Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, right, bestows his annual
“Watchman of the Year” award on North Carolina pastor Ron Baity.
CHARLOTTE — Several leaders of the anti-LGBT religious right are at odds following a recent awards ceremony in which an incendiary anti-gay North Carolina pastor was honored as a “Watchman of the Year.”
The Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based right-wing advocacy group named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, held its annual “Watchmen on the Walls” conference in late May. There, the group’s president, Tony Perkins, honored Ron Baity, pastor of the Winston-Salem, N.C., Berean Baptist Church.
Baity has long been a mainstay in anti-gay Tar Heel politics, organizing several rallies at the state legislature in support of an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment and using his grassroots group Return America to push for a variety of anti-gay causes in the state.
Jeremy Hooper, a contributor to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Commentator Accountability Project, says Baity’s comments are often among the most radical in anti-gay circles.
“I think his comments are simply indefensible to most everyone,” Hooper, who recently published his first book, “If It’s A Choice, My Zygote Chose Balls: Making Sense of Senseless Controversy,” tells qnotes. “Contextually there may not be that much difference between Baity and some others, but the difference is in Baity’s willingness to go for the jugular.”
At his nationally-respected progressive and LGBT blog, Good As You, Hooper has long documented the statements and actions of anti-gay activists, including Baity. And, when the Family Research Council decided to bestow its highest annual honor on the Piedmont preacher, Hooper took to the web to highlight Baity’s more radical recent statements from sermons and radio and TV interviews (see more via the GLAAD Commentator Accountability Project).
Hooper’s blog posts were picked up by national media. As reporters reached out to would-be Baity sympathizers, cracks began to appear in the usually-solid moral facade of the religious right. Several groups and anti-gay leaders have already publicly distanced themselves from Baity, including the “ex-gay” Exodus International, the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and Oklahoma’s arch-conservative Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
The recent attention to and distancing from Baity and his words seems a bit late-to-the-game given Baity’s integral role in shaping the anti-gay marriage debate in North Carolina and his role in the official Vote For Marriage NC referendum committee. Hooper says the Family Research Council’s award has spotlighted Baity’s comments and renewed conversations on Perkins’ leadership and communication style.
“I have been told by some within the ‘pro-family’ community that they have had specific conversations about [Perkins] and how he engages the public,” Hooper says.
But, does all the disagreement over Baity and Perkins really mean that anti-gay groups are diverging on strategy? It’s hard to know exactly, but Hooper says that some groups might very well be considering it. Right-wing groups are finally beginning to realize that hate is a losing proposition.
“I think the past year has been eye-opening and or scary for some on the far-right,” Hooper says. “With projects like GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project and the increased ability of bloggers to make our content go ‘mainstream,’ people like Perkins see that we are not talking into a vacuum. [Mainstream news] anchors are starting to really play hardball, so to speak, with him. We have done great work connecting these dots, and I think they know it. It’s hard to argue with documented words that come from their own mouths, even though they certainly try.”