Three decades after Focus on the Family battled the “gay agenda” in Colorado by promoting Amendment 2, it has a powerful partner that is waging a successful battle against “transgender ideology” with legislation already enacted in 21 states.
Few Americans know about the Family Policy Alliance, the “public policy partner” of Focus on the Family. But this influential activist nonprofit founded by James Dobson in the 1980s as part of his “battle for righteousness” through law and politics has changed laws affecting millions of Americans.
This month, Texas and Louisiana became the 16th and 17th states to enact versions of the Alliance’s “Help Not Harm” model legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors. Similar bills have been introduced in nine additional states this year.
Help Not Harm laws have a goal: “End Transgender Experiments on Kids…Kids are not experiments. When a child is struggling, they need compassionate care—not experimental hormones and surgery.” The majority of Americans support such bans for minors, while also supporting laws that ban discrimination against trans people.
The Alliance’s model bill declares gender care for minors harmful and prohibits it, prevents insurance or public funds from covering it, and gives minors who say they were harmed by such care 30 years to sue doctors and others for relief and damages.
The Alliance promoted its bills with nearly 150,000 messages to state and federal officials and held six training sessions for staff members of the U.S. House and Senate. But its bills have little hope in Colorado or other blue states.
The Alliance’s “Save Girls Sports” legislation has already been enacted in 21 states since 2020. The goal is “Protecting Fair Play for Our Girls” by seeing that girls compete “free from males competing in those female-only competitions.” A May poll found that six in ten Americans support such restrictions.
The Alliance has worked with Republican officials in red states to enact its model legislation on these culture war issues:
restricting or criminalizing abortion procedures and medications;
limiting drag shows;
requiring citizens to register with their state to prove they’re old enough to access online pornography;
protecting teachers from having to use students’ chosen pronouns;
limiting student access to classes and textbooks about American history, human sexuality, and Critical Race Theory, which Focus says spreads “lies perpetuated by spiritual darkness” and “wokeness;
promoting “election integrity,” which is needed because “everything has been engineered to suppress your vote and for you to give up.”
But leaders say the recent string of rapid victories on transgender treatment and sports represents the greatest legislative successes in the Alliance’s 35-year history, leading the traditionally media-shy group to discuss the trans battle plan it started developing a decade ago.
Focus on the Family moved to Colorado Springs from California in 1991 and immediately backed Amendment 2, which won 53% of the vote. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Amendment 2 was unconstitutional, with the majority writing that the measure “classified homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else.” The Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, and today more than two-thirds of Americans approve it.
Quietly but efficiently, the Alliance helps Focus turn its version of family values into legislation. “Though the debate over transgenderism will continue to be fought in the cultural and media spheres of society, the solution to it will come from the political realm,” said Focus’s activist news site, Daily Citizen, in March.
The Alliance’s vision is “a nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive and life is cherished.” Its offices are on the campus of Focus, the 46-year-old, $133 million conservative Christian ministry.
Together, the Alliance and its sister nonprofit, the Family Policy Alliance Foundation, have only 18 employees and take in only $4.3 million a year. But they exert outsized influence over Americans’ freedoms through their $40 million, 300-plus employee network of family policy councils in 40 states, including the Florida Family Policy Council and Texas Values. Alliance CEO Craig DeRoche calls it “one of the largest alliances in the country.”
While culture war fights over transgender issues may have snuck up on many Americans, Alliance leaders began preparing their trans battle plan in 2014.
Autumn Leva, the Alliance’s senior vice president for strategy, said that while the “woke Left” and their collaborators in the medical establishment “weaponized transgenderism,” the Alliance is raising a “shield of defense” protecting children from treatments that she says do no good and cause great harm.
“A political agenda has taken over what would normally be in the realm of parents and medical professionals,” said Leva, who planned to be a schoolteacher before being called to activism, earned a J.D. from Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, interned with the Heritage Foundation, worked as an aide to Rep. Doug Lamborn, and worked for the Minnesota Family Council, one of the 40 state family policy councils.
“We’ve completely turned that (weaponization) around, and now elected leaders are lining up to make sure they show that they do not stand for children being transitioned,” she said.
Alliance leaders also believe that voters will line up to reelect leaders who have supported these bills. CEO DeRoche points to the 2020 race for Virginia governor, when Glenn Youngkin used concerns over bathrooms and schoolbooks to promote parental rights, improving his rating by 26 points in the run up to the election.
“There is no such thing as a ‘trans kid’ ”
No one’s sure how many trans teens there are in the U.S. One 2017 survey estimated there were 150,000. Focus’s Daily Citizen claims there are none, and that’s just the beginning of its claims:
- “…there is no such thing as a ‘trans kid’”
- “…there is no such thing as ‘anti-LGBTQ’ legislation”
- “There’s no such thing as a transgender athlete”
- “…there is no such thing as the ‘LGBT community’”
- “…there is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ+ community’”
- “There is no such thing as a non-binary or genderless person”
- “…there is no such thing as ‘cis woman,’ ‘trans men,’ or ‘non-binary people’ in nature. No one should use those words as if they actually refer to something real. They do not.”
Similar claims were issued at the Alliance’s 2022 Help Not Harm virtual forum, where activists described a growing pro-trans movement as a “mirage,” a “cult,” a “psychosocial neurodevelopmental problem,” and a “social contagion” that sees transitioning as a “cure-all” and “the answer for any discomfort or problem that a kid has.”
Many blamed the growth in the number of young people identifying as transgender on greedy medical professionals who are riding “a gravy train” funded by “genital mutilation” and other ghoulish procedures that leave kids damaged and possibly sterile.
John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview said trans people redefine reality by “changing the body to fit the mind” and reject God because they substitute a “constructed self” that defies nature and logic for God’s ordered creation. He said the same ideology of “expressive individualism” that gave us the ‘60s sexual revolution and the gay rights movement is now encouraging people to believe: “Our bodies are canvases. They’re tools for personal expression.”
The Help Not Harm virtual forum featured claims that contradict peer-reviewed scientific data.
Speakers claimed young people experiencing gender dysphoria actually become more suicidal when they seek to transition and will be less suicidal after their treatments are halted. One speaker said that young people who threaten suicide are engaging in “emotional blackmail,” and parents should “stand strong” in denying care.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah promised forum participants that he would “get rid of any grant programs
where they’re providing money for transgender research on children using U.S. taxpayer dollars.”
Autumn Leva insists that no one has been helped by transgender therapy or surgery, and no one will be harmed by “weaning” them from such treatment. She says 82,300 children have been protected so far in states enacting the Alliance’s bills.
But Utah governor Spencer Cox, who vetoed the sports legislation, said, “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.” The moderate Republican said his entire state had only four transgender kids playing high school sports, and only one was a biological male playing on a girls’ team. Legislators overrode Cox’s veto.
Alliance leaders say protecting children from harm motivates their legislation on trans issues, books, curriculum, and pornography, but its leaders say they have no plans to address gun violence, the leading cause of death among children and teens since 2020.
Nonprofits claim to be nonpartisan
The Alliance is a 501(c)4 nonprofit. IRS rules say such groups must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,” not partisan political activity, but it is a political powerhouse that helps elect only GOP candidates, who move their states to the right. Its website says it is “engaging directly in the frontline efforts of politics and policy.”
The Alliance’s sister organization, Family Policy Alliance Foundation, is a 501(c) 3 non-profit prohibited from excessive partisan activity. The Foundation operates the Statesman Academy, which has provided training to 150 alumni who now serve as Republican legislators in 35 states. Former Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) was a member of the first Statesman Academy class in 2016. Academy alumni overrode governors’ vetoes of Help Not Harm bills in both Arkansas and Kentucky.
The Alliance and the Foundation partner with a wide network of secular and religious conservative groups, including Heritage Foundation, Ethics and Public Policy Center, American Principles Project, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This spring, the Alliance brought together more than 100 socially conservative activist groups for its first-ever “SoConCon.”
State family policy councils endorsed Republican officials who promoted Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, participated in rallies in D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, helped Trump’s fake electors schemes, voted to overturn the popular vote in Congress, and refused to cooperate with the House investigation into Jan. 6. Derrick Evans, who was endorsed by the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, filmed himself illegally entering the Capitol, was later jailed, and has since published a book about the “grave injustices” he has faced. Alliance leaders say they cannot comment on the activities of its “independent” state affiliates.
Culture war or compassion?
Some Christians and congregations believe love and compassion are their best means of ministering to transgender people. But Alliance CEO Craig DeRoche seemed to suggest that Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbors doesn’t apply them during an interview on health-and-wealth preacher Andrew Wommack’s politically oriented Truth & Liberty Coalition program.
“I think any Christian that looks to scripture would say to somebody with gender dysphoria that I’m not better than that person, you know, and I have my own things where I fall short, and I’m supposed to love them, you know, my neighbor, as much as I love God, and we work to do that imperfectly. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about an ideology that’s manipulating people…and you have these politicians trying to take advantage of it, enforcing it on some people to make some people more equal than others. It’s sin…and it’s shocking.”
Leva says Christians should love trans individuals while making their opposition clear. “Churches that do not speak clearly on God’s design for marriage and sexuality in today’s culture, or churches that send mixed messages, are not shining the light in way that it needs to be shown,” she said. “We have a culture where a growing number of children believe the lie that they were born in the wrong body, wreaking devastation on families and on their own bodies. As believers, we can’t afford to sit that out. We have no choice but to oppose that.”
When asked which aspect of the transgender campaigns were most aligned with Christian principles, Leva said no one had ever asked that before, then replied, “Real Christian love means speaking the truth and pointing toward the truth,” not “the false gospel of the woke agenda.”
Navigating the parental rights paradox
The Alliance says it is committed to “protecting children’s relationships with their parents.” “Let parents parent,” they say. “The safest place for a child is with their loving and involved parents,” says its website. “Political or ideological efforts to drive wedges between children and their parents are not healthy.” The organization has long championed “parental rights” when it comes to restrictions on school curriculum and library books.
But Alliance leaders insist that parents’ rights end once they choose to harm their children by helping them transition. Leva made it clear that the Alliance legislation does not criminalize parents.
“Legislation that punishes or criminalizes parents who consent to gender interventions on their children is not and has never been our Help Not Harm model,” said Leva, “and we strongly and actively advise against it because parents are themselves often victims in this politicized agenda that provides parents no other options than so-called ‘gender affirming care.’”
But it does promote laws that prevent parents from exercising parental agency when it comes to deciding what’s best for their own kids. Many families in the states that passed Alliance-backed legislation have moved to other states so their kids can continue transition care that is now denied in their home states.
Down with “faceless bureaucrats,” up with loving, godly bureaucrats
Conservatives love to cite Ronald Reagan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The Alliance routinely condemns state meddling in family matters. “Faceless government bureaucrats claim they should be more involved in children’s intimate decisions than their parents,” says DeRoche.
Government workers also came under fire at the Help Not Harm forum, where one speaker said “bureaucrats don’t care at the end of the day. They just want to keep a job, get advancement, and then get their pension lined up…They don’t care if you get help or not.”
Apparently, the bureaucrats who support the Alliance are different. One GOP official claimed that caring, godly bureaucrats are better for some children than their own parents, according to reporting by Sarah Posner from Arkansas.
“Being a child is tough,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “But being a child with parents who don’t love you as parents are supposed to love you makes it even tougher. But fortunately for those young people there are folks like you all, like our legislators in Arkansas, and attorneys general like me, willing to stand up and fight for those children, and to protect them, because we know how God created that child and the future that God intended that child to have.”
Resurrecting the gay battle plan
Focus’s Amendment 2 campaign against the “gay agenda” was ugly and divisive. Gays were portrayed as sex-obsessed, immoral, perverted, ungodly, elitist, and unhealthy. They preyed on children. They were hellbent on destroying marriage and family. They wanted to use their “personal lifestyle choice” to seek “special rights” that other Americans don’t enjoy.
The Alliance’s campaign against “transgender ideology” follows some of the gay battle plan:
Craft a partisan political solution to a profoundly complex social, moral and theological issue.
Rally pastors and churches to embrace culture war activism as their means of engagement on the issue.
Exploit classical propaganda techniques to spur people to action.
Use this “galvanizing” issue to get voters to the polls to support “pro-family” Republicans.
The right to disagree?
After last November’s Club Q attack, vandals attacked a sign at Focus’s campus, scrawling a message in paint: “Their blood is on your hands. Five lives taken.”
Focus CEO Jim Daly called the vandalism “unwarranted,” telling Debbie Kelley of The Gazette: “We’re Christian folks following Scripture that indicates how we should behave and treat people, and how marriage is defined by God, as between a man and a woman. People have the right to disagree, and Focus and other Christians have the right to believe what they believe.”
But for citizens in the states where the Alliance’s trans legislation has been enacted, their
freedom to disagree is now limited by law.
[Adapted with permission from Baptist News Global]