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Hate Group Declares Itself a Tax-Exempt Church—It Also Supports Ex-Gay ‘Torture’

One of the nation’s leading anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups is registered as a church with the Internal Revenue Service, alleges Right Wing Watch in a new report.

Focus on the Family is classified as a church through the federal government according to IRS records, which affords the Colorado Springs-based organization certain privileges. In addition to claiming tax-exempt status, churches aren’t required to publicly disclose their tax documentsaffording them less scrutiny than non-religious entities.

A Federal Tax Form posted to the Focus on the Family website boasts a titanic budget for the fiscal year beginning in Oct. 2015 and ending in Sept. 2016: $90 million.

But as Right Wing Watch notes, the document also signals Focus on the Family’s shift toward claiming faith-based status: The form alleges that the conservative group is “not required to file” tax forms with the federal government because of religious exemptions.

According to the group, what makes the organization a church is that it “shares the gospel of Jesus Christ while promoting biblical family values.”

In truth, Focus on the Family has long operated as a far-right lobby group opposing any and all forms of LGBTQ equality in the United States. The organization has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to fight relationship recognition for same-sex couples in states like Maine and Michigan, fought anti-discrimination laws, and opposed LGBTQ adoptions.

Glenn T. Stanton, director of the organization’s Family Formation Studies program, once claimed lesbianism is a product of “fatherless” households and called the children of same-sex couples “human guinea pigs.”

Although the organization has softened its rhetoric somewhat in recent years and dialed back anti-gay lobbying efforts, Focus on the Family’s spots are spottier than ever.

The conservative group’s website claims transgender people are merely “gender-confused” individuals who hold “false beliefs” about their identity. A reference guide on “Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues” refers to trans folks as “men who wish they were women, as well as women who think they are men.”

“Nobody can really change from one sex to the other,” claims Focus on the Family’s Jeff Johnston, billed as a gender and homosexuality analyst.

The organization launched TrueTolerance.org to combat the rights of transgender students and denounce anti-bullying programs in schools. Focus on the Family argues that allowing trans youth to use restrooms and locker rooms which match their gender identity is part of a “radical sexual agenda” and that the annual “Day of Silence” leads to “celebrating homosexuality at younger and younger ages.”

Focus on the Family has also continued to support the discredited practice of conversion therapy, even after the closure of its defunct ex-gay ministry “Love Won Out.”

Stephanie Curry, a public policy manager with the subsidiary group Family Policy Alliance, took aim at bills banning orientation change efforts in a February video posted to YouTube. She claims children should have the opportunity to access “basic talk therapy if they are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity issues.”

“We believe that families and parents know what’s best for their children and they should have the ability to find licensed therapists that support their moral and religious principles,” Curry says.

Every leading medical association, including the American Psychological Association, has condemned any attempt to “cure” the identity of LGBTQ youth as dangerous and ineffective at its stated goal. Conversion therapy is often likened to “torture.” But in the face of overwhelming evidence, Focus on the Family has continued to claim these treatments work.

Attorney Gail Harmon condemned the group’s classification as a church in an interview with Right Wing Watch.

“I just found it shocking,” said Harmon, who has been practicing tax law for more than 30 years. “There’s nothing about them that meets the traditional definition of what a church is. They don’t have a congregation, they don’t have the rites of various parts of a person’s life. There’s a whole system for what a church is.”

Focus on the Family isn’t the only anti-LGBTQ organization to be registered as a church through the IRS.

Liberty Counsel, the right-wing group which defended Rowan County, Ky. clerk Kim Davis in court, has been classified as a “church auxiliary” for over a decade. The Florida-based law firm recently took Davis on a nine-day tour of Romania to lobby against LGBTQ rights after she was jailed for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2015.

Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, compared Davis to a Jewish person living under the Third Reich and claimed LGBTQ people are terrorists and puppets of Satan.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.