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Longtime gay-rights opponent Tony Perkins named to U.S. religious freedom panel

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Family Research Council President Tony Perkins to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
by Julie Moreau /

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Family Research Council President Tony Perkins — a longtime opponent of LGBTQ rights — to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“From my post at USCIRF, I look forward to doing all that I can to ensure that our government is the single biggest defender of religious freedom internationally,” Perkins said in a statement released Tuesday. “It is my hope that through the work of USCIRF, the world will become one step closer to recognizing the vital role religious freedom and the defense of religious minorities play in peace, security and human flourishing.”

Image: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.\mario Anzuoni / Reuters

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) that is “dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.” Its nine volunteer members — three chosen by the president, two by the president’s party and four by the opposing party — serve renewable one- or two-year terms.

The appointment of Perkins, an ordained minister and former law enforcement officer and Louisiana state legislator, is the latest Republican appointment since Trump took office to attract swift condemnation from LGBTQ and civil rights advocates.

“Tony Perkins is the most recognizable anti-LGBTQ activist in America. He has espoused the most extreme views of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement. “The idea that Perkins would be making policy recommendations to an administration that is already anti-LGBTQ is dangerous and puts LGBTQ people directly in harm’s way.”

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GLAAD compiled a long list of examples on its website demonstrating Perkins’ and FRC’s opposition to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the U.S. and abroad.

Among the more than 30 examples listed are a comparison of same-sex marriage to a marriage between “a man and his horse”; the labeling of the “It Gets Better” project, a popular initiative designed to help LGBTQ young people cope with bullying and marginalization, “disgusting” and a “concerted effort” to recruit kids into the gay “lifestyle”; and claiming the “blood” of “young marines” would be on the hands of lawmakers who vote repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, designated the Family Research Council, where Perkins has served as president since 2003, as an “anti-LGBT hate group” in 2010. FRC disputes the designation.

Heidi Beirich, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, called Perkins appointment to the USCIRF “deeply disturbing.”

“Perkins specializes in spreading false propaganda that demonizes the LGBT community and Muslims,” Beirich said. “Perkins’ idea of ‘religious freedom’ is having the freedom to discriminate against entire groups of people he doesn’t like. His well-documented bigotry has no place in any government entity.”

Like GLAAD, SPLC has kept a lengthy file on Perkins and the FRC. Perkins, according to the SPLC’s file, was quoted linking homosexuality to pedophilia on the FRC website in 2010.

“While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two,” Perkins wrote at the time, according to the SPLC. “It is a homosexual problem.”

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Currently on its website, FRC has a page dedicated to “Homosexuality,” where the organization is very explicit about its views toward gay people and their rights.

“Homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects,” the site’s “Homosexuality” page states. “We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools.”

On that same page, FRC appears to support the widely discredited practice of “gay conversion therapy”: “Sympathy must be extended to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions, and every effort should be made to assist such persons to overcome those attractions, as many already have.”

Perkins is not the first person appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw criticism from proponents of LGBTQ rights. Earlier this year, former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was confirmed as the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, making him a non-voting member of the USCIRF. Like Perkins, Brownback has a long and well-documented history of opposing LGBTQ rights.

The USCIRF, FRC and the office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

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