University awards honorary degree to Director of listed anti-LGBT hate groups

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The University of Utah is giving an honorary degree to a so-called ‘philanthropist’ who is a director of listed anti-gay hate groups.

A release on the university’s website names the four people receiving honorary degrees this year, with Lynette Nielsen Gay set to receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

The bio on the university’s website describes her as a “notable entrepreneur and philanthropist best known for her impactful charity work”.

However, LGBT activists have pointed out that Ms Nielsen Gay sits on the board of some of the most extreme homophobic groups in the US.

She is listed as a director of the World Congress of Families – which has attempted to coordinate with hardline evangelical movements across the world to push anti-gay laws in developing countries. The group previously planned a conference in the Kremlin along with Russia’s anti-LGBT lobby in 2014.

The ‘philanthropist’ is also part of Family Watch International – another hardline religious group, the head of which pushes ‘gay cure’ therapy and compares homosexuality to “incest, sexual abuse, and rape”.

Both the World Congress of Families and Family Watch International are listed as active anti-LGBT hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism across the US.

The university has been fiercely criticized by students and faculty over the decision, with one alumni venting: “Ms Lynette Gay sits on the board of an internationally recognized hate group.

“The University of Utah has disgraced itself with this honoree. It’s not too late to rescind and save some dignity and respect for the great institution from which I graduated.”

Another wrote: “The University by this is slapping all LGBT people world wide and in effect condoning the deaths and imprisonments of thousands of people.

“As an alumni I hope this wrong can be righted with the withdrawal of the honorary degree.”

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes are both set to attend the ceremony on May 5.

A University spokesperson told the Salt Lake Tribune that the ‘philanthropist’ is being honoured for her work promoting health, education and economic development in Africa.

Asked why they had initially put details of the groups in Ms Nielsen Gay’s citation before quietly removing them, the spokesperson said: “Ms. Gay is affiliated with two organizations whose involvement in anti-LGBTQ campaigns around the world does not reflect the values of the University of Utah.

“Those organizations were removed from an online biography because they were not part of the honorary degree committee’s deliberations.”

(h/t Towleroad)