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Vander Plaats denies involvement in anti-gay seminars
IOWA CITY — Saying that he is touring the state in order to speak truth in a loving way, the man behind one of the state’s largest socially conservative political networks denied Monday that he had anything to do with a seminar series that presented homosexuality and its “second-hand effects” as a public health threat.
But the organization’s website continues to advertise the seminars, and the leadership of its subsidiaries have repeatedly said homosexuality is as dangerous as second-hand smoke.
Bob Vander Plaats, who heads The Family Leader, pushed back during a press conference when his guest, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was asked if he agreed with the seminar’s conclusion that homosexuality is a bigger public health threat than smoking.
“I want to listen again to the premise of this question,” said Vander Plaats, interrupting before Pawlenty could speak, “because I don’t believe we’ve held any conferences on smoking.”
During a back-and-forth with the reporter, who represented Iowa Public Radio, Vander Plaats asked if the question was result of a posting on the “Good As You” blog, and then noted that he and The Family Leader were not responsible for what may have appeared on that website.
“The Family Leader has not been a part of that [seminar series],” Vander Plaats said. “The Family Leader — as a matter of fact, I’m the president and CEO of it — started in November 2010.
“Here’s what we are about: We’re about anything that works to strengthen families. We want to speak the truth, but we want to do it in love. We aren’t about being extremist, or about being fearful, or about being hateful. We are just about being truth and love. We are trying to be authentic in encouraging strong marriages and strong families, and have a voice in public policy. So, we are going to stand up for what we are for, not what we are against. I’m telling you, as the president and CEO, we’ve held none of that.”
Vander Plaats said in the press conference, and confirmed during a one-on-one interview with The Iowa Independent following the Pawlenty appearance, that The Family Leader had no role in the seminars many deemed so controversial, saying it could be a product of the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC). The Family Leader is an umbrella organization that includes IFPC and the formerly federally funded counseling program Marriage Matters.
“We have not held seminars on that,” Vander Plaats told The Iowa Independent during the follow-up interview. “My guess would be that maybe it was something done earlier… you know, ‘The Other Effects’ — I don’t know how they (the IFPC) phrased it. I was not aware of it.”
Vander Plaats said he interrupted the question during the press conference because he believed it to be “an uncomfortable position” for Pawlenty, “especially since it was about something that I was not aware of.”
When asked by The Iowa Independent how a blogger posted a screen shot of The Family Leader’s website with information about the seminar series, Vander Plaats pledged to look into it.
Chuck Hurley, who leads the Iowa Family Policy Center, made the charge in March 2010 that gay marriage was more dangerous than smoking.
“The Iowa Legislature outlawed smoking [in some public places] in an effort to improve health and reduce the medical costs that are often passed on to the state,” Hurley said at that time. “The second-hand impacts of certain homosexual acts are arguably more destructive, and potentially more costly to society than smoking.”
Days later the IFPC published information in its blog entitled: “What’s Worse — Smoking or Sodomy?”
A website promoting the seminar series indicates that sessions have been held in at least 11 Iowa cities, but no dates are provided. Downloads available on the “Second-Hand Effects” website make several public health claims about homosexuality. The first such claim — that being a homosexual reduces an individual’s life span — was used by conservative radio host Jan Mickelson in February 2010 as he introducing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Vander Plaats at an event in Des Moines, and has been widely discredited.
Although Vander Plaats denied direct involvement in the seminars, he made no comment to either support or reject their subject matter.