SPLC — Anatomy of a Marketing Ploy

As mentioned in an previous post, the master fundraisers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have targeted the LGBT community in their latest marketing scheme. A little digging, very little digging, reveals just how flimsy this campaign really is from the get-go.

Visit the SPLC’s homepage and click on the “LGBT Rights” link on the left.

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The LGBT Rights page makes the following claim: “Our work on LGBT issues spans decades.” Really?

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If the SPLC has been fighting the good fight for the LGBT community “for decades,” why did they not even have an LGBT Rights page until 2011? Certainly there must be dozens of important LGBT cases to which the SPLC can point with pride.

Fortunately, the SPLC keeps a meticulous list of all of their court cases which one can access easily from their home page.

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They even provide a handy drop-down menu that sorts the cases by type.

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Sorting by LGBT Rights returns a total of 8 cases, which seems rather skimpy for a civil rights law firm that has been in business for nearly 43 years. Scrolling down to the oldest case, Hoffburg v. Alexander, we do indeed find that this case goes all the way back to 1980. Hoffburg, it turns out, wasn’t even the SPLC’s own case. It was an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Glancing up, however, we find that the next time the SPLC went to bat for the LGBT community was in 2011!

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Apparently, there were no cases of anti-LGBT civil rights violations worthy of the great institution’s note for 31 years!

In this case, the SPLC threatened to sue a high school if it didn’t allow two female students to march in a pep rally as the school’s Snow King and Queen. Fighting the good fight doesn’t come much harder than that.

Scrolling up the list, we find that it was only a few months after the pep rally case that the SPLC threatened to sue the same school district.

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The SPLC claims it was contesting a “gag policy” that prevented teachers from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom. The actual policy read that teachers could discuss LGBT issues at an age appropriate level, if the subject was germane to the class work and remained entirely neutral on the subject, neither endorsing or denigrating it.

Neutrality wasn’t good enough for the civil rights center, and so, having as much spare cash on hand as any other public school system facing a multimillion dollar law firm, Anoka-Hennepin simply gave in. Another hard fought legal battle that never went to court.

Higher up the list, we find Hill v. Public Advocate, the simple copyright infringement case of a New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photo was used in a Colorado political flier without their permission, or that of their photographer, who holds the copyright. None of the plaintiffs are indigent, the case is being handled by one of the premier intellectual property law firms in the business and the term “civil rights” never appears once in the complaint.

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Soon after Hill, the SPLC jumped on another non-civil rights case, Ferguson v. JONAH. In this case, a group of gay Jewish men in New York City are suing an organization that promised to “cure” their homosexuality.

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This is a classic fraud suit, no different than thousands of similar suits filed every day, and the case is being brought forward by one of the best fraud law firms in NYC, none of the plaintiffs are poor and, once again, the term “civil rights” never appears once in the actual complaint.

If there are no civil rights issues in these otherwise cut-and-dried civil suits that are being handled by some of the best lawyers in the business, what exactly does the SPLC bring to the table?

In a word: Publicity.

In return for this free publicity, the SPLC’s master Public Relations Guru, Mark Potok, can claim that his outfit is out there fighting for gay rights.

The most recent case, as of this writing and described in a previous post, is a perfect example of Mr. Potok’s cynical marketing ploy.

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In this case, Mr. Potok and Co. are suing a poor, mostly Black junior high school where a 16-year old 8th grader named Destin Holmes claims she was verbally and mentally abused because she is a self-described lesbian.

Let’s be crystal clear here, nobody, in any of these cases, deserves to be subjected to any form of discrimination by anyone at any time or any place. Those of us who have been through junior high are still all too well aware of the juvenile stupidity that goes on in those institutions, by both the students and the staff, and that in no way explains or justifies it.

Obviously, this is a bad situation that demands immediate investigation, but is bringing a federal law suit against one of the poorest performing schools in one of the poorest performing states the best way to fix the system?

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Or is it little more than another classic Potok-ian publicity stunt?

Ironically, the complaint against Magnolia Junior High makes no mention of the fact that, while 78% of the student body is non-white, and both the principal and assistant principal, who have been named as defendants, are African American, Ms. Holmes is white.

Can anyone imagine the SPLC overlooking those facts if the races were reversed?

Again, no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, but when you look the SPLC’s paltry LGBT cases, almost all of which only date back to 2011, how much bang are the donors getting for their donor bucks?

There was one major anti-gay organization that appeared to have flown below the SPLC’s radar for over a decade. In 2000, the Boy Scouts of America went to the U.S. Supreme court to protect their right to actively discriminate against gay Scouts and Scout Leaders (Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale), something it had done since its inception in 1910.

In 2002, the BSA issued a press release reaffirming its belief that “an avowed homosexual” lacked the “moral character” to be a Scout or Leader.

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The Southern Poverty Law center completely ignored this blatant anti-gay discrimination for over a decade. You will find no mention of the BSA’s discrimination on the SPLC’s web site until 2012, and, even then, that has to be possibly the most tepid response to a genuine “hate-group” in the SPLC’s entire history.

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SPLC co-founder Joe Levin was wheeled out of retirement to announce that “Twelve years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center stopped participating in the Montgomery, Ala., United Way Campaign because the organization chose to fund the Boy Scouts of America.”

That was it? One of the “largest youth-serving organizations in America,” whose primary mission is to build the characters and mold the minds of millions of American boys, actively discriminates against gay men and boys for a century, and the best the SPLC, that bastion of LGBT rights, can come up with is to stop donating to the United Way and say absolutely nothing about it for twelve years??

But wait… it gets even better… Joe Levin continues:

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“DOESN’T INTEND TO ENCOURAGE BIGOTRY”??? Mr. Levin, the BSA took its case to the Supreme Court of the United States precisely to preserve its perceived right to discriminate. It doesn’t get any more intentional than the US Supreme Court!

Notice the softball language Mr. Levin uses when dancing around the hard facts: “Embraces anti-LGBT prejudice” and “Doesn’t intend to encourage bigotry.” Where is the SPLC’s patented “Hate Group” brand? The term never even appears in Mr. Levin’s pathetic apologia. Where was the SPLC’s multimillion dollar public relations machine for all those years? Can you imagine the pressure that could have been brought to bear against the BSA’s blatant discrimination?

[Update: On May 15, 2014, Joe Levin explained to MSNBC why the SPLC still doesn’t designate the Boy Scouts as a “hate group”:

“We don’t list the Boy Scouts (as a hate group,)” said Levin. “We only do that if we have a group that’s propagating known falsehoods associated with a particular person or group – in this case, the LGBT community. The Boy Scouts haven’t really done that.”

Of course not, Joe. Apparently, the BSA simply smeared all gays as immoral by accident.]

As it turns out, the BSA did reverse itself on its gay Scout policy effective Jan. 1, 2014. That decision was made based entirely on the protracted negative publicity campaign carried on by dozens of real LGBT support groups and major media outlets. The BSA’s Supreme Court decision still stands, but they finally gave in when public opinion turned on them and said that enough was enough. It was a movement in which the Southern Poverty Law Center’s role was precisely and exactly nothing.

And yet the SPLC has been fighting for LGBT rights “for decades,” right?

Well, not so much. Thanks to the magic of the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” anyone can wander back in time to view millions of websites as they appeared in the past, going back to the year 2000. It can be slow, and sometimes cantankerous, but it’s always free and a little patience can pay off big dividends.

In 2009, the SPLC issued a downloadable version of its latest “Hate Map” fundraising tool (Note: the “Hate Map” always reflects the previous calendar year):

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A closer look at the icon key reveals an astonishing fact. There were no anti-LGBT “hate groups” as late as 2009. Not one.

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In fact, the first anti-LGBT “hate groups” do not appear on Mr. Potok’s all-encompassing “Hate Map” until 2011, forty years after the SPLC opened for business.

Furthermore, while the Hoffburg case appears chronologically on the latest version of the SPLC’s case docket list, right between Brown and Wilkins

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Thanks to the Wayback Machine, we find Ms. Hoffburg’s case, the case that allows the SPLC to crow that its “work on LGBT issues spans decades” is conspicuously absent from the 2010 case docket!

2010 Case Docket

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Hoffburg never made the case docket list in more than 40 years because the SPLC didn’t even consider it worthwhile.

Once the white millionaires who run the SPLC decided to target the LGBT community though, Mr. Potok had to come up with something to show that they had not totally ignored the issue since opening shop in 1971. Hoffburg wasn’t much, but no one in the media will follow the simple steps outlined in this post, so no one would ever know the difference.

Well-meaning donors sent Mr. Potok more than $40 million donor dollars in 2012 because they believe him when he cries “hate group” and they believe him when he says how dedicated the SPLC has been to fighting anti-LGBT discrimination “for decades.” As usual, some simple, primary fact-checking of the SPLC’s own documents proves, once again, that Mr. Potok’s claims are meaningless.

Yet again, nobody should suffer discrimination due to their orientation, and any effort is better than none, but suing poor public school districts over pep rallies and yearbook pictures is pretty low-hanging fruit for an alleged “civil rights” law firm with nearly a quarter-billion dollars in cash on hand.

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If you want to contribute to a non-profit that has truly been in the fight against LGBT discrimination you need only do a little homework and ignore Mark Potok’s latest fundraising ploy.

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