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Former No on 8 operative to study “harms children” argument

Marriage equality

By Adam Bink

As we continually have robust discussions about the recurring presence of the “gay marriage will harm your children; force them to learn horrible things in school” argument, there’s a new research project examining how to get past it. Bay Area Reporter:

Armed with a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation, the Face Value project is on a mission to change the way Americans think and feel about LGBT people.

The grant, said Julie R. Davis, executive director of the project, “really demonstrates a real forward thinking approach on the part of the Ford [Foundation].”

The San Francisco-based Face Value, a project of the Tides Foundation, received the $730,000 grant last October. It was one of six awardees of the two-year grants designed to examine children and sexuality.

“This is a major undertaking for Face Value to both support political work and cultural attitudes toward queer people,” said Amanda Decetise, a nonprofit consultant who worked with Davis and the advisory committee to craft the proposal. “It’s a beautiful thing and particularly around the fact that it’s about children. It’s very timely given the bullying that’s been going on over the last several months.”

Face Value will examine the “harms children” argument that anti-gay opponents have successfully used in political and social campaigns for the past 30 years, said Davis.

Face Value is affiliated with Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. The project plans to get to the heart of anti-gay attacks using interdisciplinary in-depth research to produce revamped educational materials and messages to aid organizations with eradicating homophobia.

For the first time ever a consortium of leading academics, researchers, communications strategists, and select community-based organizations convened in April at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston to launch the project.

The Ford Foundation grant is really looking at how we move beyond this “harms children trigger,” said Davis. The foundation, which has a long history of funding groundbreaking sexuality research, really got the connection between sexuality, children, and LGBT individuals and the need to shift public perception in a revolutionary way, noted Davis.

“We know [due to] over 30 years experience that the issue of children is a winner for our opposition,” that when children enter the conversation “people will instantly go to this place of anxiety and fear and completely shift how they are reacting to an issue or to actual people they know in their lives that are gay and lesbian,” said Davis.


The mission of Face Value is to “figure out how we can move the culture, to move the attitudes about us as people so that our lived experiences change,” said Davis, knowing it’s an impossible goal for LGBT individuals to have a personal impact on more than 308 million Americans.

Davis wants to find the “underlying” barriers, attitudes, and beliefs that make people “incredibly uncomfortable” about the normalization of queer people and find the trigger points to “actually tip those feelings,” she said. It’s her goal to create, enhance, and reshape “positive associations with LGBT people” to use with new communication models that work as effectively as a “personal connection,” that will speak to a diverse range of individuals and communities.

Born out of 2008’s Proposition 8 battle, Face Value is Davis’s hope for the future of LGBT individuals. Davis, then the northern California manager for the No on 8 campaign, and her colleague, Anne C. Marks, came to a revelation during the fight to save same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 was passed by voters and amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. That law is now being challenged in federal court.

After years of activism and making key observations during the Prop 8 battle, Davis said, “I really came to understand that we’ve reached this threshold.”

Davis was the founder of Basic Rights Oregon and the campaign organizer behind that state’s successful No on 13 campaign in 1994 to defeat a proposed law prohibiting laws protecting gays.

“We’ve reached this feeling of what we could accomplish in terms of shifting public attitudes by simply changing laws and policies,” said Davis. That feeling compelled her to “take a step back” and take another look at the state of the LGBT movement. While she values the “incredible” legal and legislative advancements in LGBT rights, Davis believes that “laws alone will not help us achieve the cultural transformation that we need,” she said.


The next phase of the project was launched this spring with a think tank session that tackled deep-seated issues about children, sexuality, and public opinions about children’s contact with LGBT individuals. It was the first of many discussions that will take place over the next two years.

Harvard hosted the meeting a week after a controversial conference Social Transformation, dubbed the “Hate Conference” by Truth Wins Out, an organization that defends the LGBT community “against anti-gay misinformation campaigns. TWO spoke out against Social Transformation, spearheaded by a group that called itself the Seven Mountains program, by mobilizing constituents and placing an ad in the Harvard Crimson , according to a TWO news release.

Similar to TWO’s work to “turn information into action by organizing, advocating and fighting for LGBT equality,” according to its website, Cordoba and Davis hope that Face Value’s work will yield important insights that will be a new antidote to anti-LGBT groups’ “punch,” in the form of educational tools organizations could use to “actually shift the public discourse,” said Davis.

It’ll be interesting to see the results.


  • 1. Thom  |  July 7, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Great approach — but I wonder if Davis's history as an activist will give the other side armor to negate findings.

  • 2. Ozymandias71  |  July 7, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Here's some info from TWO on the Seven Mountains program – this Dominion/Christian Reconstructionist 'Let's remake America into the Christian Afghanistan' stuff is crazy-scary:

    As for the 'harms the children' study, I applaud it – this has to be the single hardest thing to overcome. It seems that no matter how many hard facts we provide to the contrary, too many people are still thinking 'Yeah, but what if…?'

  • 3. Straight Ally #3008  |  July 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    That's the face of would-be American theocracy. Horrifying. Remember, the far-right presidential candidates' favorite "historian," David Barton, advocates this.

  • 4. MarcosLB  |  July 7, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Here is a film that came out awhile back that I always thought should be required viewing for everyone.
    Not sure if this trailer does it justice.

    [youtube PWyj_OfQpnU youtube]

  • 5. Gregory in SLC  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Awesome! hoping to watch full-length movie! tx!

  • 6. Lodi Gal  |  July 7, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Thank you soooo much for posting that. I'm going to ask permission to screen this for the staff at my school. Our district is one of those abstinence only sex ed and hyper-conservative locales. We can't even mention gays. Seriously. And homophobic bullying is rampant, not only with students, but amongst a small, ignorant contingent of the staff as well. I've already spoken out in staff meetings, but that was not enough and viewing a film such as this will really drive home the issue. Crossing all fingers that I will be permitted to show this.

  • 7. Straight Ally #3008  |  July 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Can't help but think of the Credence Clearwater Revival song. Good on ya for fighting the good fight!

  • 8. juliecason (JC)  |  July 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Thank you for sharing. When the little kid at the end said, "What's the big whoop?" I found myself just grinning like crazy. Thanks for that!

  • 9. Don in Texas  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

    "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is in its death throes; DOMA has been declared unconstitutional by at least three federal courts; Proposition 8 has been declared unconstitutional and is headed for repeal; ENDA stands a good chance of enactment and LGBT people are more visible today in all media than they ever have been been.

    All of this augers well for us and our future.

  • 10. Ronnie  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Subscribing & sharing….CNN's Adriana Hauser interviewed Josh & Henry after they received the news that Henry's deportation case was dropped…… <3…Ronnie:

    [youtube SWHMHwHiOdA youtube]

  • 11. Gregory in SLC  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Justice Department strongly backs gays on marriage:

  • 12. Kate  |  July 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

    If I were Golinski's partner, I would have changed my last name years ago………

  • 13. Gregory in SLC  |  July 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

    ; ) ( Hi Mama Guinea! )

  • 14. Ann S.  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:53 am


  • 15. Jason  |  July 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I think the group doing the study should seek individuals who where brought up in a gay family like my Sisters son who is getting ready to head off to collage to become a Dr. He is a fantastic, smart, and very loving kid…

  • 16. Sheryl, Mormon Mom  |  July 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Jason, I agree with that. I also think that in the campaigns for marriage equality, those children should be featured in ads talking about how their parents lack of marriage equality affected the family. Also talking about the beliefs they were raised with (i.e., were they taught that heterosexuality was wrong).

  • 17. candide001  |  July 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Better late than never.

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