|No anti-gay apps here...|
It seemed like a good cause: Participating companies like Microsoft and Apple could give consumers a chance to support religious charities when they purchased goods and services by participating in the Christian Values Network, a link referral service.
Other corporations also participated: Macy’s, Netflix, REI, even cable channel BBC America.
But when it came out that virulently anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel, Abiding Truth Ministries, and others were exploiting the service to rake in funding, big-name corporations started dropping out of the service -- fast.
In part, the exodus was fueled by the fact that the groups mentioned above, plus others drawing funds from the service, such as the Family Research Council and Summit Ministries, have reportedly been identified as "hate groups" by watchdog group the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported Advocate.com on July 15.
An online petition started through Change.org by Stuart Wilber convinced Microsoft to pull its support of CVN, stopping its contribution to the revenue streams that were flowing into the coffers of groups that had engaged in "blatant and repeated homophobic lies about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people."
Ben Crowther -- who, like Wilber, lives in Seattle -- started a petition of his own through the site, encouraging Apple to drop its support of CVN. A July 27 press release from Change.org reported that Apple followed suit, pulling its iTunes store out of CVN and following the example set by numerous other companies, including Wells Fargo, Macy’s, and BBC America.
"The previous petition to get Microsoft to drop its association with CVN directly inspired me to petition Apple," Crowther told EDGE. "My good friend and fellow activist Stuart Wilber was behind the Microsoft petition. When I read his petition and saw Apple was part of the CVN, especially after Microsoft dropped out, I knew that another petition needed to be started. So with the inspiration from Stuart and the help from my friend Joe Mirabella at Change.org, the petition was born."
Change.org reported on the earlier dissolution of corporate support for CVN in a July 18 article.
"Macy’s serves a diverse society," a spokesperson for the retail outlet told the online petition site. "As such, we are deeply committed to a philosophy of inclusion in the way we operate our business and support our communities. We welcome all customers into our stores."
Wells Fargo told Change.org they had pulled out of CVN because "it was not compliant with Wells Fargo’s brand and marketing [standards]."
"BBC America Shop was not aware of CVN.org’s current donation policies," VP of Publicity April Mulcair old a British GLBT news outlet. "We have ended our relationship with this affiliate effective immediately."
"The Focus on the Family website contains anti-gay and anti-transgender content. They describe being gay as ’a particularly evil lie of Satan,’ " reported Change.org. "They also attack transgender people."
While Wilber’s petition picked up 500 signatures in a single day, Crowther’s petition seeking Apple’s exit from the arrangement with CVN commanded 13,000 signatures in one day, noted Change.org.
"I wonder if Apple is even aware they are being used to raise money for these homophobic groups," Crowther, a student at Western Washington University, said at the time. "It is so out of character for Apple to be associated with groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. I hope Apple acts quickly to remove their store from the Christian Values Network."
On July 27, Change.org reported that Apple had indeed dropped CVN, with over 22,000 people having signed on to Crowther’s petition.
"From the beginning, I knew that once this issue was brought to Apple’s attention, they would not want to be a part of CVN because it funds anti-gay hate groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council," Crowther told Change.org. "Apple is a fair-minded business. I’m glad this petition helped make Apple aware of this issue, and I am thrilled that they removed iTunes from CVN."
Crowther had a personal stake in his effort to ensure that GLNT-friendly companies like Apple and unwary iTunes shoppers did not inadvertently lend their financial support to anti-gay groups. Change.org reported that Crowther and his boyfriend came out in high school, and were promptly targeted for homophobic bullying.
"The harassment got so bad I had to go to the principal," Crowther, who will begin his junior year in the fall, recounted.
The bullying continued into college, with homophobic epithets being scrawled on Crowther’s door. He finally had to move out of the dorms "because the bullying was so bad," he told Change.org.
Crowther told EDGE that there are definite parallels between what he has suffered in school at the hands of homophobic bullies and the way that GLBTs in society at large are treated by anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family.
"These hate groups are creating the same oppressive and unwelcoming environment that bullies do in school," the young man said.
This is not the first time that pro-equality advocates have turned to Change.org. Earlier this year, petitions launched via the site convinced Apple to pull an iPhone app from Exodus International, a group that claims gays and lesbians can be "choose" heterosexuality.
The Exodus app was popularly perceived as "gay cure" via smart phone, said a March 22 NW32.com article from Denver news channel KWGH.
However, Exodus International characterized the app as a resource for users who wished to find relief from "unwanted same sex attractions," in the words of spokesperson Jeff Buchanan.
Among other things, the app listed dates and locations for Love Won Out, a workshop sponsored by anti-gay group Focus on the Family. Its seminars claim that with prayer and therapy, gays can "convert" to heterosexuality. Love Won Out has made the controversial assertion that "same-sex attraction is a preventable and treatable condition."
Truth Wins Out, an organization headed by Wayne Besen that counters Love Won Out, started a petition for the app’s removal from iTunes and quickly gathered more than 150,000 signatures, Less than a week elapsed between the petition’s launch at Change.org and the app being taken down.
"Dr. Gary Remafedi -- a Univ. of Minnesota professor who claims that findings from his research were distorted by Exodus International -- also requested that Apple remove the app from the App Store," Techland.com reported in a March 23 article.
Supporters noted that the app had a rating of 4+, meaning that it did "not contain objectionable content," but critics noted that this only means that supporters of the application had voted en masse for that rating to be assigned.
"The real issue: Apple has no coherent policy about what kind of content gets approved and remains in iTunes," said Cult of Mac in a March 22 article.
Cult of Mac was among the first sites to report that the app had disappeared. "Our obsessive checking for it just showed that poof! The Exodus International app was no more," the article stated.
Exodus International signaled defeat with a tweet from Alan Chambers, president of the group, who sent a message reading "It’s official, the @ExodusInl App is no longer in the @AppStore. Incredibly disappointing. Watch out, it could happen to you. #freedom"
Chambers also issued a statement to the effect that Christians suffer persecution, but that it is part of their role as defenders of God’s word and exemplars of compassion and patience.
"If we [gathered] 150,000 signature to pull [a gay] app, it would be seen as intolerant and homophobic," said Chambers, according to a March 23 Christianity Today article. "We wouldn’t do that because we believe of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the public sphere. As Christians, we bear the brunt of it because the other side sees it as an antiquated expression."
Anti-gay religious organizations have long claimed that legal and social equality for gays could only come at the cost of freedom of religious expression. But opponents of the app said that it promoted "hatred and bigotry."
Besen had spoken out earlier about another app, Confession: A Roman Catholic App, which asked users to reflect upon their sins by asking questions such as, "Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?" Besen said that the app promoted not virtue, but rather "neurosis."
"This is cyber spiritual abuse that promotes backward ideas in a modern package," Besen charged. "Gay Catholics don’t need to confess, they need to come out of the closet and challenge anti-gay dogma."
Saying that the application was "helping to create neurotic individuals who are ashamed of who they are," Besen slammed the very notion of homosexuality as being inherently sinful. "The false idea that being gay is something to be ashamed of has destroyed too many lives," Besen asserted. "This iPhone app is facilitating and furthering the harm."
LGBTQNation reported on Feb. 10 that the app was the product of three designers in Indiana who had worked with two socially conservative priests. Lawmakers in Indiana recently advanced a resolution to amend the state’s constitution in a way that would ban both marriage equality and civil unions.
The flap over Confession was, in turn, reminiscent of an even earlier controversy surrounding an app for the Manhattan Manifesto, an anti-gay document that contained anti-gay language.
The Manhattan Manifesto claims that the push for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian families is nothing more than an attempt to "redefine" marriage to suit "fashionable ideologies," and "affirm[s]... marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society." An online petition decrying the app was organized through Change.org and gathered thousands of signatures within a week; Apple responded by removing the app.
GLBT equality group the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) noted that the app went beyond an implicit assumption that same-sex families were somehow undeserving of the "dignity" that the Manhattan Declaration indicated should be reserved solely for mixed-gender couples.
"The app features an electronic version of a declaration, through which users can pledge to make ’whatever sacrifices are required’ to oppose marriage equality, even, presumably, if that means breaking the law" in asking users not to "bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth," a Dec. 15, 2010, GLAAD release said.
"The ’Manhattan Declaration’ calls gay and lesbian couples ’immoral,’ it calls the recognition of their relationships ’false and destructive,’ and claims that allowing them to be married will lead to ’genuine social harms,’ " the GLAAD release noted. "The original application also contained a quiz in which the ’right’ answers were those that oppose equality for gay and lesbian people.
"This application fuels a climate in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are put in harm’s way," the GLAAD release went on. "Apple did the right thing in recognizing that this application violates the company’s guidelines."
For his part, Crowther regards himself as part of the solution to the problem of anti-gay bullying, whether at school or in the wider world.
"I consider myself an activist for GLBT equality, yes," he told EDGE. "And I’m very proud of my involvement." But while Crowther notes the power of the Internet and other social media for spurring change, he doesn’t think that the struggle for civil and social equality will move entirely to the online world.
"We need online petitions as much as we need marches and rallies," Crowther said. "One doesn’t substitute the other, and they were never supposed to. Social networking is another tool on our belt to create positive social change."
Speaking about the petition he launched and the success it garnered, Crowther said, "The queer community stood up for itself. We told Apple that they were supporting bullies, and that we couldn’t continue supporting Apple until they changed.
"Well, Apple listened. No one likes a bully."
Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.