New York City is perhaps the last place on Earth you’d expect to find a gigantic “No Gays Allowed” billboard, but one glance at the skyscrapers above Times Square will reveal just that. But far from promoting LGBTQ exclusion and persecution in American culture, the billboard’s goal is quite the opposite: Commissioned by a queer advocacy group called Citizens for Transparency, it directs people to the site NoGays.org, aimed at outing a heretofore in-the-shadows organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is hellbent on fighting gay rights tooth and nail.
Just below the words “No Gays Allowed,” the billboard reads, “Stop Alliance Defending Freedom. Learn more at NoGays.org.” The billboard went up earlier this week and is expected to keep its NYC home through February.
“We want to remind people that there are still really insidious forces at work against our community,” Citizens for Transparency spokesperson Caleb Cade tells NBC News. “ADF has been leading that war for a long time, with tens of millions of dollars to do it.”
Labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and in operation for more than two decades, ADF has its fingers in nearly every anti-gay initiative you can think of: the criminalization of homosexuality and gay sex, destroying laws that prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people, and — the cause célèbre of so many bad-meaning bigots — restriction of the trans community’s bathroom rights.
Among the founders of ADF are the “influential Christians” who have written such laughable books as Marriage Under Fire and The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. Another man behind ADF is James Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family, an organization that has caused irreparable harm to the LGBTQ community.
Alliance Defending Freedom has remained largely ‘under the radar’ until fairly recently, as the Southern Poverty Law Center tells NBC it only learned of the hateful organization in 2013, when it was advising anti-gay overseas organizations on how to keep laws criminalizing gay sex on the books.
But ADF and its attempts at criminalizing LGBTQ people stretches back at least as far as the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas, which finally struck down all of the country’s anti-sodomy laws. The nonprofit hate group submitted an amicus brief in support of keeping those outdated laws on the books.
It turns out that ADF is a fan of amicus briefs, having submitted them in nearly every landmark LGBTQ rights decision of America’s highest court: Obergefell v. Hodges, which ultimately brought gay marriage to the Untied States nationwide, and U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA.
With gay marriage now a secured right among Americans — and with states’ trans “bathroom bills,” the model for which was drafted by ADF, failing to accomplish their goals — ADF has shifted to what is seemingly the new battleground for LGBTQ protections, religious freedom laws.
According to SPLC, the group’s focus is on ensuring that businesses and individuals do not have to serve LGBTQ people if they cite religion. That was the argument at the heart of last year’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision in Colorado, which — surprise, surprise — ADF argued in front of the Supreme Court successfully.
In other cases making their way through the judicial process now, ADF takes the side of employers who have removed employees for being LGBTQ, and represents employees suing an employer with non-discrimination employment provisions.
NBC points out that the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, considers ADF “the most relentlessly extreme anti-trans law group. … If there’s an outrageous and ill-founded lawsuit happening against trans people, it’s usually the ADF.”
Despite ADF being the big-budgeted organization behind much of the anti-LGBTQ strife in the United States, its shadowy nature has kept most Americans from ever being able to call it out. Hence the “No Gays Allowed” billboard erected in Times Square. Citizens for Transparency — made up of big-name queer advocates including former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, executive director of GLSEN Eliza Byard and founder of Freedom to Marry Evan Wolfson — wants to make Alliance Defending Freedom a household name.
About the “No Gays Allowed” billboard, Quinn tells NBC, “It’s going to lead people to ask questions, and that’s really important — to start a conversation, and to have that conversation be in response to this billboard, not the messaging of the ADF.”
Have you seen the “No Gays Allowed” billboard in NYC? Ever heard of ADF?
Featured image by Tim Fitzsimons for NBC News