Carlos Maza, a 24-year-old gay blogger and recent Wake Forest University graduate, spends much of his time chronicling the abhorrent anti-gay initiatives of the hyper-conservative National Organization for Marriage. When he applied to take part in an “Emerging Leaders” program as part of the organization’s weekend-long It Takes A Family To Raise A Village (ITAF) conference in San Diego, CA, he wasn’t expecting the organization to take him seriously.
But somehow, Maza was accepted to ITAF. He spent four days pretending to be a conservative Catholic and learning about the supposed perils of same-sex marriage. Luckily for us, he’s written a blog about what it was like.
Maza, who is openly gay, recognized right away that he had to go back in the closet — if only for a short time — to fit in with the homophobic culture of the conference. He breaks up his story into four parts, each representing a different day of the conference, describing at length the bigoted, slanderous, and just plain incorrect messages NOM delivered to its young leaders every day.
On Day 1, he sat through a generic keynote speech peppered with advice about combating pro-LGBT sentiment. Oh, and he met his roommate:
That night, I arrived at my hotel to discover that I would be sharing a room with another ITAF attendee — a man who described himself as “pro-life, pro-family, pro-Christianity from top to bottom, through and through.” He was wearing a t-shirt that read, in bold red letters, “BARACK OBAMA, THE ABORTION PRESIDENT.”
I went straight to bed.
Day 2 is loaded with seminars about the instability of same-sex relationships and the apparent moral tragedy that is gay culture and media. Maza is further reminded that he’s not in the company of friends:
Focusing his camera, NOM’s photographer decided to tell a joke that he must have thought would get the whole room smiling: “Two gay guys walk into a mosque… they were never heard from again!”
Day 3 brings the worst misinformation yet. NOM officials cite the widely discredited study by Mark Regnerus to claim that same-sex couples are unfit to parent. Maza also quotes economist Douglas Allen, who gave one particularly absurd explanation for why lesbians can’t be parents:
ALLEN: This is a puzzling one, but very interesting. The lesbian households, they tend to be much more likely to marry in the rates, not just in numbers, in numbers and rates, but they’re much less stable than the gay households. And lots of theories about why that is. You know, getting on the same menstrual cycle, getting really attached to your own biological child and not being willing to share the biological child with your female spouse.
I could barely choke back my laughter when I heard Allen’s explanation. I’d been exposed a lot of terrible arguments against allowing same-sex couples to raise children, but “lesbians will menstruate at the same time” was the kind of claim I’d expect to hear from someone parodying the anti-gay position.
Among other ignorant lessons about the “links” between homosexuality and pedophilia, incest, and polygamy, Maza said hearing slanderous claims about LGBT families hit him the hardest:
From the comfort of my desk in DC, it’s always been easy to think of NOM’s anti-gay efforts as somehow being outside of my own life. I don’t wake up each morning worrying about NOM denying me the ability to build my own family or raise my own kids. I’m legally allowed to marry and adopt children with a same-sex partner if and when I choose to do so. NOM’s talking points were offensive and extreme, but I’d grown accustomed to treating them the same way I treated every argument as a debater in college — assess its merits, find its flaws, and debunk misinformation.
Being in that room, though, watching dozens of people craning their necks to hear Allen explain the harms posed by same-sex parenting, I realized that he wasn’t just talking about “gay parents” in the abstract; he was talking about me. Each time Allen accused same-sex couples of sexually abusing their own children, he was questioning my ability to be a good parent one day, too.
On the last day of ITAF, attendees piled into a San Diego megachurch for morning services and later attended a “Conversation on the Definition of Marriage.” The latter was also attended by pro-gay activists who had come to watch:
Unlike at the morning services, I noticed that a great number of LGBT people and LGBT supporters from the local community had shown up to watch the exchange. I felt oddly ashamed as I walked past them, surrounded by a group of sincere NOM-supporters. I resisted the urge to pull a few of them aside and whisper “I’m not really with them! I’m on your side!”
That evening, Maza met a student from Brigham Young University who, much to his surprise, shared many of his ideas and was genuinely eager to learn about the challenges of being LGBT. They have a meaningful discussion about the conference, and while Maza never “came out” to her about being undercover, he appreciated that she didn’t attack his views. That opened his eyes up even more to how NOM is essentially brainwashing college students from already conservative backgrounds to convert them to full-on homophobes:
The ideological divide between me and the BYU student may have been small, but NOM had spent the entire weekend trying to widen it by teaching her that gays and lesbians — including me — are unstable, dangerous, and unworthy of raising their own families. Despite the promise to focus on “marriage, not gayness,” ITAF had been a veritable crash course in demonizing LGBT people.
Take the time to read the account in its disturbing entirety. But if you’d rather spare yourself the scary details, Maza wraps up the piece with an intensely honest summary of what he learned at ITAF and what it says about how NOM works:
For NOM, there really isn’t much distance between being “anti-gay marriage” and being “anti-gay” — the latter motivates the former. “Raising the negative on homosexuality,” as one NOM memo put it, is a central part of the organization’s effort to defeat same-sex marriage. Even [NOM's Ruth Institute president Jennifer Morse] recently confessed that NOM’s decision to publically attack gay marriage instead of gay people is purely “strategic.”
ITAF showcased the kind of anti-gay animus that activists have for years accused NOM of harboring behind closed doors. In the public eye, NOM depicts itself as fair-minded and moderate pro-marriage group. In reality, it’s the kind of organization that seeks to train college students to justify anti-gay bigotry by relying on stereotypes, pseudoscience, and a sizable dose of right-wing religious extremism.