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Dozens of anti-gay groups are making money off Amazon's charity platform

More than 40 anti-LGBTQ organizations are skirting AmazonSmile’s ban on promoting hatred and intolerance, according to a new report. Inc Deliveries Ahead Of Black Friday
Amazon's charity platform is allowing dozens of anti-LGBTQ organizations to receive donations, according to a report published Tuesday by U.K.-based political activist group openDemocracy.Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon’s charity platform is allowing dozens of anti-LGBTQ organizations to receive donations, according to a report published Tuesday by U.K.-based political activist group openDemocracy.

Launched in 2013, the AmazonSmile program allows users to select a nonprofit to receive 0.5 percent of the proceeds from eligible purchases.

More than a million U.S.-based nonprofits are listed with the program and, while Amazon does not disclose how much individual groups have raised, the program has generated more than $215 million since its founding, according to the online retail giant.

The AmazonSmile participation agreement states organizations that promote “intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities” are ineligible. However, the retailer maintains it “cannot guarantee the good standing and/or conduct of any charitable organization” and relies on determinations by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. In a Senate subcommittee hearing in July, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called this vetting process “an imperfect system.”

Previously, two SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ “hate groups,” the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council, were removed from the AmazonSmile platform after complaints by human rights groups.

But according to openDemocracy, more than 40 organizations listed on the U.S. AmazonSmile platform still openly work against LGBTQ rights.

The Indiana chapter of the American Family Association is one such group, even though the SPLC classifies the association as a hate group.

The Mississippi-based national organization has supported Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which makes same-sex relations punishable by up to life in prison, and opposed anti-bullying campaigns in U.S. schools as “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools,” according to The New York Times.

In 2010, the American Family Association announced a boycott of Home Depot, claiming that, by supporting Pride parades, the home repair chain was “deliberately exposing children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals.” Six years later, it called for a boycott of Target over the superstore’s policy of permitting transgender people to use store bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Another AmazonSmile beneficiary, the Family Leader, has called homosexuality a “public health risk.”

“If we’re teaching the kids ‘don’t smoke’ because that’s a risky health style, the same can be true, too, with the homosexual lifestyle,” Family Leader founder Bob Vander Plaats said in a 2011 interview.An unsuccessful candidate for Iowa governor, Plaats joined a 2010 letter calling on the state to ban same-sex marriage.

“Homosexual behavior ... is harmful both to the individuals who choose to participate in it and the society that chooses to accept it,” the memo, signed by 485 Iowa pastors and ministry leaders, read. After the Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling in 2015, Platts claimed the decision opened the door to legalized polygamy and the decriminalization of pedophilia.

He has also called allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity a “train wreck waiting to happen” and predicted the policy would lead to adult men trying to assault 12-year-olds in girls restrooms.

Neither the Family Leader nor the American Family Association immediately responded to NBC News’ request for comment.

Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, has called another AmazonSmile recipient, Focus on the Family, “one of the most well-funded anti-LGBT organizations in America.”

In a 2005 report, the SPLC stated, “No one has spread the anti-gay gospel as widely, or with as much political impact, as James Dobson,” Focus on the Family’s founder. The group has supported the discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy and the rights of businesses to turn away LGBTQ customers.

Paul J. Batura, vice president of communications for Focus on the Family, said millions of Americans who embrace “multi-millennial old beliefs found in the Bible” regularly shop on Amazon.

“In a pluralistic country like America, why should those individuals not be extended the same privilege of participating in Amazon’s charity program and be permitted to direct funds to organizations and causes that share their deeply held convictions?” he said.

Other Smile program recipients include the National Organization for Marriage and the American Center for Law and Justice, both of which have opposed same-sex marriage in U.S. and international court cases, and Human Life International, which has claimed “nothing else poses such a direct threat to our God-given freedoms” as the gay rights movement. OpenDemocracy also alleges eight groups in the AmazonSmile program have partnered with the World Congress of Families, an SPLC-designated hate group that has promoted anti-LGBTQ legislation in Russia, Europe and Africa.

“For many years, anti-LGBTQ groups like Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage have used their platforms to dehumanize LGBTQ people and spread hatred and misinformation about LGBTQ families,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said. “While masquerading as 'charities,’ these anti-LGBTQ organizations are shamefully taking advantage of a program meant to aid organizations that genuinely help vulnerable people.”

While Focus on the Family compared its anti-LGBTQ views to long-held biblical beliefs, the National Organization for Marriage did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment regarding critics’ claims that it spreads anti-LGBTQ animosity.

Amazon has routinely received a perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies for workplace protections, inclusive benefits and responsible corporate citizenship. The corporation has also backed the Equality Act, federal legislation that would ban LGBTQ discrimination in housing, employment, education and other arenas.

In 2012, Bezos and his then-wife MacKenzie Scott pledged $2.5 million to support same-sex marriage in Washington state. In 2017, Bezos received the Human Rights Campaign’s National Equality Award.

Seth Levi, the SPLC’s chief strategy officer, urged Amazon “to ensure that none of its platforms — including retail, web services and entertainment — are used to support and/or promulgate hateful and dehumanizing content,” according to openDemocracy.

When asked for comment about anti-LGBTQ organizations making money off its charity platform, an Amazon spokesperson referred NBC News to the AmazonSmile participation agreement.

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