Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver continued his pattern of fearmongering about LGBTQ people by comparing them to pedophiles, using his podcast to lie that sexually abusing children would no longer be a crime if the Equality Act is passed. Specifically, Staver falsely claimed that Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged criminal behavior trafficking minors “couldn’t” be criminalized if it was to become law and said that LGBTQ advocates are “promoting” pedophilia, continuing a long history of right-wing groups attempting to paint LGBTQ people as deviant by associating them with pedophiles.
Staver has previously falsely claimed the Equality Act -- a bill that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to existing civil rights nondiscrimination protections -- would “open the door to pedophilia” and lied that its protections for sexual orientation would “include pedophilia.” His group, Liberty Counsel, has regularly used its website, emails, podcast, and Staver’s appearances on radio and TV to misinform and fearmonger about the bill.
Outside of his opposition to the Equality Act, Staver has consistently compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles throughout his career. Similar claims have been repeated on right-wing evangelical website LifeSite News and by prominent right-wing, anti-abortion blogger The Activist Mommy, to name a few. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer even called the bill the “Pedophile Protection Act” in a blog post that also outrageously claimed that bestiality, incest, and necrophilia would soon become protected categories.
Just last year, a hoax that the LGBTQ community was embracing pedophiles went viral after The Daily Caller boosted the rumor, eventually resulting in more than 875,000 Facebook engagements across several posts on various platforms. Similar hoaxes had sprung up each year since at least 2016 on anonymous message board 4chan, a hotbed of far-right extremism, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns.
Associating pedophiles with the LGBTQ community is not a new tactic; it has persisted for decades as a weapon against LGBTQ equality. In the 1970s, anti-gay activist Anita Bryant took advantage of the myth to successfully advocate for the repeal of a nondiscrimination ordinance, claiming “that if gays were granted equal status in society, they would molest children in schools or recruit them to their lifestyle,” according to The Atlantic.
During the July 26 edition of Liberty Counsel’s Faith and Freedom podcast, Staver falsely and repeatedly claimed that LGBTQ people are “promoting” pedophilia, that pedophilic relationships would be protected by the Equality Act, and that Epstein’s actions “couldn’t” be criminalized if it were passed. From the episode:
MAT STAVER (LIBERTY COUNSEL FOUNDER, CO-HOST): It’s just the beginning. Pedophilia, the whole issue of opening up what the American Psychological Association is now promoting, and this is their words, “relationship anarchy.”
MATT BARBER (CO-HOST): Yeah.
STAVER: All of that would be included in this “sexual orientation, gender identity.” People who are, what they call, “minor-attracted individuals.”
BARBER: That's -- and that's a big one I was going to bring up as well. Minor-attracted persons seeking intergenerational relationships. That's what we used to call child rape, you know, sexual assault, but they try to normalize every form of perversion you can possibly imagine. And now they want to make it discrimination, a violation of civil rights to have an opposing opinion.
STAVER: So this Jeffrey Epstein. You -- I don't know if you've been watching or reading about him. I didn't know much about him, but I started doing some research on him, a very interesting individual who has been involved in having sexual relations and recruiting young underage girls for these very sex parties. And he's now --
BARBER: Thirteen, 14, 15 years old.
STAVER: Yeah. So now he's fortunately facing criminal charges, and he should go away to jail for some time for his actions, if in fact these are proven true. And it looks like the evidence is, at least from what's out there publicly, overwhelming. But in his case, if this became law, how could that be criminalized? It couldn't. Because they are promoting, under the LGBT banner, minor-attracted individuals and having what they call, what you just said, intergenerational relationships. That's pedophilia. That's what they're promoting. Oh it's just no different than somebody who is a homosexual or LGBT. It’s the same thing. They just have the same sexual perversion of a different nature. That's what they promote.