Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

In response to a growing GLBT rights movement in North America, conservative, mostly Christian groups organized into a wave of antigay and antilesbian political activism in Canada and the United States. The wave has continued into the twenty-first century, nearly unabated.

Summary of Event

In the early 1970’s, groups fighting for the civil rights of gays and lesbians saw the Christian Right develop antigay and antilesbian groups in response. One such organization in Canada, the Halton Renaissance Committee, Halton Renaissance Committee formed in March of 1974 through the efforts of fundamentalist minister Ken Campbell. Angered by a speaking invitation extended by his daughters’ school to members of the Hamilton-McMaster Homophile Association, Hamilton-McMaster Homophile Association[Hamilton Macmaster Homophile Association] Campbell initially withdrew his children from the school system, organized his neighbors, and refused to pay school taxes. [kw]Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form (Mar. 5, 1974)
[kw]Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form, Antigay and (Mar. 5, 1974)
[kw]Organizations Begin to Form, Antigay and Antilesbian (Mar. 5, 1974)
Christian Right
Antigay movement
[c]Organizations and institutions;Mar. 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form[1040]
[c]Marches, protests, and riots;Mar. 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form[1040]
[c]Government and politics;Mar. 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form[1040]
[c]Civil rights;Mar. 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form[1040]
[c]Religion;Mar. 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form[1040]
Campbell, Ken
Bryant, Anita
Phelps, Fred

By 1978, Campbell had organized Renaissance International (now called Renaissance Canada), Renaissance Canada which sponsored American celebrity and antigay activist Anita Bryant—an entertainer who founded the 1970’s “Save Our Children” campaign in Florida—in a series of prayer rallies on a national tour. The tour, as well as fundamentalist Christian organizing and state repression of GLBT rights, fueled virulent homophobia following the murder of a Toronto shoeshine boy that was linked to “homosexual depravity.” In the United States in the same time period, local antigay groups had coalesced into larger organizations, such as Christian Voice, Christian Voice Religious Round Table, Religious Round Table and Moral Majority. Moral Majority In the United Kingdom, organizations, such as the Festival of Light, Festival of Light formed from similar origins.

By the 1980’s, these evolving groups went beyond antigay activities to promote what they described as a “pro-family” agenda: Through mainstream organizations such as the Christian Coalition Christian Coalition and the Promise Keepers, Promise Keepers the groups would protest abortion, pornography, and any proposals to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment. Drawing on a particular form of homophobia, evangelical Christians drew on a socially conservative ideology to decry the supposed destruction of the nuclear family. More militant and homophobic evangelical groups, such as the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church founded by Fred Phelps, are now monitored Christian Right;Southern Poverty Law Center and by the Southern Poverty Law Center Southern Poverty Law Center in Atlanta, Georgia, as hate groups.

This evolving network of organizations made broad media appeals and overt forays into the political realm, but with mixed results. In 1989, Campbell described Renaissance International as a bankrupt religious charity and stopped his fight with Canada’s revenue department over the organization’s tax-exempt status and questionable participation in various election campaigns against progay candidates. The matter went all the way to Canada’s Court of Appeal. In 1991, Campbell registered as a candidate in the Toronto mayoral election, to assist, he said, an antigay candidate in the defeat of two other candidates he classified as progay. In the United States, evangelicals are politically well organized. The late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw a significant increase in commercial religious broadcasting from these groups as well as involvement in various local and state antigay initiatives.

By the late 1990’s, Campbell became director of Canada’s Civilized Majority, Civilized Majority a coalition of conservative religious groups that in 1998 produced an advertisement that protested a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that Alberta must protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. In 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission rejected a complaint that alleged the advertisement produced hatred and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In 1999, Campbell publicly expressed support for the group Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism (HOPE) and their participation in the 2000 Halton GLBT pride celebration. In the United States in 2004, various religious-right organizations, as well as President George W. Bush, clamored for a vote before the presidential election for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define “marriage” as being between a woman and a man. While the vote did not transpire, the issue did prompt the passing of eleven state initiatives in November of 2004, banning lesbian and gay marriages, civil unions, or both.


The Halton Renaissance Committee continues to have a local, regional, and national impact as well as a relationship to the broader GLBT rights movement. In addition to continued involvement and intervention in local “morality” issues, the committee’s successor organization represents a trend in social movement dynamics that typifies liberation struggles. For instance, in 1996, Renaissance Canada—successor to Renaissance International—protested the decision of Milton District High School in Ontario, Canada, to use Joyce Carol Oates’s novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (1993) because of what opponents viewed as explicit sexual content. Campbell has claimed to have influenced book decisions in a number of cases involving several Canadian schools. In addition, the organization—and Campbell—had ties to a variety of other conservative pro-family organizations.

For the broader GLBT rights movement, the formation of groups such as Renaissance Canada may be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they represent a conservative response to progressive reforms. On the other hand, they provide an opportunity for the revitalization of GLBT organizations and the potential for wider media exposure of pivotal GLBT rights issues. Extreme organizations such as those of Phelps and vitriolic rhetoric such as that produced by Campbell, often have the effect of mobilizing politically on behalf of GLBT rights. However, the emergence of these groups has also shifted the battle for GLBT rights from federal venues to venues at the local and state level, where regional cultural differences have made many battles difficult. Christian Right
Antigay movement

Further Reading

  • Adam, Barry. The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement. 1987. Reprint. New York: Twayne, 1995.
  • Rimmerman, Craig A., Kenneth D. Wald, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. The Politics of Gay Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • Smith, Miriam. Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movements and Equality Seeking, 1971-1995. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  • Staggenborg, Suzanne. Gender, Family, and Social Movements. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 1997.
  • Werum, Regina, and Bill Winders. “Who’s ’In’ and Who’s ’Out’? State Fragmentation and the Struggle over Gay Rights, 1974-1999.” Social Problems 48, no. 3 (2001): 386-410.
  • Witt, Stephanie, and Suzanne McCorkle. Anti-Gay Rights: Assessing Voter Initiatives. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

February 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes

April 19, 1967: First Student Homophile League Is Formed

August 11-18, 1968: NACHO Formally Becomes the First Gay Political Coalition

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

November 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

October 18, 1973: Lambda Legal Authorized to Practice Law

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

March-April, 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash