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When the Family Foundation, a Richmond-based conservative group, decided to hold a series of seminars on political activism, it didn't expect to find itself in a pitched battle with gay advocates.

Gays Criticize Group's Warnings of "Culture War"

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When the Family Foundation, a Richmond-based conservative group, decided to hold a series of seminars on political activism, it didn't expect to find itself in a pitched battle with gay advocates.

But the seminars, which were to be held in two Northern Virginia churches, included one segment on instructing church members how to minister to people who were attempting to leave the homosexual lifestyle. The group's e-mail spoke of a "culture war" — a characterization deemed insensitive by many gays who read it in light of the recent attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Virginians for Justice, a Richmond-based gay-rights group, received copies of the conservative group's e-mail alert. David Scoven, executive director of Virginians for Justice, says his organization sent copies of the alert to its 2,000 members and asked them to write letters to local papers and the two churches. The churches canceled the engagements, and the seminars were rescheduled and held in local hotels.

"We took exception to them classifying us as enemies and adversaries," Scoven says. "What I took most exception to was asking supporters to pray for victory in the culture war."

Victoria Cobb, the Family Foundation's acting director of government relations, says that while the group used strong language it was not specifically targeting gays. Also, she adds, the group used the term "culture war" as a metaphor, not an actual war.

"Everyone in America is more sensitive to many things as a result of the events of September 11," Cobb says. "But we cannot bear responsibility for distortions of our statements made by those who disagree with our positions."

While the issue of sexuality took center stage, Cobb says that the seminars were never intended to focus especially on the gay issue.

"Most of it [the seminars' topic] is just civic activism," Cobb says. But the activists didn't see it that way. "We received e-mails comparing us to Nazis and the Taliban."

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