Deciphering Hate Speech: How Coded Words Like 'Family' Breed Contempt

Usually hate speech is pretty direct. A good example is the Web address for the Westboro Baptist Church. It's No need to decode that message. If you go to the website, you'll find links to, and It would be a breath of fresh air if I went to the site one day and found a link to the Web address, but I'm not expecting that anytime soon.

So that's the usual type of direct hate speech, but sometimes hate speech isn't direct at all. It may even be a little bit involved. Consider, for example, how anti-LGBTQ organizations use the word "family." First of all, it's rather striking how many of these organizations have appropriated the word "family" as part of their name. The list includes the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute, the Family Research Council, the Family Research Institute, Family Watch International, Focus on the Family, Illinois Family Institute, TC (Traverse City, Mich.) Family, and United Families International, as well as Family Policy Councils in 36 states across the country. These organizations, along with other anti-LGBTQ groups such as Truth in Action Ministries, the Liberty Counsel, MassResistance, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Traditional Values Coalition, define the family as an exclusively heterosexual social unit. Their use of the word "family" and the phrase "traditional family values" is itself a form of hate speech, and it includes all the following meanings:

  • Gay, lesbian and transgender people do not have the right to form families (i.e., marry or adopt children).

  • Having same-sex parents is harmful to children.
  • Marriage equality will devalue the marriages of heterosexual couples.
  • Marriage equality promotes polygamy and bestiality.
  • Gay, lesbian and transgender people cannot lead or serve children or adolescents in the community.
  • Homosexuals do not procreate, so they recruit children to be homosexual.
  • Homosexuals are much more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals.
  • Parents who have gay, lesbian or transgender children may have helped make their children gay, lesbian or transgender and have failed as parents.
  • Parents should reject rather than love and support their children if they come out as gay, lesbian or transgender.
  • Anti-bullying programs promote homosexuality.
  • Adults in the schools and in the community who support LGBTQ youth and oppose bullying are in fact bullying them into becoming homosexual.
  • The high incidence of depression and suicide among LGBTQ youth is a myth.
  • LGBTQ youth who are depressed or suicidal are that way because they are LGBTQ, not because they are rejected by their families and bullied at school and in the community.
  • The leaders and followers of anti-LGBTQ organizations use the word "family" to ostracize LGBTQ people. In their use of this word, they are saying that LGBTQ people have no place in families and no place in society. Indeed, they are distorting and perverting the meaning of the beloved concept of the family to stigmatize LGBTQ people and treat them as pariahs. Their use of the word "family" dehumanizes LGBTQ people and objectifies LGBTQ people as a threat to families and a danger to children. In so doing, they provide a justification for the criminalization and violent persecution of LGBTQ people.

    One of the most powerful responses to this profound demonization and denigration of LGBTQ people is Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in the Supreme Court's DOMA decision. The words that he uses to describe "the avowed purpose and practical effect" of DOMA upon same-sex marriages may likewise be used to describe "the avowed purpose and practical effect" of anti-LGBTQ organizations in their use of the word "family" as hate speech. Specifically, "the avowed purpose and practical effect ... are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all" LGBTQ people. By stigmatizing LGBTQ children and adolescents, they encourage families to reject them and bullies to persecute and physically attack them. By declaring that same-sex marriages are "unworthy," by arguing in fact that LGBTQ people have no right to marry and form families, anti-LGBTQ organizations injure children. Indeed, they humiliate "tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples," and they make it "more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives."

    The Supreme Court's DOMA decision greatly enhances the prospect that one day in the not-too-distant future, LGBTQ people will be able to marry and form families in all 50 states of the United States of America. However, this movement toward equality will undoubtedly provoke an ugly backlash of hatred and bigotry against LGBTQ people. As a result, all of us who stand for freedom and quality for all people must remain vigilant and strong. We must speak out every day in support of what Justice Kennedy so eloquently describes as "the equal dignity of same-sex marriages," a dignity reflected in the true status and being of all LGBTQ people. We must all stand up every day for the truth in opposition to hate. For it is true that the LGBTQ agenda is the same as the human agenda, which is simply to be free and equal and to exercise the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."