Important as these reasons are for protesting AFTAH, our own LGBT civil rights struggle shows that there are civil rights opportunities to be gained by not taking an "ignore them and they'll go away approach" towards groups like AFTAH.
Reading through AFTAH's propaganda materials, one is struck by the great lengths they go to portray themselves as simple, "good Christians" (albeit far better than those lapsed, "fake" Christians). Besides wrapping themselves in Biblical goodliness, they're hyper-patriots, boisterously proclaiming their Americanism. And diabetics beware - their sanctimonious tracts about what they call family values contain so much sugar they are hazardous to your health. They're just about as Godly, Pro-American and Pro-Family as you can get.
Why so much emphasis on God, patriotism, Mom and apple pie? Because the real product they're selling is one that, when Americans think about it more deeply, is something many will find repugnant. This is where marketing comes in.
AFTAH is in favor of denying equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations - including government services like equal Social Security and marriage benefits - to a whole group of people. AFTAH's central mission is to prevent the spread of full LGBT legal and social equality and to roll back those gains that we have already made. In order to accomplish these goals, they must expand further the territory they've already secured for "acceptable" anti-gay bigotry in mainstream politics and among the wider public.
Their problem is that, while the 1960s Civil Rights Movement for African Americans certainly wasn't popular in many quarters at the time, it did win at least surface acceptance over time. And part of its legacy was that it eventually established in the United States a popular repugnance among many against those who overtly oppose legal equality for African Americans and indeed against anyone who peddles hate and discrimination against whole groups of people.
Like present-day anti-gay bigots, in the 1960s opponents of the movement for African American civil rights also boisterously wrapped themselves in faith, family and country. And it is no accident that many prominent anti-gay leaders of this century, such as the Mormon Church and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, were strident opponents of African American legal equality in the last century. Falwell, for example, infamously labeled the Black freedom movement "the civil wrongs movement."
So as anti-gay groups like AFTAH promote themselves as godly, patriotic, and pro-family, this is not just stylistic exuberance. Rather, it is part of a carefully thought out strategy aimed at countering those who label them as haters. And when mainstream LGBT leaders advise our community to ignore groups like AFTAH or go lightly on them, they are playing right into their hands.
By contrast, in the late 1970s when the pro-gay movement which brought us Harvey Milk defeated the anti-gay movement represented by Anita Bryant, they did it by successfully labeling Bryant as a narrow-minded bigot very reminiscent of the bigots which the African American Civil Rights Movement organized against. All the "pro-family" and "Save Our Children" saccharine in the world could not protect her from a pro-gay movement which peeled away the patriotic and "Christian" façade to reveal a nasty bigot underneath.
For the most part, our present-day mainstream LGBT leaders repeatedly fail to take on the present-day Anita Bryants. Instead, while AFTAH and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) spew out vitriol suggesting that we are a bunch of disease-ridden child molesters, pro-gay leaders typically pull their punches and prefer to shy away from labeling creeps in AFTAH and NOM as the anti-gay bigots that they are. The result, in contrast to our 1978 victory over California's anti-gay Briggs Amendment, is our defeat in many eminently winnable anti-gay referenda fights over the past few years, including in places like Maine where we held a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage.
Rather than paint the Catholic and Mormon Church leaderships as bigots opposed to equal rights and painting them into a corner the way that Harvey Milk, et al, did against Anita Bryant, most LGBT leaders give anti-gay leaders like the Pope a pass; instead, they try to compete on the same terrain by setting up "faith-based" divisions at organizations like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and out-doing the bigots in demonstrating our "godliness" and "pro-family values" (whether we're Christian or not, or whether we consider ourselves part of families or not).
With dozens of defeats in recent statewide referenda, this is a spectacularly failed strategy.
The question is why do mainstream LGBT groups and their leaders obsessively persist in this failed strategy? Part of the answer lies in their fear of taking on still-powerful religious hierarchies like the leaderships of the Mormon and Catholic Churches - the latter still very dominant in American life despite the repeated pedophilia scandals and the gradual growth of agnosticism and atheism among the public.
But this alone does not explain LGBT leaders' hesitancy to take on religious anti-gay leaders. After all, until California's anti-gay Briggs Amendment, Anita Bryant also appeared to be hugely powerful, a seemingly unstoppable force in the late 1970s, rapidly over-turning pro-gay legislation in city after city while a seemingly friendless gay community gathered virtually no support from established institutions in American society. Yet our young gay movement took her on and was successful.
The core of our present-day problem lies in our movement's reliance on leaders who themselves have intimate ties to the Democratic Party and explicitly or implicitly take their marching orders from it. And the fact remains that most significant leaders in the Democratic Party oppose marriage equality and other aspects of full citizenship for LGBT people.
Part of the reason mainstream LGBT leaders fail to more actively take on anti-gay religious leaders is that for them to do so, while failing to also take on their anti-equality politician-allies, would make them look like hypocrites. So in the face of anti-gay leaders' vitriol and slander, these mainstream gay leaders in groups like HRC and the Stonewall Democrats take the easy way out. Rather than earning respect by taking the battle to our enemies by labeling their opposition to LGBT equality to be plain and simple bigotry, they earn people's contempt by pathetically pleading for "fairness" and "tolerance."
So as important as it is to oppose AFTAH's nasty attempt to indoctrinate the next generation with anti-LGBT hate, our protest on Thursday night is about much more than that, too. It is also about breaking from the failed strategy which gave us the California Prop 8 and Maine Question 1 defeats. It's about rejecting a "kids-glove" treatment towards anti-gay leaders who, like AFTAH's Peter LaBarbera, relentlessly push anti-equality legislation and constitutional amendments when given half a chance.