The Right to Name Hate: Utilizing Hate Group Designations to Reframe Political Challenges to LGBT Rights

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 7 Sep 2011

Date Written: 2011


In November 201'8 the nonprofit civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) updated its list of hate groups to include thirteen organizations, including well known organizations such as the Family Research Council and the American Family Association. While the new hate list created a media sensation and resulted in several members of the incoming Republican House of Representatives to protest the hate group designation, eight of the thirteen groups had already been listed by the SPLC as hate groups on previous SPLC lists. This paper analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the SPLC’s continuing hate group designation strategy as a way to reframe political challenges to the rights of sexual minorities.

First, this paper examines the SPLC’s specific claims about its methodology for designating groups as hate groups. SPLC representatives have noted that hate group designation is not limited only to groups that engage in criminal acts or violence, but also includes groups that spread disinformation and falsehoods about others, such as LGBT people. Another factor influencing designation as a hate group by the SPLC could include advocating criminalizing the exercise of human and civil rights by others, even if this advocacy did not break existing law or include vigilante behavior. Finally, SPLC representatives have noted that their designation of a hate group does not necessarily assume that all members of the designated hate group have a full, rational understanding of what the group does in daily practice; they emphasize that designating a Christian or Christian-influenced group as a hate group refers only to the rhetoric of the group itself and in no way constitutes a comment on Christian churches or theology.

Second, this paper examines the claims of opponents of the SPLC hate group designation, including not only members and spokespersons of the designated groups but also objections from progressive writers and public intellectuals. The former have largely advanced claims that the SPLC’s expansion of hate group designation in itself constitutes an assault on free speech and an attempt to censor longstanding religious, philosophical, and ideological arguments that the SPLC has been unable to win on the merits. Some progressive writers have echoed these free speech concerns, but have also noted that the SPLC’s strategy of hate group designation could backfire, raising the prestige and profile of these groups and making them less fringe groups and more targets of advanced political support, as seen in the Republican response to SPLC’s November 2010 statement.

This paper concludes by discussing how politically mobilized groups such as the SPLC can expand arenas of LGBT rights contestation through hate group designation, while also noting the potential trade-offs and unanticipated consequences that are likely under such a strategy. Implications for research, policy, teaching and practice are discussed as well.

Suggested Citation

McMillin, Stephen Edward, The Right to Name Hate: Utilizing Hate Group Designations to Reframe Political Challenges to LGBT Rights (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Stephen Edward McMillin (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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