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Every summer for the past four years, the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) Ruth Institute has invited college students from across the country to participate in its weekend-long "It Takes A Family To Raise A Village" (ITAF) conference in San Diego, CA. According to NOM, the conference is meant to prepare college students to defend "natural marriage" on their campuses by introducing them to a number of prominent anti-gay speakers and activists.
This year, NOM expanded its ITAF conference to include recent college graduates in their early twenties. Being a 24-year-old gay blogger who has spent the better part of the past two years tracking NOM's anti-gay extremism, I wasn't expecting much when I applied to ITAF's "Emerging Leaders" program in mid-June. I'd spent most of the month publishing blog post after blog post about ITAF's anti-gay "suggested reading" list, its roster of extreme anti-gay speakers, and its ties to a megachurch linked to the "ex-gay" movement. The application didn't require me to disclose my place of employment, but a quick Google search of my name would plainly reveal that I was no friend of NOM. Jennifer Morse, the president of NOM's Ruth Institute, had even specifically responded to a post I'd published about her. I saw my application as more of a joke than anything else.
So when I got a "Congratulations" email at the end of July informing me that I'd been accepted into ITAF, I wasn't sure how to react.
Honestly, part of me was terrified at the idea of having to spend a whole weekend stuck at a NOM event with a group of anti-gay student activists. What if I was discovered? What if someone from NOM recognized me? If I attended, I ran the risk of being exposed - all alone - as an undercover "homosexualist" in a room full of the very people I'd been writing about for months.
I also wasn't keen on the idea of having to pretend to be straight in front of dozens of strangers for four days, as I didn't expect I'd be able to attend a NOM conference as an openly gay man without raising a few eyebrows. I'd been out of the closet for over eight years, and I lived in a city where being gay is as about as common and unremarkable as wearing glasses. I'd grown pretty accustomed to not having to worry about people figuring out my sexual orientation. Having to go back in "the closet," even just for a few days, sounded more like an unpleasant high school flashback than an exciting work opportunity.
Eventually, though, my curiosity got the better of me.
Since its founding in 2007, NOM has loudly proclaimed that its "battle is not with an orientation"; that, despite opposing gay marriage, the organization isn't motivated by animosity towards gay and lesbian people. This distinction - "we're not anti-gay, just anti-gay marriage" - has allowed NOM to differentiate itself from organizations that have been labeled "hate groups" for peddling known falsehoods about LGBT people.
But, I wanted to see it for myself. Attending ITAF would give me an opportunity to find out what NOM was really saying about LGBT people when it wasn't mincing words for mainstream media outlets.
So on Thursday, July 26, armed with little more than my camera phone, a notepad, and a hastily-concocted backstory, I boarded a flight to San Diego to attend what would end up being one of the most disturbing and overtly homophobic experiences of my life.
To read the full story, click HERE.