Its objective is to overthrow the rights of women and the LGTBI collective, but also to build a new society marked by its conservative values. They are the organizations, groups and political parties that They try to impose an ultra-Catholic agenda and who organized the anti-abortion march this Sunday in Madrid. The professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) David Patternote knows them very well, who has spent years studying who they are and how they organize themselves in an "internationally orchestrated" strategy in the form of a lobby or in some countries like Brazil, Hungary or Poland, directly from the governments.
The expert, who has participated in the course on LGTBI rights organized by the Ministry of Equality at the Menéndez Pelayo International University (UIMP), assures that there is more and more information and "the idea of covering up who they really are" "works worse for them". , but they are using new strategies to try to influence. Funding for it has quadrupled in the last ten years, according to a recent European report.
In 2019 we interviewed him to find out what was behind the "gender ideology" discourse that Vox was beginning to spread in Spain. What has happened these years?
In Spain, this 'anti-gender' agenda is stronger because of Vox, which is already part of an autonomous government and has more of a public presence. Also in Poland, Hungary or Brazil. In the United States, Donald Trump is no longer president, but we see what has happened with abortion... The war in Ukraine has also affected, more than the pandemic. We know that many of these actors had contact with Russia and now they are more cautious. At the World Congress of Families, one of its key events, there is an American nucleus, a European nucleus and a Russian nucleus, and this one is gone. Organizations like CitizenGo, the international affiliate of HazteOír, have removed the Russian representative from their board, for example.
And in general, have they been strengthened?
Depends on the context. At a European level, it is spreading in many countries. In the Netherlands they have mobilized against the reform of the abortion law or in the United Kingdom they have access to the Government of Boris Johnson. In fact, in two weeks there will be an international conference on religious freedom attended by these groups and that began with Trump in the United States and then was held in Poland. It is also spreading in Sweden and the Scandinavian countries in general. In countries like Spain we are entering a scenario marked by these actors, who are not going to disappear for the time being.
The Supreme Court of the United States It has just revoked the ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion. Is it an example of the power that these groups have?
Yes and no. The short answer is yes. But rather an example of the legal strategies they develop, which have a lot of influence in the United States. I would say not in the sense that the American Christian Right is older than the 'anti-gender' movement, but it is true that it has participated in its development and they have many links both financially and personally. Many organizations and groups of this type, for example CitizenGo, have mobilized on this issue, they are going to celebrate it and they are going to give them wings on a global level.
Are they using new strategies?
One of them is the generational change, there is a real desire to train young people, that is something new and has real consequences. We have always associated this type of ideas with more adult people, educated in another context. In Spain, in the dictatorship, for example. What we see today is that society in general is more open, but there are many young people in these groups who have developed training capacity in the form of academies or universities. Ordo Iuris, the Polish organization behind anti-abortion laws there, has opened its university in Warsaw and Marion Maréchal, Marine Le Pen's niece, has opened a school in Lyon that has a base in Madrid.
They have also been modernized. Its activity no longer resembles a manifestation of Opus Dei, there is an adaptation of slogans and public image. There is also a professionalization, in the sense that professionals work in them, especially in communication and law. And there is also a transnationalization; They are part of a global network, they exchange ideas, speeches and strategies and they cross paths very often. In Italy it was seen with the opposition to the law of couples, when they used the same posters as in France but translated. The HazteOír bus has traveled all over the world, it has been in Kenya, Chile, Mexico or New York.
A 2017 investigation confirmed that Spain had been a kind of "laboratory" of the activity of these groups with the demonstrations against same-sex marriage and in favor of the traditional family. Didn't we give it the importance it had?
From progressive sectors it is usually thought that the future will tend to be more and more progressive, although no one guarantees that. So we haven't looked at what was going on in these worlds that we knew little about that we barely had access to. There was a surprise effect and we couldn't adapt well. Now I believe that it is different and that more and more information and knowledge of who they are. The idea of covering up who they really are doesn't work so well for them. We know that they are one more actor and there will be things that they win and others that they lose.
What are these groups mostly focused on right now?
What they attack depends on what is available in their country, but there are four fundamental issues: sexual and reproductive rights, LGTBI rights, education and gender in general. Resistance to gender violence policies is becoming stronger; in fact, since 2019 opposition to the Istanbul Convention has gained strength in some countries. On the LGTBI issue, there is less and less talk about equal marriage and more about trans rights, against which there is an articulation between these 'anti-gender' actors and some feminists, who are two different struggles, but end up coinciding in messages.
Is there anything you are going to focus more on soon?
I believe that the issue of religious freedom and freedom of expression will gain strength in the coming years. We are already seeing it. And basically what they do is say that anti-discrimination policies and the fight against hate crimes are violating their freedom. The danger is that these are fundamental civil rights and we are already seeing cases in Strasbourg where these groups try to strategically litigate using this, presenting themselves as victims of discrimination. More and more concepts such as Christophobia are used, for example, with which they defend that in the Western world they can develop their lives less and less according to their faith and values. In general, they allude to a supposed "progressive consensus" that is discriminating against them.
Any example of these practices?
It would be the case of politicians who do not want to celebrate homosexual marriages because they say that it goes against their values. There is also a case in Sweden of a midwife who refused to give birth to a woman because she was a lesbian or a politician in Finland who made a homophobic comment and went to all lengths to get it declared that there was no been discriminatory, but freedom of religion or expression. In many universities in the United Kingdom there are groups of anti-abortion students who are claiming to be able to carry out activities on campus, since a law on freedom of expression in universities is being processed in that country and one of the effects will be this.
I commented that there are organizations that use strategic litigation. Are systematic legal complaints being another of your new strategies?
Yes, and it has to do with the professionalization that we were talking about before. Some groups like ADF International focus on strategic litigation and when they have a case they think is powerful, they go all the way to Strasbourg. Then there is another strategy that is carried out, for example, in Spain by Christian Lawyers and in Poland by Ordo Iuiris, which is to open legal cases against activists. They often lose because the legal basis is really fragile and I think they know this because their goal is not to win, but to scare, paralyze, pressure and make people think twice before doing something that might go against their ideas.
We usually refer to these groups as nostalgic for a past that they idealize. Is it a misdiagnosis?
What happens is that from the progressive world we have always thought that everything is going to be better and that prevents us from thinking about the risks, the obstacles or the rights that can be lost. In reality it is a struggle for cultural hegemony, in the world of ideas, but with the aim of building another alternative future. They not only seek to end some laws or public policies, but also try to build alternatives. And often, we look at the former but not the latter. In Poland and Hungary, for example, one of the reasons why they are popular parties is because they make social policies. They are family policies, supporting women to have children and stay in the labor market but take on housework.
What is the new society you are looking for like?
It is based on a glorification of motherhood and of the mother-woman who sacrifices herself for her children, but there is also less diversity and less equality. It would be more or less democratic depending on the context, but it is to build another model of society in which there is no space for LGTBI rights or for women, but neither is there cultural diversity, of nations... A more monolithic and more authoritarian society, in which fewer rights are recognized for fewer people.