08/24/2012 12:14 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Dana Milbank, You're Wrong on the Family Research Council


Hours after police arrested a lone shooter for injuring a security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., last week, leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy groups issued a joint statement condemning the attack and underscoring their longstanding opposition to violence.

By contrast, the Family Research Council (FRC), whose spokesmen have called for "criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior" in the U.S. and which spent $25,000 lobbying Congress against approving a resolution condemning Uganda's "kill the gays" bill, chose not to stand with LGBT groups against violence. Instead, they issued a statement pressuring the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to cease its designation of the FRC as a "hate group."

FRC's statement resonated with Dana Milbank at The Washington Post, whose Sunday column argued that FRC's hate-group designation should be removed, since "we all should be careful about hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies."

Milbank reminds us that "persuasion and example," not "inflammatory labels," have accomplished progress for LGBT people. His column is an understandable attempt to have cooler heads prevail in a summer that's been as heated as fast-food chicken.

My own blog's responses to the Chick-fil-A dust-up have uncovered so many genuine feelings of hurt and betrayal that I appreciate the desire to let matters settle. But despite his wish for levelheaded reason, Milbank's column only exemplifies the double standards, fallacies, and confusions that make discussing these issues so maddening for LGBT people like me.

Milbank's first error is dismissiveness. His column uses one older, relatively innocuous FRC statement as an example of how the SPLC justified the "hate group" designation, then declares that there is no reason to put the Family Research Council, which he calls a "mainstream Christian advocacy group," into the "same category" as the military-funeral-picketing Westboro Baptist Church of "God Hates Fags" fame.

He should have looked harder. The FRC, though 29 years of media and congressional appearances, has made its slanderous views on LGBT people a matter of public record. A quick search of the SPLC website reveals many outrageous FRC quotations, like, "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."

Additionally, the FRC has issued multiple statements using junk science to associate gay men with pedophilia and sexual abuse, despite the American Psychological Association's conclusion that "homosexual men are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are."

If the FRC's slanders sound too dispassionate to be hate speech, imagine a steady drip of such falsely clinical comments, week after week, for decades -- comments like, "[R]elative to the size of their population, homosexual men are more likely to engage in child sexual abuse than are [other] men."

Still not convinced? Then replace the word "homosexual" with the word "white." If the FRC's lies were about white men, or any ethnic group, would the hate group designation even be a matter of debate? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...

Not content with mere blindness to the duck in the room, Milbank then trades in false equivalency, suggesting that the "hate group" designation was, in itself, as dangerous as such FRC classics as: "[Homosexuality] ... embodies a deep-seated hatred against true religion."

Milbank's rhetorical framework, which deems the act of calling out hate speech just as bad as hate speech, further injures the targets of the FRC's ongoing campaign. Calling a hate group a hate group is not remotely equivalent to decades of systematically slandering ordinary people as sex-crazed rapists, child molesters, and security risks. Through national media appearances and grassroots level "outreach," FRC has been "stirring up the crazies" for years, contributing to a culture of fear against LGBT parents, soldiers, teachers, and everyday people like me, and it's necessary that we be able to call a duck a duck.

Milbank's "I don't care who started it" neutrality punishes bully and tattler alike. That isn't a formula for fairness; it's a formula for silence, and we already know that silence persuades no one.

Finally, Mr. Milbank confuses the role of faith in this debate, claiming that the hate group designation should not apply to opponents of LGBT equality, because many are "driven by deeply held religious beliefs" and support "a full range of conservative Christian positions."

Leaving aside the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church, whose hate-group status Milbank apparently favors, is also "driven by deeply held religious beliefs," let's remember that there is nothing inherently Christian about supporting the FRC.

The FRC's conservatism on other issues does not excuse its campaign of slander, and it is by no means a given that conservative Christians must uniformly oppose equality in adoption, military service, or even marriage. To suggest that the FRC and conservative Christianity are identical is to offend the many conservative Christians who repudiate the FRC's graceless bigotry.

Mr. Milbank, I agree that "persuasion and example" are our finest tools, but persuasion requires not just common ground but level ground. Despite our apparent progress toward equality, and despite our denunciation of violence, the FRC's campaign of slander continues as violence against us continues to rise. If the task of persuasion requires that we only use words deemed acceptably gentle, then how do we describe a reality that is all too harsh?

Please stop asking us to sanitize the FRC's history of harmful language against us or its real human cost. Instead, ask yourself: What is "mainstream" about wanting to "criminalize" your fellow Americans? What is "Christian" about using falsified science to bear false witness against one's neighbor? I urge you to examine your double standards, treasure truth over politeness, and challenge your assumptions about who is truly informed by "religious beliefs." Only then can we have the fair debate that you crave.