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An Open Letter to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council: Let's Talk About Hate

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Dear Mr. Perkins,

Let me again express my strong condemnation of the shooting at the Family Research Council offices, as well as my support and concern for all those affected. Security guard Leo Johnson, who took a bullet (and luckily did not lose his life, and is currently in stable condition), is a hero who saved others from being shot. I'm enormously grateful for that. As I wrote here last week, whatever the gunman's motives, they are twisted and utterly unacceptable. This shooting is an outrage and should send a chill through everyone on both sides of these debates. You and I have debated gay rights, civilly, on TV and in other media. That's how these disagreements should always be addressed: via civil discourse, never through violence.

In that post last week, I also stated that no one should be exploiting this tragedy for political gain. That's why I and many others are greatly disappointed by the press conference you held last week, and I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you to have a public discussion with me about hate (more on this below). Without providing any facts, you claimed that the Southern Poverty Law Center's labeling your group a "hate group" gave the alleged shooter a "license to shoot." You went on to obscure why you were put in the hate group category, implying that it was because of your position against same-sex marriage.

But let's be clear about why FRC is in that category. After all, there are thousands of conservative and religious groups across the country that are opposed to marriage equality, many of which also believe homosexuality to be a sin, but the SPLC does not deem them all hate groups. It's only a tiny handful of conservative groups that have been given that distinction by the SPLC. They are listed as hate groups "based on their propagation of known falsehoods -- claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities -- and repeated, groundless name-calling." Also, two years ago, an FRC official said "homosexual behavior" should be outlawed. You wouldn't repudiate him. It was also revealed that the FRC contributed $25,000 to stop a congressional resolution to condemn the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda, which would have made homosexuality punishable by death. You worried that the resolution could make it appear as if homosexuality is acceptable. If that Ugandan bill, and even tacit approval of it, isn't "hate," what is?

Perhaps you recall that in July 2008, a man armed with a shotgun went on a shooting rampage inside a church in Knoxville. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, like many Christian churches and denominations across the country, is welcoming of LGBT people. The gunman killed two people and severely wounded several others. Police said that the killer's motive was to target gays and liberals. "This isn't a church, it's a cult," the killer wrote in a four-page letter he had left behind. "They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike.... [T]he only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets, kill them where they gather."

I wouldn't claim, as you did with regard to the SPLC, that the FRC gave that killer a "license to shoot." No one knows what's inside the mind of a premeditated killer. But I would ask: Where do people like this killer get the distortions and ugly mischaracterizations that convince them that gay people are evil? More so, where do others who wouldn't engage in gun violence but who do harm to LGBT people in other ways -- firing them from their jobs, throwing them out of their homes, bullying them in schools -- get their misinformation about gay people? They get it from a wide array of sources that contribute to a culture that demonizes LGBT people. And you and the Family Research Council are among those who feed into that culture.

Mr. Perkins, here are just a few of the statements you've made (GLAAD lists many more on its website):

The FRC has distributed a pamphlet that shows gay men and lesbians, falsely, as physically and mentally ill pedophiles who can be cured, and another that begins by likening same-sex marriage to man-horse marriage (and uses a horse graphic). Robert Knight, FRC director of cultural studies, said in 1999, "Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement," and an FRC pamphlet from that year, titled "Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys," states, "One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." In 2002 Timothy Dailey, FRC senior research fellow, wrote a paper titled "Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse," in which he claimed, "The evidence indicates that disproportionate numbers of gay men seek adolescent males or boys as sexual partners."

These claims are reckless, Mr. Perkins, because they defame an entire group. All the claims about child abuse have been thoroughly discredited by scholars, law enforcement officials, social scientists, and reputable medical and mental health associations. This is what got you designated as a hate group, not your opposition to same-sex marriage.

But maybe we are misunderstanding you. Maybe you have incontrovertible proof behind these and many other claims. Maybe you can convince me that the hate group label is unfair, or maybe I can convince you that some or all of these claims are erroneous. Or perhaps we will each realize that we've misunderstood one another in some ways. So I'm asking you here and now to engage with me in a civil public discussion to debate these and other claims and to talk about hate. We can do it here on HuffPost, or on my radio program on SiriusXM.

It's vitally important to have this dialogue now if you agree that we've all got to bring down the temperature, and if you sincerely want to clear up what you believe are misunderstandings. Let's take this instance, this latest tragedy, and turn it into a moment of understanding and insight.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Michelangelo Signorile