SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes have been added to list of speakers at next month's meeting of the World Congress of Families, a group blasted by some gay rights activists as a "hate group."
The World Congress of Families IX announced Tuesday the governor and attorney general had been added to the lengthy roster of speakers, which already include a leader from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"Strong families are vital to strong societies. The value of a loving family cannot be understated," the governor said in a statement released through WCF IX.
The WCF IX bills itself as "the premier global gathering of parents, youth, lawmakers, scholars, religious leaders, and advocates united to support the natural family." The Southern Poverty Law Center has branded it a "hate group" and the Human Rights Campaign has accused its director promoting anti-gay policies in other countries including Uganda and Russia.
In a statement to FOX 13, Governor Herbert's office defended his decision to speak to WCF IX.
"Gov. Herbert's record is clear on the issue of non-discrimination. He is proud to have signed into law S.B. 296 which provides unprecedented protections for religious groups and members of the LGBT community," Herbert spokesman Jon Cox told FOX 13.
Reyes' spokeswoman, Camille Anderson, said he would be speaking to the World Congress of Families about human trafficking like he does to groups of all political backgrounds.
"The fight against human trafficking is a human issue, not a partisan issue. Human traffickers are indiscriminate and we must raise awareness among people of all backgrounds in order to effectively fight this global pandemic," she said in an email to FOX 13.
As the group prepares to meet in Salt Lake City in October, LGBT rights activists have stepped up their campaigns against it. One group of activists launched a petition in an effort to pressure the Grand America hotel to cancel hosting the World Congress of Families.
"We do not open our doors to hate groups or groups that spread misinformation about LGBT people in our backyards," said Moudi Sbeity, who sued the state of Utah over its same-sex marriage ban, leading to Amendment 3 being overturned in 2014.
Sbeity was among several LGBT activists who had launched a new campaign called "Do We Open Our Doors," pushing the hotel to drop its hosting duties. Sbeity also called on the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT rights group, to no longer hold its fundraising galas at the Grand America.
"I think the Human Rights Campaign has the power and the ability to change the game right here in our home state by stepping up and saying they will not work with a business that promotes hateful organizations coming to our state," he said.
Representatives for the Human Rights Campaign did not return repeated requests for comment on their events at the Grand America, but sent out a statement criticizing the governor for speaking to WCF IX and calling on him to cancel his appearance .
The Grand America also did not return messages seeking comment about the events.
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that is co-sponsoring the WCF IX, said in a statement that it was staying put.
"Radical groups have been petitioning the Grand for months to cancel. Quite the opposite has happened. The event has received broad community support from a wide range of Utah elected officials, academics, religious groups, donors and community organizations," Sutherland spokesman Dave Buer said in an email to FOX 13.
"We hope you’ll take note of the irony of the petition. They are requesting that the Grand America not host WCF IX because it does host HRC events. If they are truly liberal, as in fighting to allow diversity, wouldn’t they encourage the Grand to host the event? We didn’t ask the Grand to not host HRC events. We do not distort the record of HRC or any other groups for purposes of political gain. We encourage diverse viewpoints, we don't try to run them out of town."
WCF IX has pushed back against accusations that it is a "hate group," releasing a rebuttal to the accusations.
As the group meets in Salt Lake City next month, some LGBT rights groups plan to ignore it. Others in Utah plan to stage an "All Families Conference" to counter the WCF and speak about those it says don't fall under "traditional" definitions of family -- including single-family and same-sex households.