Meet The U.S. Pastor Council, The Group Working To Repeal Texas' Non-Discrimination Laws
Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA Versión en español
A number of cities in Texas have taken the historic step of passing non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, only to see those laws challenged by the extreme right-wing U.S. Pastor Council -- a group that has called Houston Mayor Annise Parker a "sodomite" and labeled gay people "forces of spiritual darkness."
On January 20, opponents of an LGBT non-discrimination law recently enacted in Plano, Texas, announced that they had collected enough signatures to put the measure up for a public repeal vote. The effort had been organized by the Texas Pastor Council, a group that's become a political force for anti-LGBT activists across the state.
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) "to bring a united, Biblical voice to the city, state and even nation." Though HAPC is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. All three are run by Welch, share the same website and contact information, and are often lumped together -- even on the USPC website.
Executive Director Dave Welch
Welch is the ultra-conservative pastor who heads up HAPC/USPC/TXPC. As the organization's lead (and seemingly only) spokesperson, he's used his platform to take a number of extreme and inflammatory positions while dabbling in local politics. He opposed Muslims holding leadership positions in government, accused Democrats of ushering in a "Fourth Reich," and labeled a federal judge a "domestic enemy" for ruling against the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. He supported a Texas State Board of Education resolution that claimed social studies textbooks were being influenced by "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias." And he's referred to gay people as a "morally depraved special interest group" and people who support LGBT rights as part of the"forces of spiritual darkness."
Welch also wrote a column for the right-wing conspiracy website WorldNetDaily between 2008 and 2011, usually decrying the loss of Christian supremacy in America. He also attacked the expansion of federal hate-crime law to protect LGBT people, arguing that it would "take us to new depths of depravity." In an unhinged 2010 "exclusive" headlined "My gay America," Welch assailed the LGBT community:
With the victory of adding "sexual orientation" and "perceived gender identity" to federal hate-crimes protected classes still hanging freshly upon their scalp pole, the Marxist-driven Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, There-Are-No-Limits movement is rushing forward to their next prey.
As the radical sexual-diversity jihad in Congress pushes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- again -- as a direct frontal assault on freedom, religious faith, the traditional family and basic moral decency, we are also fighting against the perversion of military readiness by the Obama/Gates/Mullen plan to throw the doors open to open sexual deviancy in our armed services.
But Welch's anti-LGBT extremism didn't start garnering national attention until 2009, during the campaign to elect Parker as Houston's mayor.
The Campaign Against "Sodomite" Mayor Annise Parker
In late 2009, Parker, then the city controller, was working to defeat City Attorney Gene Locke in a December mayoral runoff. A victory would make her the first openly gay mayor of Houston and one of the most prominent gay politicians in America.
Welch joined with a group of social conservatives concerned about a "gay takeover" of city government. Welch told the Houston Chronicle of his motivations for trying to derail Parker's campaign:
"The bottom line is that we didn't pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign," said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, numbering more than 200 senior pastors in the Greater Houston area. "National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that's because they're promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family."
Welch's anti-gay campaign was denounced by Locke and condemned by the Chronicle, and it was ultimately unsuccessful. Parker became mayor of Houston, and Welch asked forgiveness for failing to stop her, writing, "We let our position on the wall be breached by the enemy."
Parker's victory didn't put an end to Welch's anti-gay campaigning. When megachurch pastor Joel Osteen gave the opening prayer at Parker's inauguration, Welch lashed out, calling her election a sign of America's "cancer of the soul." In a newsletter for TXPC, Welch attacked Parker for supporting the city's gay pride parade, calling her a "sodomite who has now proven ... that her lifestyle IS her public policy agenda." In an email to supporters, he wrote that "moral perversion and sin" were "flowing from our city hall" thanks to Parker's "radical agenda."
Welch continued his anti-gay campaign during his Parker's 2011 re-election, trying unsuccessfully to warn Houstonians about Parker's effort to impose "San Francisco Style" LGBT equality. As proof, he produced and distributed a video documenting Parker's "LGBT agenda for Houston," including a clip of Parker kissing her partner during her first inauguration:
USPC's Fight Against Non-Discrimination Laws
Over the past few years, TXPC's work has been focused on opposing and repealing local LGBT non-discrimination ordinances across Texas.
The group has been at the front line in the fight against Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which would ban discrimination against LGBT people (as well as a number of other groups) in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
In April 2014, as the city council considered adopting HERO, HAPC attacked the measure by falsely suggesting it would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms and assault women and young girls. The group urged pastors to "inform and mobilize" their congregants against the measure and helped organize a rally opposing the ordinance and attacking Parker.
The city council voted 11-6 to pass HERO in late May, and Welch immediately promised to begin collecting the 17,000 signatures needed to put a repeal of the measure up for a public vote:
"Once we correct this grievous act through the ballot this fall, we will then remind those members that patronizing a tiny interest group and outgoing mayor instead of serving the people leads to a short political career."
Though the coalition gathered more than the 17,000 required signatures, the city of Houston determined that too many of the signatures had been collected inappropriately, disqualifying the repeal effort. HERO's opponents sued, and the city responded by broadly subpoenaing documents from a number of anti-HERO pastors, including HAPC's Welch.
Those subpoenas triggered a national conservative firestorm, fanned largely by the support of conservative media outlets like Fox News, which decried the subpoenas as an assault on religious liberty. The controversy catapulted Welch into the national spotlight, making him a martyr for anti-LGBT conservatives in Texas.
Though the city of Houston eventually dropped its subpoena request, HAPC continued to use the controversy to rally opposition to the ordinance and Parker. The organization helped host a massive "I Stand Sunday" rally at Houston's Grace Community Church -- a church led by HAPC executive member Steve Riggle. The event garnered national attention, thanks to the support of heavy hitters like Mike Huckabee, and helped turn the fight against Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance into a conservative cause celebre. Litigation surrounding the repeal signatures is ongoing.
Unfortunately, the organization's work extends beyond Texas. In December, Welch traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to help mobilize opposition to the city's non-discrimination law. It was eventually repealed in a public vote.
More recently, the group worked to put Plano's recently-enacted Equal Rights Ordinance up for a public repeal vote. HAPC organized an "Emergency Plano Pastor Briefing" to prep local pastors on how to launch a repeal referendum and lobbied supporters to work against the ordinance. Welch is a spokesperson for Plano Citizens United, the group that formally launched the petition.
On January 20, the group announced that opponents of the ordinance had gathered enough signatures to put it up for a repeal vote:
We are certain that once Plano citizens realize the City Council has criminalized religious views about sex and gender, the ordinance will be rejected overwhelmingly at the polls.
Conservatives in Texas typically portray their opposition to non-discrimination measures as primarily concerned with religious liberty, especially when talking to media outlets. But the leader of the central group organizing opposition to these laws routinely refers to gay people as sodomites and a "morally depraved special interest group." That's context that should be included in local news coverage about the fight to undermine basic legal protections for LGBT people.
Special thanks to Texas Freedom Network and Right Wing Watch, which provided much of the research for this report.