Last Wednesday, an obviously disturbed man walked into the downtown Washington lobby of the Family Research Council with a gun and shot an employee. Thankfully, he was stopped before he was able to do any more senseless harm. Immediately our hearts went out to the victim, his family and his co-workers. More than 40 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations – including Human Rights Campaign, which I lead – issued a joint statement condemning this violence.
Unfortunately, over the days that have followed, this incident has been unnecessarily politicized, confusing disagreements over LGBT equality with our unity against violence. Almost immediately after the shooting, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, issued a statement ascribing political motives to the shooter in order to implicate the LGBT community. The blame game grew from there.
Speaking on Fox News, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins made the irresponsible claim that the perpetrator was “given a license to shoot” because the Southern Poverty Law Center, a venerable civil rights institution, has deemed the Family Research Council a hate group.
It is not unexpected that, when such incidents occur, people want to understand them and question why someone could be so callous with human life. But the logic that the Southern Poverty Law Center or LGBT organizations are to blame is preposterous, outrageous and irresponsible. No matter one’s political views, we can all agree that acts of violence are never justified and should always be condemned.
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Designating the Family Research Council a hate group has nothing to do with disagreements about marriage equality, nondiscrimination laws or any other policy debate. The real issue is the Family Research Council’s well-documented and continuous pattern of hateful rhetoric.
Linking gay people to pedophiles is hateful. Consider Perkins’s words from 2010: “While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”
Calling for the expulsion of gays from this country is hateful, as is arguing for making homosexuality a crime. In March 2008, a senior fellow for policy studies at the council, Peter Sprigg, said of uniting gay partners through immigration: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than import them.” He later apologized but in 2009 told an interviewer, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.”
That is the documented record of the Family Research Council, and it is completely distinct from our policy disagreements.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank came to the council’s defense, arguing that it is wrong for the organization to be put in the “hate group” category with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. There should be no yardsticks of oppression. Claiming the mantle of “deeply held religious beliefs” is no excuse for propagating lies that denigrate an entire group of people.
We welcome the calls for reasoned discourse about LGBT equality. But that discussion must be predicated on truth, not demonization. No right-thinking person can believe a difference of opinion is license to do harm. At least on that, all of us can agree.
Griffin is president of Human Rights Campaign.