residents to
take part in civil unions, Dobson said, "The California Legislature has been
captured, almost without opposition, by those who hold a gay and lesbian
philosophy…The result is a tsunami, a tidal wave, of anti-family and
immoral legislation that is rapidly forcing the citizens of California to
accept and live by an alien system of values…" The Family Research
Council's new president, Ken Connor, joined Dobson in denouncing the bill
saying it "would create a counterfeit marriage".

In a gay rights referendum battle brewing in Miami, the anti-gay
group Take Back Miami-Dade referred to a local pro-gay group, SAVE Dade, as
"corrupt enemies of democracy" who "are not qualified to speak for the great
majority of non-exhibitionist, nonviolent homosexual persons living in this
community."

Perhaps the most invective spewing organization of all is the
Traditional Values Coalition, led by Lou Sheldon. While the group bills
itself as "pro-family" it is almost exclusively anti-gay. For instance, four
out of the five press releases leading their website are about gay issues.
They also peddle a horrible video, It's Not Gay, that repeatedly refers to
homosexuality as a "destructive lifestyle" and ends as an "ex-gay" walks
past a graveyard while morbid music plays in the background.

The familiar faces of the Religious Right may have changed, but
their hateful rhetoric has not. If anything, it may have become more acerbic
as sundry anti-gay leaders compete for media attention. While the throne
may be empty, it is clear that there is no shortage of wannabe kings who
will use the backs of LGBT people to try to climb their way to the top.
While the LGBT community has made significant gains, opposition from the far
right will only intensify before full equality is achieved. We must not
allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by focusing too
much on the empty throne, while ignoring the anti-gay barbarians storming
the gates for control of the kingdom.

Wayne Besen is the Associate Director of Communications for the Human Rights
Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization.

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