The vice president of a notorious right-wing legal organization has spent much of 2014 developing one of the most extreme anti-LGBT "news" sites on the internet. Now he's using the site to hawk a treasure trove of right-wing merchandise and souvenirs.
In January of 2014, Liberty Counsel vice president Matt Barber launched BarbWire.com, a website that claims to offer news and opinion "from a decidedly biblical worldview."
Though BarbWire isn't exclusively an anti-LGBT website - the site spares some vitriol for immigrants, Muslims, reproductive choice, and President Barack Obama - LGBT topics have dominated its content since its inception. BarbWire's first post championed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for his comments comparing gay people to murderers and equating homosexuality with bestiality.
In its short existence, the site has featured commentary some of America's most notorious homophobes; Scott Lively, an American pastor closely linked to anti-LGBT persecution in Uganda and Russia; the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who blames gay men for the Holocaust; Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute, another anti-LGBT hate group; and Robert Oscar Lopez, an anti-gay activist who has made a second career of publishing bizarre gay erotica novels.
Unsurprisingly, BarbWire has become a hub for the kind of anti-LGBT propaganda that even many conservative news sites shy away from:
But BarbWire is more than just a platform for publishing the Right's more unsavory anti-LGBT sentiments - it's also a money-making scheme for Liberty Counsel's Barber.
In July, subscribers to BarbWire's mailing list began receiving emails peddling products from Patriot Depot, a website that offers "supplies for the conservative revolution."
There's the "'Say Hello To My Little Friend' Garden Gnome," available for $18.95:
A tin "Don't Tread On Me" sign could be yours for $14.95:
You could purchase an "Obama's Last Day Countdown Clock" for $12.95:
And nothing will stick it to liberals quite like Rise, Kill, & Eat, a paean to "edible wildlife" from "Genesis to Revelation" featuring a foreword by Ted Nugent:
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson endorsed a congressional candidate's assertion that "the homosexual movement" is "destroying America."
On July 22, Georgia Republican Jody Hice won the Republican primary to succeed Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) in the state's 10th congressional district. In the wake of Hice's victory, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kacynski highlighted 11 examples of Hice's history of inflammatory commentary on LGBT issues.
The passages Erickson endorsed included Hice's claim that "the homosexual movement is ... destroying America by aggressively seeking to destroy traditional families, religion, and marriages for the purpose of removing all societal moral boundaries":
The item Erickson thought most conservatives would "maybe" agree with concerned Hice's suggestion that gay people can change their sexual orientation:
National Review Online editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez praised an organization that practices discredited "ex-gay" therapy techniques, urging gay men and lesbians to choose the path of "conversion and renewal."
In a July 22 review for NRO, Lopez lauded Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a documentary about three Roman Catholics who left gay relationships to pursue lives of celibacy. As Lopez noted, the documentary was a project of Courage, a Catholic organization that aims to help people with "homosexual desires" to lead "chaste lives."
Hailing the documentary as a potential "game changer," Lopez wrote that Desire of the Everlasting Hills could help viewers "make sense" of our "fallen world" and point audiences in the direction of "alternative conversions" (emphasis added):
Desire of the Everlasting Hills is like nothing you've ever seen before. In no small part, it's about conversion and renewal, and knowing oneself and what one truly wants, for life and eternity. To watch it is to know that you cannot caricature it. It's about living and learning; it reveals the truth of our lives, as discovered by three individuals who today are overflowing with a grace-filled, transparent joy -- a joy deepened by redemptive suffering. All three leave regrets about the past to God's mercy and entrust their future to His Providence, always acknowledging that the Way of the Cross is a rough road, but believing it to be the one with eternal rewards.
I wish you could have felt the peace and seen the joy at the premiere of Desire of the Everlasting Hills. At the annual Courage conference, it drew a crowd that knows and sees some of the most heartbreaking crosses of life; many people there would have a lot to teach us about courage. For anyone who feels in a fog, Desire of the Everlasting Hills is a light. To watch it is to see that people who have attractions different than yours are not all that different from you. They are people living in a fallen world -- our universal condition. We can work to make sense of it together.
Watch Desire of the Everlasting Hills and know that you are not alone; watch and never let anyone feel alone. Our politics can make things seem intractable, but our lives with one another can be a balm; and this movie can be a catalyst for hope and for alternative conversations filled with honesty and compassion and love for life, living as we were made.
The journey to the Everlasting Hills is one for us to take together, joined by a shared desire for the good and the beautiful -- for God. Desire of the Everlasting Hills will inspire you to give to another the true look of love we crave.
Conservative media are condemning President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination, framing the order as an assault on religious liberty, pushing discredited arguments to claim this discrimination is legally insignificant and asserting that anti-LGBT workplace bias isn't a real problem.
On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite pressure from some conservatives, the order did not include a broad exemption for religiously-affiliated organizations to engage in such discrimination, instead re-affirming a Bush II-era exemption that will allow a contracted "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society" to continue to limit its hires to employees of their preferred religion. Prior to the issuing of the order, Executive Order 11246, more than 100 faith leaders signed a letter warning that the rejected religious exemptions would "open a Pandora's box inviting other forms of discrimination."
In a July 22 editorial, National Review Online complained that the order was unnecessary due to "changing social attitudes and the pressure of market competition" and argued that "the order addresses a small and shrinking problem of discrimination at a cost to religious liberty."
Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a writer for the Daily Signal, Heritage's news site, echoed NRO's objections. Anderson flatly rejected any comparison between anti-gay discrimination and that based on sex or race and referred to sexual orientation and gender identity as "voluntary behaviors":
Federal policy on government contracts should not seek to enforce monolithic liberal secularism. Today's order undermines our nation's commitment to reasonable pluralism and reasonable diversity. All citizens and the groups they form should be free to exist and participate in relevant government programs according to their reasonable beliefs. The federal government should not use the tax-code and government contracting to reshape civil society on controversial moral issues that have nothing to do with the federal contract at stake.
[S]exual orientation and gender identity are unclear, ambiguous terms. They can refer to voluntary behaviors as well as thoughts and inclinations, and it is reasonable for employers to make distinctions based on actions. By contrast, "race" and "sex" clearly refer to traits, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, these traits (unlike voluntary behaviors) do not affect fitness for any job.
Today's executive order bans decisions based on moral views common to the Abrahamic faith traditions and to great thinkers from Plato to Kant as unjust discrimination. Whether by religion, reason, or experience, many people of goodwill believe that our bodies are an essential part of who we are. On this view, maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human to be valued and affirmed, not rejected or altered. Thus, our sexual embodiment as male and female goes to the heart of what marriage is: a union of sexually complementary spouses. Today's order deems such judgments irrational and unlawful.
A landmark new study finds that children of same-sex couples are happier and healthier than children raised by heterosexual parents - a finding that major media outlets have largely ignored despite its potential significance in the legal fight for marriage equality.
On July 4, researchers at the University of Melbourne unveiled the results of a study that looked at how children of same-sex and heterosexual couples fare on a variety of health and wellness measures. The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) is the largest study of its kind to date. Controlling for factors like socioeconomic status and parental education, researchers examined 500 children of 315 same-sex parents. An estimated 80 percent of the children were raised by female parents, with 18 percent raised by male parents. The Guardian summarized the researchers' findings:
The children raised by same-sex partners scored an average of 6% higher than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion. They were equivalent to those from the general population on measures of temperament and mood, behavior, mental health and self-esteem.
Researchers did identify one hurdle often confronted by children of same-sex parents: anti-LGBT stigma, which about two-thirds of the children reported experiencing.
The Australian study is noteworthy not only given its unprecedented size and scope, but also because of its potential significance in the ongoing legal fight for marriage equality.
As Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) faces a repeal effort at the ballot box, Houston media outlets need to do a better job of correcting right-wing misinformation about the ordinance, holding its opponents accountable, and ensuring that LGBT advocates are no longer pushed to the sidelines of the debate.
HERO is likely headed to the November ballot after a coalition fighting to repeal the measure announced that it had collected 50,000 signatures to place HERO up for a repeal vote.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve HERO, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. A coalition dubbing itself "No Unequal Rights" immediately launched a repeal drive, and the campaign's July 3 announcement that it had collected nearly three times the required signatures sets the stage for a divisive four-month slog. The repeal fight is likely to be especially damaging for Houston's LGBT community; scholars note that public referenda on LGBT rights can easily become dominated by misinformation campaigns.
In the coming months, Houston media outlets have the opportunity to correct their frequently problematic and misleading coverage of HERO . Here's how:
HERO opponents have focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that affording transgender individuals equal access to gender-appropriate facilities will make it easier for sexual predators to assault women and children. But the transgender bathroom myth is completely baseless. Independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted transgender protections report no problems stemming from the laws, with one sexual assault victims' advocate calling the myth "beyond specious."
Still, in the month after HERO passed, local media outlets in Houston gave significant play to the transgender bathroom myth.
The coalition leading the repeal crusade might be called "No Unequal Rights" - ostensibly because the ordinance grants "special rights" to the LGBT community. But the ordinance establishes the same non-discrimination protections that already exist in several Texas cities.
Outlets should note that HERO isn't just an LGBT ordinance. It bans discrimination based not only on sexual orientation or gender identity, but also sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy.
The conservative media is falsely accusing JPMorgan Chase of giving its employees an "LGBT loyalty test" thanks to dishonest reporting by a number of anti-LGBT activists.
In a June 29 blog post, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) co-founder Robert George shared a message from an employee at JPMorgan Chase, who alleged that an internal employee survey had included a question asking employees to indicate whether they were any of the following:
1) A person with disabilities;
2) A person with children with disabilities;
3) A person with a spouse/domestic partner with disabilities;
4) A member of the LGBT community.
5) An ally of the LGBT community, but not personally identifying as LGBT.
George baselessly asserted that the survey was a warning to anti-LGBT employees:
The message to all employees is perfectly clear: You are expected to fall into line with the approved and required thinking. Nothing short of assent is acceptable. Silent dissent will no longer be permitted.
Breitbart.com's resident anti-LGBT extremist Austin Ruse picked the story up shortly thereafter, accusing Chase of giving its employees an "LGBT loyalty test":
Ruse also reported that a second source had confirmed the existence of the Chase survey after questions were raised about the authenticity of George's original report.
In a July 4 blog post for Crisis, Ruse brought his characteristic paranoia to bear, declaring that the workplace is now "hostile territory" for anti-gay conservatives and warning that "the dominant sexually correct mafia" was coming for their jobs:
Houston media outlets helped spread misinformation about the city's newly enacted non-discrimination ordinance, parroting the talking points of anti-LGBT groups working to repeal the measure.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination based on categories including race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, led by the Houston Area Pastors Council, immediately announced a repeal drive and have spent the month of June attempting to collect the 17,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure up for a vote in November.
Anti-LGBT activists, like Texas Values' Jonathan Saenz and Fox News' Mike Huckabee, focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that the protections will make it easier for sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms. That myth has been extensively debunked by independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted similar protections.
But the transgender bathroom myth played a prominent role in local media coverage of the ordinance. During the month that HERO opponents collected signatures for a repeal effort, Houston news outlets repeatedly cited the myth without attempting to debunk it according to an Equality Matters analysis:
What's especially disconcerting is how local reporters themselves often appeared to buy in to the transgender bathroom smear. A June 26 report from Fox affiliate KRIV's Andrea Watkins illustrated this kind of problematic coverage:
Houston media outlets have failed to hold anti-LGBT activists accountable for the misinformation they have spread about the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), currently the focus of a repeal effort. Media outlets have allowed myths about the ordinance's protections for transgender people to go unchallenged and have disproportionately cited anti-LGBT groups and advocates in their reporting on the measure.
For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":