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Vander Plaats prompts PFLAG Blue Bunny boycott
A gay rights advocacy group is launching a boycott against Wells Enterprises — owners of Blue Bunny Ice Cream — for contributions the corporation’s chief executive has made in support of The Family Leader‘s CEO Bob Vander Plaats.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — PFLAG — has also written an open letter to Vander Plaats, seeking an apology from the conservative activist for laughing at an off-color joke made by an attendee at a recent TFL event: “Iowa, the state where you can’t smoke a fag, but you can marry one.”
Vander Plaats’s actions were seen on video recently obtained by liberal advocacy group Think Progress.
Difference of opinions are allowed, but not without financial consequence, Dean Genth, of Mason City, warned Friday. Genth, an openly gay president of the Iowa Coalition of PFLAG Chapters, is behind the Blue Bunny boycott. Members of the Wells family, owners of the dairy mogul, have donated about $500,000 — mostly to Vander Plaats’s three gubernatorial runs, but also to the Iowa Family Center PAC, a political action committee with ties to The Family Leader, which was previously known as the Iowa Family Policy Center.
Prior to becoming head of The Family Leader, Vander Plaats unsuccessfully pursued political office and also formed Iowans for Freedom, a statewide group predominantly funded by out-of-state anti-gay interests to combat a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that essentially allowed gays and lesbians to legally enter into civil marriages. The end result was the ouster of three justices, standing for 2010 retention votes.
Vander Plaats, acting on behalf of The Family Leader, has toured the state in the wake of the 2010 election “building on the momentum” of the ousters, and the organization has lobbied for impeachment of the remaining justices that took part in the unanimous 2009 decision as well as an amendment that would write a ban on same-sex marriage into the Iowa Constitution.
“People are becoming more compassionate about calling people out about this hate speech, and to people who want to take away people’s marriage equality and rights,” Genth told The Iowa Independent Friday. “People want to jump on whatever organization they can to prevent Iowa from becoming a state that embeds discrimination in its constitution.”
Genth has also written a open letter to Vander Plaats, asking for an apology:
Open Letter And A Call For An Apology From Mr. Vanderplaats (sic)
Your outrageous and derogatory comments have no place in the public debate about moving forward with equality for our LGBT citizens. I respectfully ask you to consider the harm you are causing legions of family members and allies of the LGBT citizenry throughout the state of Iowa and around the country. Your words have been inflammatory and hurtful.
As President of the Iowa Coalition of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), I am calling upon you to issue an apology to our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Iowans for your hurtful comments and actions.
This vulgarity must cease.
We await your sincere apology,
Dean A. Genth, President
Iowa Coalition of PFLAG Chapters
The letter was sent Thursday morning; as of Friday afternoon, Genth said he had not heard from Blue Bunny or Vander Plaats. While Genth was hopeful about hearing a response, he indicated that he does not expect one.
“I’m not going to cancel any plans waiting for one,” he said.
Blue Bunny, for their part, issued the following statement, making a distinction between the company’s and the owners’ actions:
Blue Bunny and Wells Enterprises have never donated money to Bob Vander Plaat’s (sic) political campaign. Everyone, including our employees, has a right to support political activities within their role as a private citizen. What our employees support personally is in no way an endorsement by our brand or our company.
One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights advocacy organization, is also attempting to get an apology from Vander Plaats: nearly 1,400 have signed a petition, and the group is seeking financial donations to push back.
“This week, we saw Bob Vander Plaats, the Family Leader, and their supporters for what they truly are — a pack of bullies,” One Iowa’s executive director Troy Price wrote in a letter seeking support. “It is up to each and every one of us to stand up to their derogatory and hurtful actions, and fight to preserve the rights of all Iowans.”
Criticism also rising from the rightWhile it may come as little shock to know groups advocating for gay rights are at odds with Vander Plaats and The Family Leader, the criticism isn’t limited to those on the left.
Reporter Jason Clayworth with The Des Moines Register obtained an email sent by Iowa House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Kaufmann to Vander Plaats. Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican, served as Cedar County chairman for Vander Plaats’ failed gubernatorial bid.
Pledging to “share my opinion with many,” Kaufmann warns officials at The Family Leader that their “integrity is in question” and “political credibility is waning to the point of no impact.” Kaufmann also advises that the group should “keep your primary threats to yourself,” because he no longer believes the group carries enough respect in Iowa to carry out such threats.
Speaking to Clayworth, Kaufmann added that he’s “had it with their veiled threats toward people that won’t sign their pledges and do not vote they way they say.”
As The Iowa Independent previously reported, Vander Plaats has publicly stated lawmakers who disagree with his and The Family Leader’s positions are at risk of primary challenges. The rhetoric has only increased since The Family Leader placed its “The Marriage Vow” pledge onto its website in order to gather support signatures from the general public. Those signing the document are not only pledging to abide by the vow, but to deny support and their vote from any politician or elected official that refuses to sign the pledge.
“I think Bob Vander Plaats is more about Bob Vander Plaats than pushing any kind of selfless agenda,” Kaufmann concluded.
(Lynda Waddington contributed to this report.)