What Do Student Attendees Have To Say About NOM’s Anti-Gay Summer Conference?
September 18, 2012 10:01 am ET by Carlos Maza
It’s been a little over a month since I went undercover at the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) weekend-long summer student conference in San Diego. Last month, I published a report documenting my experience at the “It Takes A Family To Raise A Village” (ITAF) conference, where NOM used pseudoscience, anti-gay stereotypes, and religious extremism to demonize LGBT people.
For many LGBT activists, the report confirmed what they already suspected; NOM’s opposition to gay marriage is motivated primarily by the group’s animosity towards gay people. As Think Progress’ Zack Ford wrote:
Since its founding, NOM’s public message has been only about defending “traditional marriage,” but that is simply a façade hiding a true animus against gays and lesbians, and a pointed effort to demonize and condemn them.
What’s been interesting in the wake of the report has been the responses I’ve recieved from people who were at ITAF with me. Days after my report was published, one of the students at the conference sent me a message apologizing for the conference’s anti-gay content:
I really enjoyed your article... I am sorry that there was a lot of anti gay stuff said at the conference...man when I read that part in your article where you said you were having a hard time and you felt your 'chest getting tight'...I felt for ya.
Another student disagreed with the conclusions in my report, but nonetheless thanked me for not depicting ITAF’s students as bigots:
I thank you for not calling us zealots and for taking the time to know students that think differently. The fact that we support marriage between one woman and one man does not mean we ar bigots, disrespectful or believe we are superior. As you now know, must of us want to share the love of Christ wherever we go and passionately demonstrate truth.
The most moving response to the post, however, came from the BYU student I had written about at the end of my piece. Less than 48 hours after my report was published, she contacted me directly through Facebook.
I expected her to be upset with me -- I had lied to her about my identity, criticized ITAF for inciting anti-gay animus, and written about our friendship without her approval – but she proved me wrong:
it was really well written
and i'm not going to lie, when i read the part about our conversation, it was kinda like an out of body experience - it was an interesting experience reading about myself in an article on the internet....
it did make me feel a little sad, that you felt like you couldn't tell me the truth, but i understand your reasonings for trying to keep it a secret... I wouldn't have treated you any different
and to be honest, it would have make the ITAF conference way more interesting
and just for the record, i like what you said about many of the students coming for pro-strengthing families and less for anti-gay rallying, because i think that's true.... i was disappointed with how much it was a huge part of the [conference]
all through high school some of my best guy friends were gay or metro (but i do admit, most not open about it)
and it was nice to hear both sides. I could tell - that was not your average "ranting and raving" one-sided article that I feel like makes up 95% of every single article to ever be posted on the internet in the last 5 years.
Her comments were a poignant reminder of what it was about NOM’s ITAF conference that struck a chord with me.
As I mentioned in the piece, most of the students at the conference weren’t bigots, homophobes, or anti-gay zealots. They were college students, many of whom were intensely religious but also probably knew gay people personally. They, like millions of Americans, defined themselves as “pro-marriage” and “pro-family,” but most of them were primarily concerned with high rates of divorce and cohabitation between unmarried couples, not same-sex marriage. It’s unlikely that many of them would gravitate to the extreme anti-gay propaganda being peddled at NOM’s conference on their own.
Which is exactly why NOM’s work is so destructive.
At ITAF, NOM worked to convince students that there’s no difference between being “pro-family” and “anti-gay.” Using junk science and homophobic stereotypes, NOM’s goal was to depict gays and lesbians as deviant and threatening to children.
Perhaps more dangerously, NOM promoted a belief that being anti-gay was a necessary part of being Christian. ITAF featured several speeches that depicted homosexuality as a sinful affront against God. By couching anti-gay bigotry in religious language, NOM explicitly deployed Christian faith as a weapon to justify animosity towards gays and lesbians.
NOM isn’t interested in having an open dialogue about the issue of same-sex marriage because the group’s opposition to marriage equality is fundamentally based in its negative feelings towards gay and lesbian people.
If the ITAF conference (and the subsequent response to my report) revealed anything of value, it’s that LGBT people aren’t the only victims of NOM’s anti-gay misinformation campaigns; so are the countless sincere “pro-family” Americans whose political beliefs are being perverted – if not entirely co-opted – by an organization that’s committed to demonizing gay people under the banner of “protecting marriage.”