On Friday morning in Washington, D.C., President Trump spoke at the Values Voter Summit, making him the first sitting president of the United States to speak at the controversial evangelical event. The conference often attracts fringe conservatives, and that was certainly the case Friday. At the event, guests were handed flyers warning about the "health hazards of homosexuality" and the "disproportionate disease in the GLB [sic] community."
The summit's primary sponsor is the Family Research Council, an anti-gay lobbying group that also opposes abortion and pornography. Now in its 11th year, the event has become a staple in conservative politics, with up-and-coming figures on the right filling the speaker's list every year. This year will feature speeches from Steve Bannon, Laura Ingraham, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, two members of the Duck Dynasty family, and more.
When guests walked through the door to attend this year's event, they were given a pamphlet titled "The Health Hazards of Homosexuality." An advertisement for a book of the same name, the pamphlet declares that the "sexual revolution and mainstreaming of homosexuality have created a public health crisis affecting us all," and accuses the media of giving "little attention to the danger of 'gay' and lesbian sexual practices and the resulting health problems." It was released by MassResistance, an anti-gay activist group based in Massachusetts.
While running for president, Trump pledged to be a friend to LGBT Americans, telling them, "I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." Since his inauguration, however, he's taken a hard turn in the opposite direction: Trump's administration has banned transgender troops from serving the military, withdrawn protections for transgender students in public schools, declined to prosecute businesses that refuse to serve same-sex customers, and withdrawn a rule that required Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to treat same-sex marriages the same as straight ones.
The pro-LGBT media monitoring group GLAAD denounced both the pamphlet about homosexuality and Trump's decision to speak at the conference, saying that the president's appearance there "normalize[d] hate speech."
“Given that the Values Voter Summit is a conference of fringe extremists with a viciously anti-LGBTQ agenda, it is not surprising that unequivocally false and baseless materials like [the pamphlet] are appearing there," GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told BuzzFeed News. "MassResistance is an identified hate group and Trump becoming the first sitting president to address this event is the latest example of a clear and distributing pattern of using the presidency of the United States to promote and normalize hate speech."
Although Trump acknowledges that he's never asked God for forgiveness for anything, the crowd of evangelical Christians gave him a standing ovation Friday when he pledged to use the phrase "Merry Christmas" during the 2017 holiday season.
“We're getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore,” Trump said. “They don’t use the word ’Christmas' because it's not politically correct. ... Well, guess what? We're saying 'Merry Christmas' again." Trump did not mention same-sex marriage, which is generally the focus of both the event itself and the Family Research Council more broadly.
The Southern Poverty Law Center noted on Sunday, however, that in addition to attracting prominent anti-gay activists, the Values Voter Summit has also become a hot spot for anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim speakers, which the SPLC calls "a nod to the growing cross-pollination between the anti-LGBT Christian Right and the anti-Muslim lobby."
"At least 10 of the speakers are representatives of anti-Muslim organizations or have a well-documented history of espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric," the organization wrote on Sunday. "These include figures like Brigitte Gabriel head of ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim group in the country who has said that practicing Muslims 'cannot be loyal citizens of the United States' and conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, head of the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy (CSP)."
On its official website, the summit advertises itself as "a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong."