Report Exposes Trump’s Ties to Religious Right Global Anti-LGBTQ Campaigns

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, works as counsel with the anti-LGBTQ American Center for Law and Justice.
Reuters/ Erin Scott

A new report is shedding light on the depth of cash flowing from American Christian anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion groups into dangerous campaigns against reproductive rights and queer rights across the globe — especially in Europe and Africa.

Not only do many of those groups have ties to President Donald Trump, but his personal attorney is a key player in the effort.

The report published by the media organization Open Democracy, which showed more than two-dozen far-right groups have collectively pumped a quarter of a billion dollars into the campaigns, broke down the spending efforts of those organizations around the world over the last 13 years.

President works closely with prominent groups spreading bigotry worldwide, mines them for administration posts

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) topped the list, spending a whopping $94.8 million against LGBTQ and abortion rights, followed by the Fellowship Foundation, which has burned through $44.6 million. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship came in third place, with $28.8 million, just above the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has spent $21.3 million. Others include Focus on the Family, which dumped $17.9 million, along with American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which allocated $17.7 million and employs Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, as its chief counsel. Human Life International chipped in $12.2 million, Federalist Society spent $5.4 million, and Bethany Christian Services added $4.4 million.

While many of the organizations are well-known anti-LGBTQ powerhouses already acknowledged for inflicting damage in America, the new research reveals that their work goes far beyond targeting queer rights domestically.

Those groups are simultaneously juggling those foreign influence projects with efforts to lock up close ties to Trump. The report reveals just how connected the president is to the far-right’s agenda, even as he delegates the work on that front to those in his administration.

As it turns out, he delegates across a sprawling web: Trump has stacked his team with folks from these organizations, with 14 of the 28 groups examined in the report categorized as having close ties to him. The administration has also funneled funding to those groups, and some of Trump’s nominees for administration positions previously worked with these organizations.

Sekulow, who is poised to work alongside Trump’s other attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to defend Trump in legal battles by Trump’s team in the aftermath of the election, has been very busy in Europe, where ACLJ has spent $14.4 million and most recently backed a court ruling in Poland this month against an abortion rights case.

The ACLJ has also stood up for Poland’s controversial “LGBT-free zones” by arguing it is not discriminatory to consider “that pro-LGBT+ social pressure is the vector of an ideology, and in refusing to promote it among children,” according to Open Democracy.

Trump is also linked to Focus on the Family, which the report says has spent $6.2 million in Latin America, just about $5 million in Asia, and $3.5 million in the Middle East and North Africa. Jenna Ellis, who worked under the organization’s founder, James Dobson, became the Trump campaign’s legal advisor earlier this year.

The ADF, one of the most notorious groups attacking LGBTQ rights in the US, has held meetings with the Trump administration, and many of its staffers have gained positions under Trump. The ADF, like others, is also making incursions in Europe, including Northern Ireland, where it supported a bakery after it refused to make a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration, and in Italy, where it opposed same-sex marriage rights. The ADF also pushed back against an effort in France to allow transgender individuals to legally change their gender marker.

In all these efforts, there is an unmistakable focus on Africa, which many Christian groups have eyed in recent decades after conceding cultural battles in the developed Global North. The Fellowship Foundation, for example, has spent more than three-quarters of its cash on causes across Africa and one of the group’s associates is Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati, who was the architect of the “Kill the Gays” bill in his country several years back.

In yet another connection to Trump, one of the Fellowship Foundation’s members, former Kansas Governor and US Senator Sam Brownback, was tapped by the president to serve as US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, since here with Vice President Mike Pence, has ties to Fellowship Foundation, which has spent large sums of money supporting anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice efforts by Poland’s far right.Reuters/ Mary F. Calvert

Africa has also been targeted with $7.5 million from the Billy Graham group BGEA, which has managed to sprinkle money all over the globe.

Family Watch International, meanwhile, has spent years influencing religious, political, and local leaders across the African continent to oppose sexual education and queer rights.

In what he describes as “Christian imperialism,” well-known British gay activist Peter Tatchell said in a written statement to Gay City News that the global campaigns are “menacing the well-being and human rights of millions of LGBTQ people.”

“It echoes the way Christian missionaries in the 19th century imposed their faith and homophobic attitudes on colonized peoples,” Tatchell said. “When they say they are defending religious freedom what they are really defending is the right of religious people to discriminate against LGBT [people].”

Among other key findings in Open Democracy’s probe included the extent to which global funding is shrouded in secrecy in the name of religion — the financial dealings of BGEA went dark in 2015 when it re-registered as a church group — as well as some groups’ roles in fueling misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Population Research Institute, which rejects abortion rights, is led by Steven W. Mosher, who wrote an article for the New York Post advancing the unfounded theory that COVID-19 could have leaked from a Chinese laboratory.

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