The Anti-LGBTQ and Anti-Union Connection in the Northwest

In our work tracking extremist organizations, the Northwest Accountability Project has uncovered links between anti-union organizations and those driving anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the Northwest. Many of the same people, organizations, elected officials and funders engage in both anti-union and anti-LGBTQ activity. This link reaffirms something we’ve long known: that the organizations seeking to silence workers have every intention of attacking the progressive community, including groups that support LGBTQ rights, women’s health, environmental justice, and criminal justice. Their strategy is to attack unions, to attack these values, and push a radical agenda in order to elect right-wing candidates. Period.

Take, for instance, the Freedom Foundation, which has engaged in a failed campaign to undermine public sector unions in the Northwest over the past five years. Their CEO, Tom McCabe, is a long-time right-wing operative in Washington state. McCabe has stated this very goal on the record, saying that he wants to “bankrupt unions” on behalf of right-wing candidates and funders. McCabe has often repeated this refrain once saying: “we need to fight unions.’ Because unions have corrupted our state [Washington], they have ensured that we’re the bluest state in the country.”

Let’s put aside for the moment that what McCabe is saying is clearly in violation of their public charity status (tax-exempt organizations like the Freedom Foundation are prohibited from engaging in political activity). A deeper look at the Freedom Foundation funders, the few radical legislative allies (full disclosure, we can count their allies on one hand), as well as McCabe and his staff’s political affiliations, reveals that anti-LGBTQ sentiment lies in the underpinnings of their goals. Take the Murdock Charitable Trust, an anti-LGBTQ foundation based in Southwest Washington. In addition to funding the Freedom Foundation, they fund a slew of dangerous and discriminatory organizations including the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), one of the biggest anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the county. The Murdock Trust has also funded the Portland Fellowship, a provider of the horrific and debunked practice of “conversion therapy.” The Murdock Trust has recently been in hot water for the funding of anti-union and anti-LGBTQ organizations.

Beyond financial ties, the Freedom Foundation staff have a history of extremism when it comes to LGBTQ rights. They have publicly argued against the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, calling it “a threat to personal freedom.”  The Freedom Foundation’s legal team has included a significant number of former “Blackstone Legal Fellows,” a training program of ADF, the anti-LGBTQ hate group. At an AIDS awareness and action day at the state capitol in Olympia, WA, one of their current board members hurled a homophobic slur at children living with HIVThe group included a 13-year-old child and a 16-year-old child.

While the Freedom Foundation remains a pariah in most legislative circles, they managed to find a handful of legislative allies to carry their water in Olympia and Salem. Not surprisingly, these electeds hold regressive views on LGBTQ rights. One example is State Senator John Braun (R- SD 20) who is a staunch supporter of the Freedom Foundation and a leader on anti-LGBTQ legislation in Washington. Earlier in 2019 he voted against a bill that would make conversion therapy for minors illegal. Another is Oregon State Representative Mike Nearman (R-HD 23), a legislator who is as rabidly anti-LGBTQ as he is anti-union. He was one of two representatives opposed to bi-partisan legislation that updated anti-trans language in Oregon statute.

Now, most recently, the Freedom Foundation has built a pipeline for new employees from the controversial, anti-LGBTQ Corban University in Salem. McCabe sent his son to school at Corban. The younger McCabe’s best friend Aaron Withe, also a Corban graduate, was given the job of Oregon Director for the Freedom Foundation. Today, most Freedom Foundation Oregon staffers are alumni of this regressive institution. We have written recently about our investigations into the disgraceful anti-LGBTQ policies of Corban University, which among other things asks LGBTQ students to remain celibate and endorses the practice of conversion therapy.

Though the anti-LGBTQ movement and the anti-union movement may seem different on their face, the link between them is undeniable. The labor movement provides a powerful voice for all workers including those who face discrimination in the workplace and in their daily lives. By actively seeking to destroy it, groups like the Freedom Foundation hope to depress the rights of workers to build a better future for themselves and their families. The good news is that the Freedom Foundation has not only failed to break the labor movement, but their attacks are making unions stronger. And that’s a good thing for the LGBTQ community in America and the Northwest.