Tony Perkins, who is the president of the Family Research Council, was elected as the commission’s chair on Monday. He called the new role “an honor” in a statement on the commission’s website, adding, “I look forward to continuing our efforts to promote the fundamental human right of religious freedom for all people.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) first appointed the Oklahoma native in 2018. His term as the group’s chair will be effective for one year.
News of Perkins’ new role drew a fiery response from LGBTQ rights advocates. Among those to condemn the appointment was David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign, who called it “another weapon” in the Trump administration’s “anti-LGBTQ crusade.”
“Tony Perkins has devoted his career to limiting the legal rights of LGBTQ people,” Stacy, who is HRC’s director of government affairs, said in an email sent to HuffPost on Tuesday. “In his America, LGBTQ people would be forced to hide who they are or face criminal sanction, and their relationships would be outlawed and undermined.”
“He should never have been appointed to serve on this commission, nor should he have been entrusted to lead it,” he continued.
Perkins has served as president of the Family Research Council since 2003. The conservative group has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group since 2010 for making claims about the community “based on discredited research and junk science,” such as the promotion of gay conversion therapy.
In a lengthy disclaimer on the council’s website, however, Senior Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder pushed back on that designation.
“As a Christian organization, we have an obligation to love our neighbor ―including our neighbors who experience same-sex attractions,” he said, adding that the group believes LGBTQ sexuality is “harmful to those who choose to engage in [it] and to society at large, in addition to being forbidden by Scripture.”
GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis previously deemed Perkins “the most recognizable anti-LGBTQ activist in America,” pointing to his history of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.
In 2014, the Family Research Council president alluded to the Holocaust while discussing Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case on his “Washington Watch” radio show, telling listeners, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?”
Perkins was also behind an unsuccessful effort in 2016 to insert the debunked practice of “gay conversion therapy” into the Republican Party platform. A year later, he authored a letter signed by evangelical leaders calling on Trump to reverse Obama-era guidance allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military.
Similarly, he’s sparked controversy with anti-Muslim remarks, announcing in a 2015 episode of his radio show that Islam was “not just a religion” but a “comprehensive system which is incompatible with the Constitution.”
Last year, he said Trump was “doing the right thing by securing our borders,” and went on to call the president’s hardline stance on immigration as biblical.