Anti-Gay Advocates Take Their Mission Overseas

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Gay rights activists march in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg May 1, 2013, during their rally against a controversial law in the city that activists see as violating the rights of gays.
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It’s been a huge year for gay rights in America.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male U.S. athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay, and President Barack Obama has provided strong support for openly gay Olympic athletes in the face of Russian discrimination.

We’re a long way off from total equality, but to what extent can the success of the U.S. gay rights movement be attributed to anti-gay activists shifting their attention elsewhere?

Facing a losing battle in the states, evangelical advocates are seizing the opportunity to spread their mission abroad. In countries like Belize, Nigeria and Russia, the argument that gays are a sign of social decay is finding sympathy from economically vulnerable people looking for someone to blame for their troubles.

Caleb Orozco, director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, has been a victim of the anti-gay movement that is on the rise in Belize.

And political correspondent Alex Seitz-Wald reported on the efforts to undo gay rights overseas in a new piece out in the National Journal. He joins The Takeaway to discuss the strategy for appealing to anti-LGBT audiences abroad.

"As social conservatives and evangelicals have lost battle after battle in the United States, they've seen much more fruitful endeavors abroad," says Seitz-Wald. "They've seen countries that are innately homophobic in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, welcome them with open arms. They've brought an agenda with them and a plan to kind of criminalize homosexual advocacy and LGBT advocacy that has had a tremendous influence—it's really incredible for such a small group of people who would kind of marginalized here."

Seitz-Wald says that these groups are approaching their anti-LGBT mission on a much larger scale—groups are looking to form a global alliance of anti-gay parties in hopes that a unified international front can roll back the progress of the gay rights movement domestically in the United States.

How can international anti-LGBT initiatives influence the debate here at home? It seems that some already have—Seitz-Wald says that Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws, which criminalizes discussions of homosexuality in the presence of children, was used as a template in the American South.

"There was a law introduced in Tennessee that mirrors [Russia's Law] very closely—it was often called the 'Don't Say Gay in School' bill—and that seems to be influenced by some of this work abroad," he says. "There could be more laws like that, or there could be just a kind of geopolitical realignment where you're creating a non-realigned movement in the U.N. that is proudly homophobic."

While laws banning or criminalizing homosexuality seem antiquated in the United States, Seitz-Wald says they resonate with large portions of the developing world. In Nigeria or Kenya, for example, about 99 percent of the population think homosexuality is wrong, making American evangelical missions appealing to local populations.

According to Seitz-Wald, these anti-LGBT advocates believe their work is a response to a unified homosexual recruiting movement.

"They absolutely believe that there is a conspiracy here—an international gay agenda," he says of American anti-LGBT advocates. "They talk about it in terms of the way you might have talked about Communism during the Red Scare, as this creeping, nefarious force."

These American anti-LGBT activists, according to Seitz-Wald, tell communities overseas they must defend themselves from homosexual activists that could come to recruit their children and secretly destroy everything that these countries hold dear.

"They say that they've seen it at home and that this is why their message is so powerful," he says. "They can say, 'I come from the United States and I've seen all my precious institutions get co-opted—the government, the courts—don't let it happen here. You must defend yourself now before it's too late.'"