The Equality Act, if passed, would ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. In February 2021, the bill passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority, and Biden has promised to sign the final bill. More than two-thirds of Americans also support the bill. Ideally, this bill should have been passed decades ago. However, it’s falling victim to a scheme that has been described as a “ sophisticated dark money” operation.
A review of tax filings by allied nonprofits and some accidental public disclosures reveal that the National Christian Foundation (NCF), the sixth-largest charity in America, lies at the center of the operation. The NCF has taken in millions from wealthy people and their organizations on the Christian right and has used its’ wide influential web to lead an attack to block the Equality Act. Among them are names like Betsy DeVos (former education secretary), the Anschutz oil network, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, and the late billionaire investment manager Foster Friess.
The financial structure of the NCF is unorthodox. The organization doesn't use donations for itself to organize political advocacy campaigns. Instead, it functions as a "donor-advised fund," which means that a donor allocates funds and recommends where they are allocated. These recommendations are not supposed to be determinative for tax purposes but often are.
"The whole point of the donor-advised fund structure is that the donor can't make the decision—that they can only suggest," according to one of the analysts of the tax disclosures, "but they certainly sell it to donors as we do what you want with this money."
With over 63,000 non-profits receiving grants from the NCF since the early 1980s, it has endowed a broad network with over $13 billion in total. In addition to granting funds to Christian ministries and colleges and larger non-governmental organizations like World Vision, the NCF is also a significant grantor of organizations like the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) and Alliance Defending Freedom. Both the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom have been influential players against LGBTQ+ rights.
Co-founder of the NCF, Terry Parker, has served as a director or treasurer for more than half a dozen such foundations. Many of these foundations have anodyne names like "The Jesus Fund Foundation" or the "Christian Heritage Foundation of Steamboat Springs." LGBTQ+ movement leaders have said that this structure deliberately keeps fingerprints of some of the nation's wealthiest families off of some of the more unseemly activities of NCF's grantees.
"You're actually funding organizations that in Europe are advocating for the forced sterilization of transgender people," the analyst added, "They're doing hardcore extreme stuff, but they make it seem like it's a bunch of soup kitchens."
"We've always known that anti-LGBTQ extremists and hate groups would do anything they could to stop our march to full equality and acceptance, but the LGBTQ community and our allies are investing what it takes to ensure the success of the Equality Act," said Zeke Stokes, chief program officer at GLAAD. "The president has our back, and so do the American people."