The Values Voter Summit is an annual gathering of the Christian Right, sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC). To give some background, the FRC assert as one of their basic positions that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects… We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools.”
This year’s Values Voter Summit was addressed by predictable figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, but probably the most interesting panel was one on “Transgender Ideology in Public Schools: Parents Fight Back”. At this panel, one of the speakers, Meg Kilgannon, offered the following advice:
“Focus on gender identity to divide and conquer… for all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”
She stressed to the audience that, rather than relying on religious arguments, they would have more success tailoring their positions to appeal to a more diverse audience, offering the example of the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition – a group of “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation“. Discussing how homophobic, anti-feminist Christian fundamentalists were able to work with radical feminists around issues of pornography, sex work and opposition to trans rights, she said “I had no idea we agreed on so much.”
Peter Sprigg, another fundamentalist Christian activist who has openly stated that homosexuality should be criminalised, offered another example of what this kind of ideological camoflage can look like with his contribution to the panel; as part of the discussion about resisting “transgender ideology”, he stated that “it’s really kind of ridiculous and almost retrograde to assume that we have to identify somebody’s gender identity on the basis of their activities or preferences” – stirringly progressive words from someone who, just to repeat, thinks that the laws against sodomy should never have been repealed. Going back a bit, last year Political Research Associates published a short report looking at how groups like the Family Research Council had started drawing on the work of lesbian feminist figures like Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys.
It’s impossible to say how far people like David Davies – who shares the homophobic outlook of his Christian Right counterparts elsewhere – are deliberately drawing on the coalition-building strategies used by Christian fundamentalists in the US. But when we see supposedly feminist groups like Fair Play for Women come out with things like “[w]e are grateful to David Davies, MP for Monmouth, who shows impressive courage in pursuing these very important questions”, it’s hard not to be struck by the similarities. If we start to see Hands Across the Aisle Coalition-type rhetoric and ideology turning up more widely, it’d be worth keeping an eye on what alliances are being made, and who is pulling whose strings.