LGBT-rights organizations are taking aim at one of the conservative movement's most high-profile and controversial events of the year.
Thousands of social conservatives will convene in Washington Sept. 14 to 16 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel for the Values Voter Summit. Organized by the anti-gay Family Research Council and co-sponsored by the American Family Association – which has linked homosexuality to the Holocaust – the annual political conference is defined by its opposition to gay rights and support for ''traditional values.''
The FRC's demonization of LGBT people and their relationship with the conference, which was first held in 2006, has prompted seven left-leaning LGBT advocacy organizations to urge elected officials invited to speak at the conference to reconsider their decision to attend.
In a Sept. 7 letter sent to 15 of the nearly 70 confirmed speakers, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Faithful America, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Coalition, National Council of La Raza and People For the American Way Foundation urged invited elected officials not to share the stage and lend their credibility to an ''organization that spreads demonizing falsehoods about other people.''
According to SPLC President Richard Cohen, the message is simple: ''Public officials should not lend the prestige of their office to groups that spread demeaning and false propaganda about other people.''
Republican vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are among those confirmed to address the three-day conference. A spokesperson for Cantor confirmed he will speak as planned. Ryan's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Other confirmed speakers include Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and Bishop Harry Jackson, one of the loudest voices against marriage equality in the District. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had been advertised as a speaker, but last month the Archdiocese of New York said Dolan received no formal invitation and would not be attending.
According to Faithful America Director Michael Sherrard, Dolan's decision not to attend came after nearly 20,000 people signed a Faithful America petition urging him to boycott the event.
During a conference call earlier today, representatives for the seven LGBT groups emphasized that their criticism of the FRC is not based on the group's opposition to marriage equality, but a long history of painting gay people as ''sick, vile, incestuous, violent, perverted and a danger to the nation.''
''We think that it's remarkable that elected officials like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor are lending their credibility to an event with these sponsors and these participants,'' said People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan. ''They clearly think they can get away with it. But if people know more about the people behind the Values Voter Summit, these politicians are going to have to explain themselves.''
It was a sentiment echoed by HRC Vice President Fred Sainz, who said it was inappropriate for mainstream politicians who are responsible for advocating for the best interests of all their diverse constituents to appear at an event ''hosted by a group that actively works to banish LGBT people to the outskirts of society.''
''The Family Research Council isn't some policy shop that attempts to find constructive solutions to problems facing our society,'' Sainz added. ''The only thing FRC advocates for is the demonization of those who do not fit into their narrow worldview. They are a hate group that actively spreads blatant lies about LGBT people – with absolutely no regard for the impact of their harmful rhetoric.''
The FRC has been pushed into the public spotlight since Floyd Lee Corkins II, a volunteer at The DC Center, D.C.'s LGBT community center, allegedly walked into FRC headquarters Aug. 15 and shot a security guard in the arm because of the group's political views. Corkins has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, which include assault with intent to kill.
Perkins said Corkins was ''given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as 'hate groups' because they disagree with them on public policy.'' He has also linked President Barack Obama to the shooting.
Nevertheless, SPLC has not backed off their accusation that the FRC spreads hate. In the past, Perkins has labeled pedophilia a ''homosexual problem'' and FRC Executive Vice President Jerry Boykin, who is a retired Army general and scheduled speaker at the summit, has labeled the SPLC an ''evil'' and ''dangerous'' group that is an ''anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, Marxist organization.''
Asked by Metro Weekly if he is concerned the FRC will use the letter as a means to further the organization's identity as the victim of political progressives, Cohen said he hopes the mainstream media will draw attention to what the FRC actually stands for rather than the public face Perkins portrays.
''They're trying to make a false equivalency,'' Cohen said. ''I just hope the media makes the distinction.''