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Anti-Gay Chicago Groups Make 'Hate List'

Updated: Monday, 20 Dec 2010, 5:51 PM CST
Published : Monday, 20 Dec 2010, 5:51 PM CST

By Mark Saxenmeyer, FOX Chicago News - LINK

GLN permalink 12-20-2010

Chicago - The national organization that monitors hate groups in the United States is about to reveal its annual watch list of what it calls the country's worst offenders. Thirteen of the groups on the 2011 list are labeled anti-gay, and for the first time ever, two of them are based in the Chicago-area.

FOX Chicago News went undercover to investigate one of them, to find out why critics say this group's message and movement are not only hateful, but dangerous and potentially violent.

On a mid-November evening in Arlington Heights, a group of about 70 protesters marched outside a private Christian school, chanting, "When they say 'your love for your partner doesn't matter,' we say, 'Fight back'!"

These gay activists were especially riled up; the target of their protest, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH), has just been named to the respected Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) annual round-up of hate groups. (SPLC is based in Montgomery, Alabama.)

"The gang of bigots inside this building must be held accountable," yelled a protester, as small groups of people quietly passed by and entered the school. AFTAH was holding a fundraiser (at a cost of between $50 and $75 a head) inside the Christian Liberty Academy.

Organizations are put on its annual watch list "if they're saying an entire group of people are 'less than', or evil, or perverted," said Mark Potok of the SPLC.

"This sort of hate climate cannot be left unopposed," said protest organizer Andy Thayer, who heads the The Gay Liberation Network. "AFTAH is against equal access to public accommodations. They're against equal employment protections. They're against our equal right to housing. That is the definition of bigotry."

AFTAH's website currently hosts content denouncing gays in the military, gay marriage and civil unions, and gay parenting. It suggests that there are links between homosexuality and pedophilia, and even presents an argument that gay airport security screeners be banned from frisking passengers of the same sex, complete with a fake, photo-shopped image of gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) "patting down" a would-be traveler.

SPLC's Potok said such messages are "false, demonizing propaganda."

"I think that history has shown that if you allow hate to go unchallenged, that's what allows it to fester," Thayer said.

"It's not like AFTAH is just saying, 'we dislike what gay people do' or "we're personally disgusted by it.' They think it's a real threat to the nation at large," said DePaul law student Maria Pahl, who recently signed up for a three-day AFTAH conference. Pahl considers herself bisexual and she wanted to see their presentations for herself.

"There were concerned mothers there, concerned grandmothers, grandfathers," she said, describing the other attendees who, she believed, all supported AFTAH and its message. AFTAH dubbed the conference "The Truth Academy" and Pahl later blogged about all the supposed "truths" she was taught.

"They think that gay people want to force HIV blood into the blood supply, they think that gay people want to recruit straight people, they think that homosexuals have training camps where they're all taught the same sob story so straight people are sympathetic to them," Pahl said.

FOX Chicago News sent two twenty-something grad students into the November event, undercover, to listen to the speakers and mingle with group members. They even met the leader of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Peter LaBarbera.

"They really looked down on gay people as being lost, confused and in need of some strong sort of guidance, " said P.J. Randhawa.

"They were really interested in how they could spread their word to other people our age because they all said their 'truth' is not reaching people like us at all. They said it was kind of a losing cause or losing battle," said Matt Holland.

"AFTAH is trying to build a movement," said Thayer. "They need to get foot soldiers for that movement."

FOX Chicago then contacted LaBarbera and he agreed to an interview.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth (about Homosexuality, or AFTAH)

"I think the other side is winning the debate with young people, definitely," he said.

But LaBarbera said AFTAH's placement on the SPLC hate group watch list is "completely bogus.

"We give voice to people who simply disagree with homosexuality," he said.

He said AFTAH is comprised merely of gay "opponents"--people just trying to engage in a civil debate or discourse.

"We would like to see many more people leave the gay lifestyle," he explained. It's a choice, he believes, and claims it too often leads to STDs and HIV.

"We oppose it on health grounds, on philosophical grounds and, yes, the Bible. The other side wants to celebrate homosexuality. We believe homosexual practice is immoral. It's that simple," LaBarbera said.

Prior to heading AFTAH, LaBarbera was head of the Illinois Family institute, the other anti-gay group from Illinois that also made the 2011 watch list.

Pastor Calvin Lindstrom, a leader at the 800-student Christian school that allows AFTAH

to use its facilities for events, says he's aware of SPLC's placement of AFTAH on its watch list.

"I don't like that fact but i don't think it's going to change our relationship with him ," he said. Lindstrom says the Christian Liberty Academy and AFTAH share similar views about homosexuality.

FOX Chicago asked Lindstrom: "Do you think an unrepentant homosexual is going to go to hell?"

"As much as an unrepentant heterosexual fornicator is," he said. "If there were adultery pride parades we would say, 'Hey, that's a problem, too'."

22 members of Congress, including House speaker-designate John Boehner, several state governors, and other conservative politicians have signed a public statement denouncing the SPLC's inclusion of the anti-gay groups on its 2011 watch list as "character assassination." They said the list is an attempt to "shut down informed discussion of policy issues."

SPLC said it is a huge advocate of free speech and that's it's not calling for any of the groups to be silenced or punished in any way. The Law Center is simply calling them out, it said, for their "lies."

Back at the November demonstration, the protesters continued marching, shouting: "Only love can conquer hate!"

"Kids commit suicide every day, every night because of an environment created by these people!" said a young man.

LaBarbera, a married father of five, is insistent that AFTAH and its followers are not dangerous.

"Of course we denounce any hatred or violence towards homosexuals," he said.

But Pahl says LaBarbera and AFTAH are missing the point. "They may not go out and beat gay children, and they may not go out and bully a 13-year- old who's going through sexuality and identity issues, but the rhetoric they use is certainly being used to justify the actions of the people who do those things," she said.

FOX Chicago News posed this question to LaBarbera: "What if one of your kids came to you and said, 'Dad, I'm gay'?"

"Well, I sure wouldn't hate him," he responded, without hesitation. "I sure wouldn't kick him out of the house. I'd love him like I always loved him but I would disagree."

But would it stop him from pursuing AFTAH's mission?

"Absolutely not," he continued. "You don't change timeless truths because of one personal experience."


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