This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The nation's largest gay and transgender rights group will partner with Utah activists to stage the second annual Inclusive Families Conference in October, a gathering planned partly as a counterpoint to the World Congress of Families (WCF) event also coming to the state this fall.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), will make the announcement Saturday at a news conference outside the Utah Capitol. It coincides with the release of an updated HRC report on WCF's worldwide activities promoting rhetoric and policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for fostering homophobia under the guise of protecting families, the WCF will hold its Salt Lake City conference Oct. 27-30.
HRC shares WCF's view that families matter, said Ty Cobb, HRC's global director, but not the contention that the "natural family" one comprised of a husband and wife rearing children is the only acceptable family structure or model.
That's largely why HRC is backing Utah's Inclusive Families event, set for Oct. 23-24 at the University of Utah's College of Social Work.
"The conference recognizes there are diverse families that don't fit into the WCF model," Cobb said, "and that's important."
That diversity includes all types of "nontraditional" families, including LGBT, those with mixed racial or religious identities, adoptive, differently abled, multigenerational families, as well as street families formed by those in Utah's homeless community, conference organizer Marian Edmonds-Allen said.
"It's an honor to have HRC's support," Edmonds-Allen said. "The struggle for LGBT rights has moved from only individual protections to include the new reality: entire families supporting their LGBT child, same-sex couples caring for children, children caring for their elderly LGBT parent or grandparent, and more. Families matter even, and perhaps especially, to huge organizations worldwide."
World Congress of Families event director Janice Shaw Crouse expressed disappointment Thursday with HRC's characterization of her organization and its goals, saying that LGBT rights and same-sex marriage are not the focus.
"We have been focused on the natural family. We focus on what's best for children, what is best for families, what is best for the nation," she said. "We do not focus on our gay friends."
Crouse also rejects the contention that WCF's view which she said stems from deeply held religious beliefs is intended to offend others.
She said she has met with organizers of the Inclusive Families Conference in recent months and hopes the timing of the two gatherings provides an opportunity for a joint public forum to discuss the issues.
"It's time that we have some instructive and engaging conversation instead of this name-calling," said Crouse, adding that all families, including LGBT ones, are welcome at the WCF event.
The timing of the Inclusive Families Conference just after the October General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and before the WCF gathering promises to provide important emotional and psychological support for those who feel marginalized by messages that only certain family structures count, either in society or in the eyes of God, Edmonds-Allen said.
The LDS Church, which has a long relationship with the WCF, holds husband-wife marriage and family up as the ideal, and its leaders often opine on the issue during the faith's semiannual gatherings in April and October.
In the wake of such speeches, the numbers of Utah LGBT youths who are kicked out of their homes or attempt suicide go up, said Edmonds-Allen, who is also the national program director for the Family Acceptance Project.
"Whenever there is that type of public rhetoric, there is a ripple effect; we always see a spike," she said. "It adds more fuel to the fire and for someone who is on the low simmer, this kind of speech could be the tipping point."
Founded by the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in the mid-1990s, the Illinois-based WCF has a well-documented, long history of messaging and political activism that has been harmful to gay and transgender persons worldwide, Cobb said.
HRC's updated report, "Exposed: The World Congress of Families," focuses on developments since June 2014 in Russia, Africa, Australia, parts of Eastern Europe and here in the U.S., including efforts to help pass anti-LGBT laws, he said.
WCF has held nine conferences worldwide, but the Utah event, which is expected to draw about 3,000 people, will be its first in the United States.
"We have a responsibility, now that the conference is taking place in the United States for the first time to both expose their track record and to counter their narrative," Cobb said. "What I think is odd is that the WCF and their affiliates are clearly losing the [LGBT rights] battle in the United States, so it's strange to me that they would come to a place where they are losing."
Crouse dismissed the report as an inaccurate misrepresentation of WCF's work and purpose.