The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an advocacy organization based out of Alabama, has been keeping a nationwide list of what they call “hate groups”. According to the SPLC”s definition, these groups “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” The vast majority of these groups are racial–either the KKK or other white nationalist groups, or extremist black nationalist organizations. The SPLC recognizes 22 hate groups in Mississippi, and 21 of those fall into these categories. But one doesn’t seem to match. I’m talking, of course, about the American Family Association (AFA), based in Tupelo, that makes the SPLC’s list for being “Anti-LGBT.”
The AFA is a very conservative but still “mainstream” Christian organization. They pride themselves on fighting the “culture wars,” but also oppose pretty much anything that they see as “liberal” or “secular,” as well as almost anything President Obama does. They are anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-school-sponsored-prayer and religious symbolism, and so forth. When the AFA first were named as a “hate group” by the SPLC, the AFA was shocked and appalled to be labeled on the list beside violent organizations like the KKK.
Their complaints aren’t invalid. The AFA doesn’t advocate for violence, or separatism, or the overthrow of any government, unlike almost every other group on the list. Maybe the list of hate groups and extremists needs to be revised to reflect that. And it would be unfair to call every conservative Christian organization that opposes gay marriage a “hate group.” But the AFA, and their representatives, take criticism of gay people and gay rights a few steps further.
Bryan Fischer is the “Director of Issue Analysis” at AFA, and he is the most famous and visible person who is directly associated with the group. This is partly because he is the most outspoken and one of the most extreme when it comes to gay people and gay rights. Fischer, along with other AFA speakers, doesn’t just push against same-sex marriage. He argues that non-heterosexual sex should actually be against the law. He calls the gay rights movement the “Gay Gestapo” after the Nazi’s secret police, and says that Hitler recruited homosexuals to be more “savage and brutal and vicious” than straight soldiers. Gay monogamy is “a myth” and “does not happen.” The AFA often argues that children brought up by married gay parents will be harmed, when the evidence for that is scarce. If any organization said this about black people or Jews, they would be rightfully called out on it, and talking about gay people this way is no better.
And while the AFA doesn’t incite violence, they certainly encourage distrust and fear of gay people, by telling their audience that the LGBT movement is out to convert your children, ruin your marriage, and turn everybody away from God. They may not be violent like the rest of the SPLC’s hate group list, but I think their lies about LGBT people and gay rights qualify as inciting “hate.”
Despite that, the AFA radio station is almost always on in my car these days. Even though I disagree strongly with them on almost everything, I find it valuable for me to listen to their perspective. I think many of their political views are unsupported by facts or reality, and knowing that many people follow the AFA’s views just makes me more dedicated to reversing their spin, and to trying to advocate for truth and justice for all of us.