Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the ultra-conservative, anti-gay Illinois Family Institute ( IFI ) , is leaving his position to re-launch a group he founded in 1996, Americans for Truth ( AFT ) , an anti-gay group left dormant for a number of years.
Taking his place is former IFI senior policy analyst Dave Smith, who is very involved in Protect Marriage Illinois' downhill battle to place an anti-gay marriage referendum on the November ballot. Protect Marriage Illinois ( PMI ) is a sister organization to IFI. Although some members of the GLBT community feel that LaBarbera was pushed out due to the failure of the referendum under his leadership, as well as other items on IFI's agenda, LaBarbera told Windy City Times these claims are 'totally erroneous,' and that he simply wants to focus on AFT, a group with a specifically focused anti-gay agenda.
LaBarbera added in a voicemail to Windy City Times that the theory does not make sense, considering one of PMI's key leaders has been promoted to head IFI.
'I am delighted that soon I will be able to devote my full time and energies to Americans for Truth and its goal of educating citizens on the threat that the powerful and well-funded GLBT movement poses to children, marriage and freedom,' LaBarbera posted on the AFT Web site. 'Homosexual, bisexual and transsexual groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year to market and normalize their abhorrent lifestyles, yet after all these years there is not a single, serious national group dedicated specifically to exposing and countering their agendas.'
Bob Schwartz of Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) sees LaBarbera's departure as a large victory for the GLBT community. 'We consider this resignation to be a significant event. It's a defeat for the right wing in Illinois.'
Schwartz and GLN feel that LaBarbera didn't so much resign, but was pushed out by IFI members for 'massively miscalculating' on the anti-gay marriage referendum, wasting a large amount of money and time. They also speculate that LaBarbera's failure to get African-American churches to come on board, and his obsession countering the 'homosexual agenda' in a multi-issue group such as IFI, caused the group to toss its leader. Furthermore, Schwartz said, many pro-gay groups like GLN continuously counter-protested IFI's every move—particularly during its 'haphazardly thrown together' Gay Games protests—often outnumbering the anti-gay group and causing it to lose steam.
'We think LaBarbera has been told to hit the road,' Schwartz added.
According to IFI, that's not the case. 'They don't have their facts right, and its all just speculation on their part,' Smith told Windy City Times with a laugh. 'Besides, we don't consider the marriage amendment a failure,' he continued. 'We gathered over 400,000 signatures.'
On Aug. 11, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that it would not certify PMI's measure to place a non-binding anti-gay marriage referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot. When the state took a sample of the signatures collected, only 91 percent of the signatures were valid. The state requires that 95 percent of the signatures collected be valid.
Smith added that the Illinois State Board of Elections 'squashed' IFI's First Amendment rights, and described their laws as 'draconian.' He said IFI will continue to fight the decision, and hopes the 7th Circuit Court will rule in its favor.
Smith insists LaBarbera's departure was a personal decision, and IFI did not give him the boot. 'Peter has this desire to take on this effort,' Smith said. 'Anyone who knows Peter knows this is his heart's desire—to seek the truth and expose the homosexual agenda for what it is.'
Smith described LaBarbera's Americans for Truth as the right's equivalent to the Human Rights Campaign because it has a narrow focus, and wished LaBarbera the best.
Right-wing conservative organizations have a habit of shuffling their leaders around. Take, for instance, LaBarbera, who had been a higher-up for Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council before coming to the IFI.
AFT, formerly known as Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, was founded in 1996 by LaBarbera, and was based in Washington, D.C. In August of 2000, AFT was incorporated into 'ex-gay' Michael Johnson's Kerusso Ministries. Now located in suburban Naperville, AFT will focus on countering the 'homosexual agenda.' On board is Matt Barber, who gained national attention when he was fired from Allstate Insurance Company for writing an anti-gay article.
Schwartz doubts that AFT will obtain the power it seeks. 'I doubt there's room for another anti-gay group,' he said.
AFT recently received a $1,000 grant from The Pro-Family Charitable Trust of Abiding Truth Ministries for re-launching.