Constructing Homophobia: Colorado's Right-Wing Attack on Homosexuals
by Jean Hardisty
"History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but
if faced With courage, need not be lived again." ---"On
the Pulse of Morning," Maya
An eerie unease hangs in the air in Colorado. For lesbians, gay men,
and bisexuals, nagging questions pervade everyday life: did the kindly
person who just gave me her parking place vote for Amendment 2? Did my
landlord vote for the amendment, knowing that I am gay? Will gay rights
be pushed back to the days before Stonewall? Who or what is behind this
Amendment 2 is a ballot initiative that seeks to amend the Colorado
Constitution. The amendment was passed by a majority of Colorado voters
in November 1992, and was to take effect on January 15, 1993. The American
Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the cities of Boulder,
Aspen, and Denver, and individual plaintiffs joined forces under the
leadership of attorney Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Judicial
Court judge, and filed a motion in Denver District Court seeking to enjoin
the governor and state of Colorado from enforcing Amendment 2. On January
15, 1993, Judge Jeffrey Bayless granted a preliminary injunction, giving
the plaintiffs the first victory in a legal struggle over the constitutionality
of Amendment 2. That injunction was later made permanent, but was then
appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Amendment 2 reads as follows:
"Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or
departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities
or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation,
ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation,
conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be
the basis of, or entitle any person or class of persons to have or
claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim
of discrimination. This Section of the [Colorado] Constitution shall
Historical Background to Colorado's Amendment 2
The gay rights movement in the US is often traced to June 27, 1969,
in New York City, when police raided a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall
Inn, and bar patrons rebelled in protest. Seven years later, in 1976,
in Dade County, Florida, Anita Bryant led the first religious campaign
against gay rights. Bryant's campaign (run by Bryant, her husband Bob
Green, and a political operative named Ed Rowe, who went on to head the
Church League of America briefly and later Christian Mandate) was in
opposition to a vote by the Dade County commissioners to prohibit discrimination
against gay men and lesbians in housing, public accommodation, and employment.
Bryant promoted a successful referendum to repeal the commissioners'
vote, and her campaign gained strength and notoriety.
In 1977, Anita Bryant inspired a similar campaign in California, where
State Senator John Briggs, who had worked with Bryant in Miami, sponsored
the "California Defend Our Children Initiative," a binding
initiative on the general election ballot in November 1978. The initiative
provided for charges against school teachers and others advocating, encouraging,
or publicly and "indiscreetly" engaging in homosexuality. It
prohibited the hiring and required the firing of homosexuals if the school
board deemed them unfit. This was in reaction to a 1975 California law
preventing local school boards from firing teachers for homosexuality.
California Defend Our Children, the organizing group supporting the initiative,
was chaired by State Senator John Briggs. Rev. Louis Sheldon, now head
of the Anaheim-based organization Traditional Values, was executive director.
The initiative failed, but Rev. Louis Sheldon would remain extremely
active in anti-homosexual organizing. That same year, David A. Noebel,
later to head Summit Ministries of Colorado, published The Homosexual
Revolution, which he dedicated to Anita Bryant.
Bryant's anti-homosexual campaign ended in 1979 with the collapse of
her two organizations, Anita Bryant Ministries and Protect America's
Children, which were hampered by a lack of political sophistication.
Contemporary techniques in influencing the political system--direct mail,
computer technology, religious television ministries--were not available
to Bryant. Although US history is dotted with right-wing movements led
by preachers (such as Father Charles Coughlin, who used radio to enormous
effect), at that time few religious fundamentalists and evangelicals
were interested in the political sphere. Bryant herself was plagued by
personal problems, such as divorce, and her organizations were unable
to respond effectively to a boycott mounted against Florida's orange
industry, for which Bryant was a major spokesperson. Her organizations
collapsed because they were unable to expand their base through direct
mail and fundraising, to use the media to build that base, or to use
the political system for their own religious ends. With the creation
of the New Right at the end of the 1970s, a political movement was born
that incorporated conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals as full
partners. Now there were tremendous political resources available to
the Religious Right, and the success and influence of religious fundamentalists
in the spheres of public policy and popular opinion improved dramatically.
Under the benign influence of the Reagan Administration, the New Right
and its Religious Right component flourished. Several major leaders emerged,
their individual fortunes rising and falling, but their collective political
clout reaching into new spheres of influence, especially the political
sphere. A focus of attention that emerged with the advent of the New
Right was a rollback of gains made by the gay rights movement.
The Second Right-Wing Anti-Homosexual Campaign
The "second" anti-homosexual campaign, born within the New
Right in the early 1980s, has been a far more sophisticated one. It has
been planned at the national level, carried out by at least 15 large
national organizations using the most refined computer technology, showing
an understanding of the political system, and therefore exerting influence
only dreamed of by the first movement.
The effects of this new sophistication are:
- to make local anti-homosexual campaigns appear to be exclusively
grassroots efforts, when they are guided by major national organizations;
- to increase the effect of each New Right organization's efforts by
building networks and coalitions among the organizations and by coordinating
- to camouflage the religious content of the organizing and create
the more secular theme of "defense of the family";
- to pursue the anti-homosexual campaign under the slogan "no
special rights," despite that slogan's inaccuracy.
The Anti-Homosexual Campaign of the Early 1980s
The opening of the second anti-homosexual campaign can be traced to
- the 1982 publication of Enrique T. Rueda's massive The Homosexual
Network (Old Greenwich, CT: Devin Adair Co.);
- the onset of the AIDS epidemic, which in its earliest days in the
US, was almost exclusively confined to the gay male community. (For
an account of the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, see Randy Shilts, And
The Band Played On (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.);
- the work of anti-gay activist Dr. Paul Cameron, director in the early
1980s of the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality
in Lincoln, Nebraska, and now chairperson of the Family Research Institute
in Washington, DC. Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation would prove
an early supporter of Dr. Cameron: FCF distributed copies of Cameron's "Model
Sexuality Statute" in 1983.
Enrique Rueda's massive book, The Homosexual Network, is a thorough
examination of the organizations, activities, and ideology of the gay
rights movement. The book does not discuss AIDS, and much of its critique
of homosexual organizations is directed at their liberalism. Rueda, a
native of Cuba and a Catholic theologian, is also interested in the moral
dimension of homosexuality and its offense against the church.
In 1987, the Free Congress Foundation, which had sponsored Rueda's book,
developed a new condensation that updated the critique of homosexuality
to include the AIDS crisis. This book, Gays, AIDS and You, by
Michael Schwartz and Enrique Rueda, stands as a seminal work in the right's
analysis of homosexuality in the context of the AIDS crisis. A quote
from the introduction illustrates the significance of this book to an
understanding of Colorado's Amendment 2:
"For the homosexual movement is nothing less than an attack on
our traditional, pro-family values. And now this movement is using
the AIDS crisis to pursue its political agenda. This in turn, threatens
not only our values but our lives. . . .
"They are loved by God as much as anyone else. This we believe
while affirming the disordered nature of their sexual condition and
the evil nature of the acts this condition leads to, and while fully
committed to the proposition that homosexuals should not be
entitled to special treatment under the law. That would be tantamount
to rewarding evil."
It is significant that Rueda wrote his two important critiques of the
gay rights movement at the suggestion of, and under the sponsorship of,
Paul Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation, which Weyrich directs.
FCF's early and important work on the issue of homosexuality foreshadowed
a national campaign to highlight homosexuality as a threat to the well-being
Paul Weyrich is a founder and central leader of the New Right. He was
more astute than many in the New Right in his early appreciation of the
potential of anti-gay themes in building the success of the New Right.
But he was not alone in understanding the appeal of this issue in right-wing
organizing. As early as 1978, Tim LaHaye, "family counselor," husband
of Beverly LaHaye (head of Concerned Women for America), and prominent
leader in both the pro-family and Religious Right components of the New
Right, wrote The Unhappy Gays (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers,
In 1983, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority sent out at least three mailings
that highlighted the threats of homosexuality and AIDS.
In a similar vein, Robert G. Grant's organization, Christian Voice,
used the threat of homosexuality as a major theme in a fundraising letter
that began, "I am rushing you this urgent letter because the children
in your neighborhood are in danger."
Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum and grande dame of the pro-family
movement, made heavy use of the accusation of lesbianism in her early
1980s attacks on Equal Rights Amendment organizers. She argued that the
ERA would promote gay rights, leading, for example, to the legitimization
of same-sex marriages, the protection of gay and lesbian rights in the
military, the protection of the rights of persons with AIDS, and the
voiding of sodomy laws.
Dr. Paul Cameron is a tireless anti-gay activist who has played an important
roll in encouraging punitive measures against people with AIDS. In 1983,
the American Psychological Association dropped Cameron from its membership
rolls "for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles
of Psychologists." Despite being discredited by reputable social
scientists, Cameron has served as an "expert" on homosexuality
at numerous right-wing and Religious Right conferences, and was hired
as a consultant on AIDS by California Assemblyman William Dannemeyer.
As the 1980s unfolded and the New Right achieved substantial gains on
economic, military, and foreign policy issues, its Religious Right and
pro-family sectors devoted their most passionate organizing to the anti-abortion
crusade, where there were significant successes. The campaign against
homosexuality was not a major focus in the mid-1980s, though it was never
repudiated as a goal of right-wing organizing. A shared alarm and loathing
over the gains of the gay rights movement was understood within the New
The Current Anti-Homosexual Campaign
In the late 1980s, three issues reinvigorated the New Right's anti-homosexual
activism and focused added attention at the national level. The first
issue was the promotion of school curriculum reform to reflect a greater
acceptance of gay men and lesbians (e.g., Project 10 in southern California).
The second was the religious and political right's objection to public
funding for homoerotic art. The third issue was the passage of gay rights
ordinances, bills, and initiatives in the local sphere and in state legislatures.
According to People for the American Way, 19 states and more than 100
cities and counties now have laws or executive orders protecting gay
and lesbian rights.
It is commonly thought that the local responses to each of these three
gay rights issues are grassroots efforts, mounted by outraged citizens
stirred to action by local manifestations of "gay power." In
fact, while local anti-homosexual groups did and do exist, their power
and effectiveness is enormously enhanced by the technical assistance
provided by national New Right organizations.
Colorado provides a case study of the effective involvement of national
right-wing groups at the local level. Colorado for Family Values (CFV),
the local group that sponsored Amendment 2, was founded by Coloradans
Kevin Tebedo and Tony Marco, and is headed by Colorado Springs car dealer
Will Perkins. It promotes itself as a grassroots group, but its tactics,
success, and power are largely the result of support from a national
anti-homosexual campaign mounted by the New Right. Five of the national
organizations active in this campaign are represented on the executive
and advisory boards of CFV: Focus on the Family, Summit Ministries, Concerned
Women for America, Eagle Forum, and Traditional Values. Pat Robertson's
Christian Coalition is not officially represented on the board of CFV,
but has a strong presence in Colorado and is ubiquitous in anti-homosexual
organizing nationally. Many other New Right and "old right" organizations
are climbing on the anti-homosexual bandwagon as the issue becomes more
Colorado for Family Values has maintained adamantly that its strategy
was not coordinated by national religious or political groups. However,
according to People for the American Way, a Washington, DC, organization
that monitors the right wing, "the Religious Right's anti-gay vendetta
is not, as its leaders often claim, a spontaneous outpouring of concern
about gay issues. Theirs is a carefully orchestrated political effort,
with a unified set of messages and tactics, that is deliberately designed
to foster division and intolerance." A review of the national organizations
involved with Colorado's Amendment 2 will support this analysis.
Key Homophobic Groups Active in Colorado
Rev. Louis Sheldon's Traditional Values
Traditional Values (often called the Traditional Values Coalition) is
headed by Rev. Louis Sheldon and is based in Anaheim, California. Rev.
Sheldon and his organization have taken leadership within the Religious
Right's anti-homosexual campaign. In October 1989, Rev. Sheldon led the "West
Coast Symposium on Homosexuality and Public Policy Implications" in
Orange County, California. Two of the featured speakers were Roger Magnuson,
Esq., author of Are Gay Rights Right?, and Congressman William
Dannemeyer, author of Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America.
Building on the success of the west coast symposium, Rev. Sheldon convened
a January 1990 conference in Washington, DC, that was billed as a "national
summit meeting on homosexuality." One of the two dominant themes
of the conference was that homosexuals have, since the 1960s, been seeking "special
protection over and above the equal rights already given to all Americans." This
theme would later appear in Colorado as the central theme of the Colorado
for Family Values' promotion of Amendment 2.
Rev. Louis Sheldon was an aide to Pat Robertson in 1987, and he shares
much of Robertson's interest in the legal codification of moral issues.
In 1988, Sheldon led the opposition to Project 10, a counseling program
for gay adolescents in the Los Angeles school system. In 1986 and 1988,
his zeal against homosexuals led him to endorse the California anti-homosexual
initiatives sponsored by far right extremist Lyndon LaRouche. The initiatives
sought, in effect, to require quarantine for people with AIDS. Sheldon
himself has advocated establishing "cities of refuge" for people
with the HIV infection. In 1991, Sheldon submitted to the California
attorney general a constitutional amendment that would bar civil rights
laws from protecting homosexuals, unless approved by a two-thirds vote
of the California voters. Sheldon has recently announced his intention
to pursue in California an initiative modeled on Colorado's Amendment
Barbara Sheldon, chairwoman of the Traditional Values Coalition of Colorado,
is on the executive board of Colorado for Family Values. She is not related
to Rev. Sheldon.
Focus on the Family
It is widely agreed that the 1991 arrival in Colorado Springs of Dr.
James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, was an important
catalyst for Colorado Springs' local anti-homosexual organization, Colorado
for Family Values. CFV had already led a successful campaign against
a local gay rights ordinance. Focus on the Family, however, brought to
Colorado Springs a tremendous influx of resources and sophisticated political
experience: it arrived with 750 employees (and has since added another
300) and an annual budget of nearly $70 million, including a $4 million
grant from the El Pomar Foundation to buy 50 acres in Colorado Springs.
Focus on the Family is indeed a national organization. While it has no
official ties to CFV, it has offered "advice" to CFV, and several
Focus on the Family employees, such as public policy representative Randy
Hicks, sit on CFV advisory boards. Focus on the Family has given an in-kind
donation worth $8,000 to Colorado for Family Values.
Dr. Dobson's background is in pediatrics and he is best known as an
advocate of traditional discipline and corporal punishment for children.
However, his organization has also been heavily involved in anti-homosexual
organizing. In 1988, Focus on the Family merged with the Washington,
DC-based Family Research Council, headed by Gary L. Bauer. The Family
Research Council distributed a "homosexual packet," available
through Focus on the Family, which contained the lengthy document, The
Homosexual Agenda: Changing Your Community and Nation. This detailed
guide includes a section titled "Starting An Initiative." In
October 1992, the Family Research Council separated from Focus on the
Family after warnings from the Internal Revenue Service that the Council's
lobbying activities were endangering Focus on the Family's tax-exempt
In keeping with the Family Research Council's anti-gay organizing, Focus
on the Family's newsletters have shown an increase in anti-gay articles
over the last several years. For instance, in the May 1990 Focus on
the Family newsletter, Dr. Dobson himself began a column with the
statement, "I am familiar with the widespread effort to redefine
the family. It is motivated by homosexual activists and others who see
the traditional family as a barrier to the social engineering they hope
to accomplish." A March 1991 article in the newsletter uses this
argument against treating gays equally: "There are people in our
society who find sexual satisfaction from engaging in intercourse with
animals. . . .Would anyone suggest that these groups deserve special
Summit Ministries of Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a little-known Religious
Right organization whose work is national in scope. It is a 30-year-old
Christian organization specializing in educational materials and summer
youth retreats. Its president is Rev. David A. Noebel, formerly a prominent
preacher in Rev. Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade. As early as
1977, Noebel authored The Homosexual Revolution, in which he claims
that "homosexuality rapidly is becoming one of America's most serious
social problems." He has also written several books claiming that
rock'n'roll and soul music are communist plots to corrupt US youth. Summit
Ministries later published AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
A Special Report, co-authored by David Noebel, Wayne C. Lutton, and
Paul Cameron. For the last several years, virtually every issue of The
Journal, Summit Ministries' monthly newsletter, has contained several
anti-homosexual entries. Summit Ministries has just published Noebel's
new book, Understanding the Times: The Story of the Biblical Christian,
Marxist/Leninist and Secular Humanist Worldviews.
Noebel's background with Rev. Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade
helps to explain the historical friendly relationship between Summit
Ministries and the John Birch Society (JBS). Both the Christian Crusade
and the John Birch Society represent a political sector known in political
science literature as the "old right." Born out of the conviction
that communism was rampant in the United States, both organizations believed
that the civil rights movement was manipulated by communists, that the
National Council of Churches promoted communism, and that the United
Nations was controlled by communists. In 1962, Rev. Billy James Hargis
purchased an old resort hotel in Manitou Springs, which was renamed The
Summit. The Summit became a retreat and anti-communism summer college.
Summit's relationship with the John Birch Society is deeper than mere
ideological affinity. In fact, in 1983, a donor responding to a John
Birch Society fundraising letter sent a check to Robert Welch of JBS,
and received a thank-you letter from Welch. The check, however, was made
out to Summit Ministries.
Rev. David Noebel was a member of the John Birch Society until at least
1987, and for many years Summit Ministries took out full-page advertisements
for its summer youth retreats in Review of the News and American
Opinion, two John Birch Society publications.
Summit Ministries is also politically close to Dr. James Dobson and
Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson, especially since moving to Colorado,
leads seminars at Summit Ministries, and his endorsement of Summit's
work was prominent in Summit's material promoting its 30th anniversary.
David Noebel is on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values.
Beverly LaHaye's Concerned
Women for America
Touting itself as the largest women's organization in America, Concerned
Women for America claims a membership of 500,000, a number disputed by
many. CWA was founded in 1979 as "the Christian women's answer to
the National Organization for Women." It is based in Washington,
DC, and organizes its member chapters through prayer circles and LaHaye's
monthly newsletter. CWA distributes a pamphlet titled The Hidden Homosexual
Agenda that condemns the homosexual agenda for seeking "to take
away the right of those who believe that homosexuality is wrong and immoral
to voice that opinion."
CWA's most recent anti-homosexual pamphlet is The Homosexual Deception:
Making Sin A Civil Right. It is a reprint of a treatise by Tony
Marco, co-founder of Colorado for Family Values, that CFV filed with
the state of Colorado as evidence supporting the correctness of Amendment
2. Here, to give a local activist his due, we see the local group creating
material that is then used by a national group--a reversal of the usual
pattern. Concerned Women for America is represented on the CFV advisory
board by the president of its Colorado chapter, Bert Nelson.
Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum
Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, based in Alton, Illinois, is another
national organization whose local affiliate is represented on the advisory
board of Colorado for Family Values. Phyllis Schlafly is perhaps best
known for her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment.
During that campaign, she used the threat of homosexual and lesbian privileges
as a central argument to support her opposition to the ERA. Eagle Forum
continues to oppose gay and lesbian rights.
Other National Groups Prominent in the Anti-Homosexual Campaign
Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition
Rev. Pat Robertson, longtime host of the cable television program "The
700 Club," and prominent leader of the Religious Right, ran unsuccessfully
in the Republican presidential primary in 1988. In October 1989, Robertson
used the 1.9 million names he had collected from his 1988 campaign to
identify 175,000 key activists and donors, and launch the Christian Coalition.
The new Coalition's stated goal was "to build the most powerful
political force in American politics."
The 175,000 activists were contacted and urged to establish chapters
of the Christian Coalition in their precincts. Five goals were identified:
- build a grassroots network using professional field organizers and
- construct a lobbying organization to work at the national and state
levels in every state and in Washington, DC;
- create a mass media outreach program;
- build a legal arm to defend the gains made in state legislatures
from challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union;
- build a prayer network to unite all evangelical and pro-family voters.
Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation was an early endorser of
the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition's training tapes teach activists to fight those
forces pursuing "an agenda of chaos." An early videotape distributed
by the Christian Coalition used homosexual scenes to illustrate the moral
decline of America; opposition to homosexuality has always been a commitment
of the Christian Coalition. However, it was the 1990 political battle
over a gay rights initiative in Broward County, Florida, that moved the
anti-homosexual agenda to prominence within the organization. In its
literature, the Christian Coalition took credit for "spearheading" the
defeat. It claims to have "led the charge and won a major political
victory." Robertson calls on Christian Coalition members to "duplicate
this success in your city and state and throughout the nation."
By 1992, the organization had grown dramatically. Ralph Reed, its executive
director, claimed 250,000 members in 49 states and $13 million in the
bank. The Christian Coalition launched an election year get-out-the-vote
effort which included "in-pew" registration at churches, the
distribution of up to 40 million "voter guides," and the use
of computer-assisted telephone banks to help elect favored candidates
in key races.
Reed's tactics are self-confessedly surreptitious. "I want to be
invisible," he told one reporter. "I do guerrilla warfare.
I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're
in a body bag. You don't know until election night." Despite this
statement, Reed later publicly distanced himself from the "stealth" strategy.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Coalition
overwhelmingly has targeted local Republican Party precinct and county
organizations for takeover. It works closely with Paul Weyrich's Free
Congress Foundation, which was founded in 1974 with money from the Coors
family and its foundation. County Christian Coalition chapters have been
directed to subscribe to Weyrich's National Empowerment Television (NET)
satellite program. Ralph Reed is on the NET board.
Colorado for Family Values is not an affiliate of, nor is it funded
by, the Christian Coalition (unlike the group that led the anti-homosexual
initiative campaign in Oregon, the Oregon Citizens Alliance); the link
between the Christian Coalition and Colorado's Amendment 2 is an indirect
one. The National Legal Foundation of Chesapeake, Virginia (a conservative
Christian legal organization founded by Pat Robertson and funded by Robertson's
Christian Broadcasting Network, but no longer affiliated with Robertson),
gave advice to Colorado for Family Values as early as 1991, long before
Amendment 2 was on the ballot. The consultation was intended to help
CFV formulate ballot language that would survive legal and political
challenges. By the end of 1992, the National Legal Foundation had taken
over much of the legal work of CFV.
The Berean League
The Berean League, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has published Roger
J. Magnuson's much-cited book Are Gay Rights Right? This discredited
work was used by Tony Marco in the treatise he wrote for Colorado for
Family Values. In addition to publishing Magnuson's book, the Berean
League developed a successful campaign to oppose a local civil rights
ordinance for gay men and lesbians. On the basis of that success, it
began to conduct workshops at national conferences on "Strategies
for Defeating Homosexual Privilege Proposals."
A Christian organization, the Berean League states in its promotional
literature that "the League's authority is Scripture." Recently,
it has issued a "Back-grounder" report titled Some Things
You May Not Know About Homosexuality. An inflammatory three-page
document, it was circulated in Oregon as a tool to organize support for
Oregon's 1992 anti-homosexual Measure 9, the Abnormal Behavior Initiative.
The American Family Association
Headed by Rev. Donald Wildmon and based in Tupelo, Mississippi, the
American Family Association has an annual budget of $5 million, and focuses
primarily on profanity, adultery, homosexuality, and other forms of anti-Christian
behavior and language on television. An earlier Wildmon organization
was called CLeaR-TV (Christian Leaders for Responsible Television) and
was based in Wheaton, Illinois. Wildmon has specialized in boycotting
the corporate sponsors of shows which he dislikes. He called for a boycott
of American Express because it sponsored the television program "L.
A. Law," which ran an episode featuring a bisexual woman kissing
another woman. Wildmon opposes even the depiction of homosexuality. One
of his "top goals" for 1989 was to force off the air three
TV shows ("Heartbeat," "Hooperman," and "thirtysomething")
that, he said, "promote the homosexual lifestyle and portray practicing
homosexuals in a positive light." Wildmon was accused of anti-Semitism
for inflammatory comments he made during his campaign against the film The
Last Temptation of Christ.
The Rutherford Institute
The Rutherford Institute, based in Manassas, Virginia, and founded and
headed by John W. Whitehead, is a non-profit, legal defense organization
associated with the far-right fringe of the Religious Right. Speakers
listed in its Speakers Bureau include R. J. Rushdoony, a prominent Christian
Reconstructionist. Reconstructionists believe that the text of the Bible
provides the only legitimate basis for civil law. The most zealous wing
of Reconstructionism has called for the death penalty for homosexuals,
adulterers, and recalcitrant children. In 1992, the Rutherford Institute
spearheaded a suit in Hawaii to block implementation of that state's
new gay rights law.
The John Birch Society
The John Birch Society is another national organization with a prominent
anti-homosexual agenda. JBS is not properly categorized as a New Right
organization, but is best seen as "old right." Historically,
the John Birch Society has existed as an isolationist, anti-communist
organization. It was founded near the end of the McCarthy era, and expanded
on Senator Joseph McCarthy's conspiracy theory of communist penetration
of the United States. Since the death of its founder, Robert Welch, the
JBS has moved from Belmont, Massachusetts, to Appleton, Wisconsin. Its
recent concerns have been family issues, AIDS, US internationalist foreign
policy, opposition to government regulations, and the right to bear arms.
High on its list of concerns within family issues is homosexuality. The
September and October 1992 issues of its publication, New American (published
immediately before the November votes on anti-gay initiatives in Colorado
and Oregon), carried anti-homosexual stories. The October story was a
two-page article supporting Oregon's Abnormal Behavior Initiative.
Lyndon LaRouche: A Special Case
Lyndon LaRouche is a far-right political extremist who is now serving
a 15-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud and tax evasion.
LaRouche runs a vast empire of organizations with ideological positions
that exactly mimic his bizarre conspiracy theories. His followers are
seen in airports and on street corners, often campaigning to free LaRouche
from jail or attacking the organization's mortal enemy--Henry Kissinger.
LaRouche's many organizations have always incorporated sexual themes
into their analysis, and have been obsessed with AIDS since the pandemic
began. LaRouche has conducted a long-running and fanatical campaign against
homosexuality. Most recently, LaRouche spearheaded Proposition 64 in
California, which would have established restrictive public health policies
regarding AIDS. Proposition 64 was opposed by virtually all public health
officials and elected officials (one exception was legislator William
Dannemeyer). A public health specialist for the California Medical Association
described Proposition 64 as "absolute hysteria and calculated deception." LaRouche
organizers continue to peddle hysteria over AIDS and homosexuality. Their
embrace of anti-Jewish and other scapegoating conspiracy theories and
use of demagoguery add a firm base to the claim that the LaRouchians
are a neo-fascist movement. Many New Right groups avoid any official
alliance with the LaRouchians.
Analyzing the Anti-Homosexual Campaign's Coordination & Networking
Since its earliest days in the late 1970s, the New Right has been a
political and religious movement that has self-consciously networked
among its members. The Religious Roundtable, the Free Congress Foundation,
the Heritage Foundation, Christian Voice, the Conservative Caucus, the
Moral Majority, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America, among others,
have held frequent conferences, published in each other's journals and
newsletters, and promoted legislation within the context of a sympathetic
The anti-homosexual campaign nests within a sector of the New Right
known as the pro-family movement. The major national gathering for the
pro-family movement is the Family Forum conference, held annually since
1981. The conference has usually been sponsored by Paul Weyrich's Free
Congress Foundation and Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. These conferences
are symptomatic of the coordination and networking among the New Right
leadership. The issues of concern to the pro-family movement are aptly
described in a 1984 promotional letter for Family Forum III. They are "important
moral issues such as: the economic survival of the family, parents' rights
in education, the homosexual movement, personal charity, child pornography,
Reflecting the New Right leadership's shared opposition to homosexuality,
the Family Forum conferences nearly always feature an anti-homosexual
speaker. With the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, and the publication of Gays,
AIDS and You, sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation, the anti-homosexual
profile became much higher. We see the fruits of a decade of organizing
by the pro-family movement of the New Right in the many challenges to
gay rights bills and initiatives, and most recently in the anti-gay initiatives
in Colorado and Oregon.
The analysis underlying the pro-family movement's morality is a fervent
distrust and irrational hatred of "secular humanism," which
is used as a shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. This
distrust of secular humanism can be traced to the US nativist right at
the turn of the century, which believed secular humanists were engaged
in a conspiracy to undermine the United States. The purported conspiracy
was linked, from its beginning, to an extreme fear of communism and its
undermining effect on Christianity and the Christian family. Today, a
major focus of the New Right, and particularly of the pro-family movement,
is unrelenting opposition to the perceived secular humanist conspiracy.
As Paul Weyrich describes it, "Well, first of all, from our point
of view, this is really the most significant battle of the age-old conflict
between good and evil, between the forces of God and the forces against
God, that we have seen in our country."
For a better understanding of how fear of secular humanism serves as
the theoretical basis for right-wing organizing, see the Berlet/Quigley
chapter on the Culture War: Theocracy and Racism.
Camouflage of the Christian Agenda
In the discussion above, three of the four national New Right organizations
playing the highest profile role in organizing support for Colorado's
Amendment 2 are explicitly Christian organizations. However, the association
of anti-homosexual organizing with religious (specifically Christian)
principles is highlighted only when activists are targeting fellow Christians
in order to recruit or educate them. When organizing in the wider political
arena, anti-homosexual organizing is cast in the secular terms of "family
values" and "defense of the family."
This is an important aspect of the Religious Right's organizing style.
Since the mid-1980s, when the heavy-handed style of Jerry Falwell's Moral
Majority lost popularity, the Christian Right has cast its campaigns
in terms not so obviously linked to the Bible. Ralph Reed of the Christian
Coalition refers to the soft-peddling of the religious message in his
own organization's work as conducting a "stealth campaign."
In the case of the anti-homosexual campaign, the Religious Right has
dwelt on calumnious depictions of predatory behavior by homosexuals.
Various anti-gay campaigns have accused homosexuals of eating feces,
molesting children, and destroying the family. Many of these characterizations
are "documented" by the work of Dr. Paul Cameron and Roger
J. Magnuson. Oregon's 1992 anti-gay initiative (which was rejected by
the voters) equates homosexuality with "pedophilia, sadism or masochism." While
it is only in explicitly religious attacks on homosexuals that homosexuality
is equated with Satan, that connection is uncontroversial among many
involved in organizing against homosexuals.
Though the religious basis of this anti-homosexual fervor often is not
mentioned, occasionally this bias becomes clear. On February 10, 1992,
Bill McCartney, head football coach at the University of Colorado at
Boulder, said at a press conference that homosexuality is a "sin" that
is "an abomination of almighty God." McCartney is a member
of the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Former US Representative
William Armstrong, who describes himself as having had a "life-changing
experience" when he became born again, is chairman of the advisory
board of CFV.
But the clearest revelation of the religious basis for the work of CFV
is a talk given by Kevin Tebedo, CFV executive director, at the First
Congregational Church in Colorado Springs on August 23, 1992. In this
setting, Tebedo states that Amendment 2 "is about authority."
He goes on to say, "It's about whose authority takes precedence
in the society in which we live. . . [I]s it the authority of God? The
authority of the supreme King of Kings and Lord of Lords? You see, we
say we should have the separation of church and state, but you see, Jesus
Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That is politics;
that is rule; that is authority."
In spite of the obvious preeminence of Christian principles in the values
of its national organizational supporters and some of its advisory board
members, the literature of Colorado for Family Values does not refer
to Christianity, Biblical admonitions regarding homosexuality, or religious
principles. A large CFV packet of information dated January 9, 1992,
does not mention a religious basis for CFV's work. Finally, there is
no mention of religion in the CFV Mission Statement.
The History of "No Special Rights"
Another area of deception in the public face of the anti-homosexual
campaign is its assertion that lesbians and gay men are seeking "special
rights" or "special protections." This was the guiding
premise behind Anita Bryant's campaign, was raised again by Enrique Rueda
in The Homosexual Network and Gays, AIDS and You, and eventually
emerged as the slogan of the national anti-homosexual campaign. In the
case of Colorado's Amendment 2, the slogan was the dominant theme of
CFV's advertising and promotion.
The use of "no special rights" is purposefully misleading.
Gay rights initiatives do not provide "special rights," but
a guarantee of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Amendment 2 would
deny equal protection against discrimination only to this group. CFV's
decision to use "no special rights" only in its public materials
and not in the legal language of the amendment itself was made on the
advice of the National Legal Foundation.
A June 1991 letter from Brian McCormick of NLF advises CFV to stay away
from the "no special rights" language in its legal formulations,
but to use it as the centerpiece of its public campaign. Coloradans were
bombarded with advertisements and flyers all drumming home the message
that Amendment 2 did nothing but reverse the unfair granting of "special
rights" through gay rights initiatives. Future anti-gay initiatives
will undoubtedly continue the use of the "no special rights" slogan
because the cohesiveness of the right's anti-homosexual campaign virtually
guarantees that local initiatives will follow the lead of national organizations.
Legal Issues Raised by Amendment 2
After the voters in Colorado approved Amendment 2 by majority vote,
a preliminary injunction was successfully sought by a group of plaintiffs
that included individuals, gay rights organizations, and the three Colorado
cities--Denver, Aspen, and Boulder--that had existing gay rights ordinances.
The injunction was requested on the grounds that Amendment 2 would deprive
gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals of any legal remedy for acts of discrimination
against them, and deprive the state and all local governments from enacting
any statutes, ordinances, or policies that prevent discrimination on
the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination may occur in such areas
as insurance, employment, housing, and accommodation.
The plaintiffs faced the difficult burden of overcoming the "presumption
of constitutionality" granted to any successful amendment. They
also needed to prove that there was a reasonable likelihood that they
would prevail on the merits of their case. The plaintiffs argued that
the amendment denied fundamental constitutional rights and also violated
the constitutional guarantee of equal protection because there was no
rational relationship between its provisions and the accomplishment of
a legitimate public goal. To prevail, the plaintiffs needed to establish
that such a denial of rights would create real, immediate, and irreparable
harm to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.
Colorado District Court Judge Jeffrey Bayless determined that there
was a reasonable probability that the amendment denied the plaintiffs
a fundamental right--the right to participate in the governmental process--and
that the amendment could be upheld only if the defendants could show
that it furthered a compelling governmental purpose.
Judge Bayless concluded that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are an
identifiable group that deserves protection. Acknowledging that the Constitution
cannot control private prejudices, he ruled that legislation must not
indirectly "give them effect." Judge Bayless then granted the
temporary injunction blocking Amendment 2. A later permanent injunction
was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Homophobia is a bedrock value in our society, one that crosses lines
of class, race, and even gender. Our Calvinist attitudes toward sex,
based in religious teaching that sex is only for procreation, and a patriarchal
culture that is discomforted by any breaking down of rigid sex roles,
combine to create a culture that can deal with homosexuality, if at all,
only in the artistic and commercial spheres. The lesbian and gay civil
rights movement has pushed homosexuality out of the artistic and commercial
world and into the political and social sphere. This is almost guaranteed
to create a backlash while society absorbs and adjusts to new values.
While that backlash may be inevitable, it can be tamped down or fanned
by political forces. This review of the right wing's organizing to promote
a backlash against the gay rights movement is a study in reaction.
Deprived of its old enemies and needing a new issue to promote, the right's
anti-homosexual organizing is rank opportunism. The anti-gay backlash
is in large part a creation of the right. It is generating funds, keeping
right-wing organizations that were in danger of complete eclipse alive
with an infusion of new support, and generating the all-important evidence
of political power--media attention.
The threat this backlash represents is very real. Violence is its most
blatant manifestation, but the litany of pain and waste caused by homophobia
includes subtle attacks on gay men and lesbians as well. Furthermore,
confronting the backlash distracts time, energy, and money from the work
necessary to bring about equal rights for lesbians and gay men.
In the case of Colorado's Amendment 2, it would be comforting to think
that the people who voted for the amendment were simply misled, and believed
they were opposing special rights for homosexuals. While that deception
was promoted by Colorado for Family Values, the vote also reflects the
deep-seated persistence of homophobia in our society. The skillful manipulation
of homophobia by the right wing creates anti-gay sentiment and actions
that bolster and promote intolerance.
In the United States, we must decide what role the church and religious
tenets are going to play, especially when those tenets are in conflict
with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is not an attack on
Christianity or religion to question the propriety of imposing Biblical
law on a secular society. If ours is a society in which church and state
are separate, then the prohibitions of church dogma cannot overrule the
protections provided by the Constitution. And the Constitution, to paraphrase
Mr. Justice McKenna in the 1910 case of Weems v. U.S., is progressive--it
is not fastened to the obsolete, but may acquire new meaning as public
opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice.