Op-ed: World Congress of Families’ past actions do not align with Utah ideals

First Published Sep 12 2015 03:00PM

The World Congress of Families is a U.S.-based organization that holds conferences around the world promoting the traditional family.

The WCF argues that the family is the fundamental unit of society and that the health of the world community is dependent on ensuring that the definition of family not be expanded to include same-sex marriage.

According to Ty Cobb, the Human Rights Campaign’s global director, the WCF promotes “laws and policies that criminalize LGBT people and the speech of those who support them.”

Past congresses have been convened in Sydney, Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Mexico City, Geneva and Prague. The eighth congress was slated to be held in Moscow until Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and consequent U.S. and European sanctions interfered with conference logistics. The Moscow congress was suspended and the WCF is coming to Salt Lake City this October for its first ever conference on U.S. soil.
In a Nov. 9, 2014, Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, Stan Swim, resident of Pleasant Grove and board member of the WCF, argues that the Congress is unjustly victimized by the media and the HRC and states that it is false to assert that the WCF has been involved supporting legislation that criminalizes the discussion of homosexuality.

He clarifies that a Russian law only “prohibits the advocacy of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” and “does not criminalize speech or allow for imprisonment,” and that, “No WCF representative has ever advocated for the criminalization of homosexual activity or the mistreatment or imprisonment of homosexuals in any country.”

In the latter statement, Swim is possibly defending the WCF from the accusation that their involvement in education in Uganda led to the Feb. 24, 2014, Ugandan legislation that did, in fact, criminalize homosexual activity and allow for imprisonment. Fortunately, on Aug. 1, 2014, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled the discriminatory action invalid because it had been signed into law without enough legislators present.

In his decision to not specifically mention Africa, Swim also omitted either conceding or denying the Congress’ involvement in the situation that precipitated the shady Ugandan politics.

I do not know if the Congress was either directly or indirectly responsible for events that led to the criminalization of same-sex actions in Uganda or the restriction of speech that could support isolated LGBT teenagers in Russia. I would like the WCF to further clarify because I prefer ethical discussions that adequately inform.

This is especially important considering that Elder M. Russell Ballard, a Mormon apostle, has agreed to give a keynote address at this year’s conference.

On the Howard Center for Family’s website, a press release gives WCF Communications Director Don Feder public credit for helping the Serbian people deny gay activists a 2013 pride parade pride permit. He is quoted as exclaiming, “Your fight is our fight. The fight for the family is a fight for civilization. The WCF is proud to stand with … the Serbian people for the natural family.”

I believe it can be exceptionally difficult for U.S. citizens to fully comprehend the extremity of human rights violations in other countries. In Serbia in 2010, for example, anti-gay rioters elicited so much violence at the Belgrade pride parade that 78 police officers and 17 civilians were injured. Feder’s use of the word “fight” in his support of the Serbian quest to protect the “natural family” does not sit well with me when I am aware that he is aligning the WCF with people who use violence against LGBT members of their own communities.

The 2014 Belgrade pride parade was much different than the celebrations held in Salt Lake City. No spectators watched or waved as the parade passed by; the streets were empty and silent presumably due to fear of violence or hatred of gay people. There were more police officers assigned to protect the marchers than there were marchers themselves. Leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church and families with children followed the parade to clean the streets from what they viewed to be LGBT shame.

According to their own website and the words of their own communications director, the Congress aligns itself with these anti-gay actions. The Serbian people have been entangled in war and genocide for generations; peaceful pride parades will strengthen their petition for admittance to the European Union.

I invite the World Congress of Families to further clarify. The direct and indirect consequences of their actions have a significant impact many families.

Anne McMullin Peffer is the founder of Circling the Wagons, an organization that promotes ethical dialogue among Mormons and former Mormons who self-identify as LGBT or same-sex attracted

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