Donald Trump is to address the annual conference of an anti-LGBT group which has been classified as a hate group.
The US president will become the first sitting president to address social conservative activists and elected officials at the Value Voters Summit in Washington DC on Friday.
President Trump has addressed the event which is hosted by the Family Research Council three times in total and did so last year as the Republican presidential candidate.
The Family Research Council opposes and actively lobbies against equal rights for LGBT persons. The conservative Christian group campaigns against same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, LGBT adoption, abortion, embryonic stell-cell research, pornography and divorce.
Every year the conference sparks controversy for its choice of speakers and in 2010 the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a legal advocacy organisation which specialise in civil rights, went so far as to classify the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group.
Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, condemned President Trump’s decision to address the event.
“By appearing at the Values Voter Summit, President Trump is lending the legitimacy of his office to a hate group that relentlessly demonizes LGBT people and works to deny them of their equal rights,” he told The Independent.
“His appearance puts the lie to his campaign promise to be a friend to the LGBT community. Bigotry is not an American value, and our president should speak out against it.”
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Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council, heaped praise on President Trump for his appearance the conference.
“Values voters have waited eight years for a leader who puts America’s mission first and respects the values that made America into a great nation,” he said in a statement.
“Values voters are coming to our nation’s capital thankful to hear from a president who is fulfilling the promises that he campaigned on. Since the early days of the campaign, President Trump allied himself with values voters, promising to put an end to the eight years of relentless assault on the First Amendment.”
The event, which counts religious extremists, white supremacists, and far-right activists among its attendants, will also include speeches from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former White House aide Sebastian Gorka.
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Phil Robertson, a professional hunter who starred on reality TV show Duck Dynasty, is another speaker. The businessman, who has called gay marriage “evil” and “wicked”, stoked controversy for remarks made during a GQ interview back in 2014.
He was asked what was sinful and replied: “Start with homosexual behaviour and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”
Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who refused to answer a question about whether homosexuality should be punished by death, will also be addressing the summit.
This ties in with the views of the Family Research Council who have previously claimed “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed” and it is “by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.”
The Family Research Council opposes civil rights laws to be expanded to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity as illegal bases for discrimination. On top of this, it supports a federal conscience clause which allows medical workers to refuse to deliver certain treatments to their patients, such as abortion, blood transfusion or birth control.
Back in February 2010, the organisation’s Senior Researcher for Policy Studies, Peter Sprigg, said on NBC’s Hardball that gay behaviour should be outlawed and “criminal sanctions against homosexual behaviour” should be enforced.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre has condemned the beliefs of the Family Research Council and argue it makes untrue claims about the LGBT community founded on “discredited research and junk science”.
“The intention is to denigrate LGBT people as the organisation battles against same-sex marriage, hate crime laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy,” it says in a statement on its website.
“To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of ‘policy experts’ whose ‘research’ has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors in an effort to ‘transform the culture’.”
President Trump touted himself as a champion of gay rights during his presidential bid but LGBT rights groups argue he has waged a war on their freedoms. On inauguration day, the Trump administration immediately erased all references to LGBT people and everyone living with HIV from whitehouse.gov.
What’s more, days after being sworn in Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew his predecessor’s guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools that allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
This summer, President Trump, who has long courted the evangelical Christian vote, announced a ban on qualified transgender people serving in the military in a series of tweets. He then signed a directive reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military.
The most recent target on transgender people by the Trump team came this week when the Justice Department announced that an anti-discrimination law does not protect transgender workers. This has potentially opened people up to discrimination in the workplace because of their gender identity.