US Christian groups ‘donated millions to anti-LGBT causes in Europe’

A Romanian woman holds an Orthodox icon as she marches with Romanian flag during a protest against incoming Gay Pride in Bucharest on June 8, 2013.

A dozen US-based Christian groups have donated millions in the past decade to fund anti-progressive campaigns in Europe, including anti-LGBT causes, it has been reported.

An investigation by OpenDemocracy into the financial accounts of 12 ultra-conservative organisations revealed that they have spent as much as $51 million dollars towards the activities of anti-LGBT and anti-abortion causes in European countries.

Some of these groups have direct links to President Donald Trump’s administration. The Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family have both received donations from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family, as ProPublica reported in 2017. Just this week, Devos declined to say whether she opposes discrimination against LGBT+ students.

Alliance Defending Freedom told OpenDemocracy they champion causes related to freedom of speech and do not disclose “any recipients of funding in order to protect their personal safety and livelihoods.”

“No group of any kind should be able to use dark money to distort debate and to subvert democracy in Europe.”

— Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith

The investigation found the ADF tripled its annual spending in Europe between 2012 and 2016, to more than $2.6 million a year. The ADF has offices in several European cities, including Brussels and Strasburg, which host the European Parliament.

Alliance Defending Freedom is listed as a hate group by the monitoring organisation Southern Poverty Law Center due to their “anti-LGBT ideology.”

One of the places the group has been active in is Romania, which in October 2018 held a referendum to ban same-sex marriage by changing the definition of marriage in the constitution—which ultimately failed due to low turnout.

More than a year ahead of the vote, in April 2017, Alliance Defending Freedom co-hosted a “referendum for the family” conference at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest along with the local group Coalition for Family.

A demonstration against same-sex marriage in Romania, one of the anti-LGBT causes supported by American religious conservative groups.

A woman holds a banner reading in Romanian “The traditional family is in danger, come together to defend it!” during a protest against homosexuality in Bucharest May 20, 2017.
(Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty)

At least five of the groups analysed by OpenDemocracy—Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Watch International (Global Helping to Advance Women & Children), Heartbeat International, Home School Legal Defense Association and Human Life International—also partner with the World Congress of Families (WCF), another organisation the Southern Poverty Law Center designated as a hate group in light of its “anti-LGBT ideology.”

What is the World Congress of Families (WCF) and why is it anti-LGBT?

The WCF was founded in 1997 following a meeting between Russian sociologists Anatoly Antonov and Victor Medkov, and American historian Allan Carlson, president of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, who was appointment by President Ronald Reagan to the National Commission on Children in 1988.

The group has historically been most influential in Eastern Europe. In 2012, the WCF circulated a letter signed by 120 conservative and religious leaders condemning the US ambassador to the Czech Republic’s support for a gay pride event in Prague—the second ever to take place in the Czech capital.

In 2013, they successfully campaigned against Serbia hosting a gay pride event in Belgrade, a decision that was condemned by Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland.

As Mother Jones reported in 2014, the WCF has also played a major role in the creation of the so-called “gay propaganda law” in Russia in 2013.

Reacting to the OpenDemocracy investigation, Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith called the influence of American conservative groups  “a major challenge facing democracy in Europe.”

He said: “No group of any kind should be able to use dark money to distort debate and to subvert democracy in Europe, least of all group such as these whose causes are deeply regressive.”

The 12 groups analysed by OpenDemocracy are:

  • Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Michigan
  • Alliance Defending Freedom, Arizona
  • American Center for Law and Justice, Virginia
  • American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, Property (Foundation for a Christian Civilization), Kansas
  • Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, North Carolina
  • Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA MN), North Carolina
  • Family Watch International (Global Helping to Advance Women & Children), Arizona
  • Focus on the Family, Colorado
  • Heartbeat International, Ohio
  • Home School Legal Defense Association, Virginia
  • Human Life International, Virginia
  • International House of Prayer, Missouri
  • Population Research Institute, Virginia
  • The Leadership Institute, Virginia