As NBC prepares to air the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, NBC Universal executives and reporters have vowed that the network's coverage won't ignore the draconian anti-gay laws signed by President Vladimir Putin last summer. What remains unclear, however, is whether NBC will draw attention to the involvement of American conservatives in shaping those laws.
As the Kremlin launched its anti-gay crackdown last summer, NBC News largely ignored the issue, even as it hyped the upcoming Winter Olympics. NBC's silence on Russia's law banning so-called "gay propaganda" - which the Kremlin followed by banning the adoption of children by parents from pro-equality countries - raised the question of whether the network's financial interests as the games' broadcaster would outweigh the imperative of informing viewers about egregious human rights violations against LGBT Russians. Still, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus promised that NBC would "acknowledge" the crackdown. Meanwhile, assurances from anchor Bob Costas and NBC's hiring of New Yorker editor and respected Russia expert David Remnick seemed to indicate a commitment to covering the controversy.
What NBC hasn't made clear is whether it will highlight the intellectual and political involvement of several high-profile American conservatives in Russia's crackdown on LGBT citizens. Doing so may well engender hostility from certain political quarters, but telling the story is crucial to fully understanding how Russia arrived at its current point of horrific, state-sanctioned homophobic persecution.
According to information compiled by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and provided to Equality Matters, no fewer than 14 American conservative leaders have visited Russia to lobby lawmakers in support of the country's anti-gay legislation, lend their support to Russian social conservatives, and help plan for the 2014 World Congress of Families (WCF), an annual "pro-family" confab sponsored by the eponymous Rockford, IL-based group and slated to be held in Moscow from September 10 to 14.
Here are some of the most notorious ambassadors for homophobia.
Perhaps the most high-profile conservative to travel to Russia has been National Organization for Marriage (NOM) President Brian Brown. Right Wing Watch reported in October that Brown and a group French anti-gay activists traveled to Russia in June 2013 to support Russia's ban on gay adoption and adoption by any couple from a country that allows same-sex marriage. Brown's itinerary included a speech before the Russian Duma and a Russian television interview in which he lauded Russia's efforts to combat a series of "very negative developments all over the world." Brown returned to Russia in October, telling MSNBC host Rachel Maddow in a statement that his latest visit was to assist in planning for the WCF.
Fox News has been all but silent in reporting on major human rights crises facing gays and lesbians in Uganda, Nigeria, and India over the past few weeks, continuing the network's pattern of turning a blind eye to significant international stories about the LGBT community.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes equated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with arch-segregationist Bull Connor, distorting recent remarks by Cuomo to falsely suggest that the Democratic governor wants to "politically segregate the state."
Speaking with a reporter on January 17, Cuomo decried right-wing politicians who have opposed his policies in support of LGBT equality, abortion rights, and gun safety. Characterizing the Republican Party as riven by a schism between moderates and conservatives, Cuomo said that dynamic was playing out in New York:
The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act -- it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are and they're the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are.
While Cuomo explicitly referred to "Republican Party candidates" and said in the same interview that it's "fine" for people to disagree with him, right-wing commentators instantly mischaracterized the governor's comments to claim that he wished to rid the state of all conservatives. Starnes, in a January 20 FoxNews.com column titled "Governor Andrew 'Bull Connor' Cuomo," reacted with characteristic hyperbole and misinformation:
Get out of New York!
That's the message Empire State Governor Andrew Cuomo is sending to pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage conservatives.
Take that in for just a moment. New York's Democratic governor believes people who are pro-life are extremists. Extremists.
Donald Trump? Not welcome. Cardinal Dolan -- you're outta here, pal. Cuomo just can't have those kind of people living on the streets of New York City.
When did Governor Cuomo become Bull Connor -- trying to politically segregate the state?
What's he going to do next, unleash the dogs and turn the hoses on conservative boys and girls?
Even yours truly, could be forced find a new place to live. I live among the intolerant liberal people of Brooklyn. I'm also a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association and an evangelical Christian.
It's only a matter of time before the governor's foot soldiers knock on my door and give this gun-toting, Bible-clinging, son-of-a-Baptist the heave ho.
Starnes' column is merely the latest example of his willingness to make baseless claims of anti-Christian persecution in order to justify his own bigoted views. As Fox's in-house mouthpiece for anti-gay hate groups, Starnes views every gain for LGBT equality as an assault on religious liberty. He has claimed that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He has defended anti-LGBT business discrimination, writing that non-discrimination protections are efforts to replace "God's law" with "man's law." When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Starnes tweeted, "Supreme Court overrules God" and predicted that it "[w]on't be long before they outlaw the Bible as hate speech."
Starnes' anti-Cuomo diatribe might be typical of his previous work, but equating the governor with Connor, the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety who sanctioned brutal attacks against civil rights activists and presided over "the most segregated city in America," marks a deplorable low for a reporter whose history of race-baiting exposes his own ugly bigotry.
Days after Fox News "Medical A Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow penned a column saying he wasn't "convinced" that transgender identities are real, hate group spokesman Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) used the column on his radio program to justify his own transphobic views.
On January 14, Ablow published an ill-informed, transphobic rant against California's new law allowing transgender students to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities. Disregarding the positions of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, Ablow wrote that he simply doesn't "believe" that it's possible for someone to identify with a gender different from his or her sex at birth.
Two days later, Fischer voiced the same view on his show, reading from Ablow's column and extolling his credentials as a supposed expert on the issue.
From the January 16 edition of American Family Radio's Focal Point:
FISCHER: We're gonna bring this in, because this is a piece written by Dr. Keith Ablow. He's a psychiatrist. You see him on Fox News all the time, he's part of the Fox News "Medical A Team," and he writes about this bathroom bill. Now this guy is a psychiatrist - that means he's a medical doctor. He's an M.D. And he writes about his analysis of this bill. ... And Keith Ablow has a good piece about how destructive this is.
This isn't the first time that AFA - a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-gay hate group -- has taken its bigoted talking points from Fox. In 2011, Fischer cited Ablow's condemnation of Chaz Bono's appearance on ABC's Dancing with the Stars while arguing that transgender people should be criticized rather than celebrated on television.
Fox News "Medical A Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow continued his pattern of baseless smears against LGBT people with an ill-informed, transphobic rant against a new California law that allows transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identities.
In a January 14 column for FoxNews.com, Ablow criticized a recently-enacted California law that allows transgender public school students to use bathroom facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Ablow predicted that nothing but "toxicity" would come from the measure, parroting the "bathroom panic" that's been central to Fox's coverage of the legislation:
I don't see anything but toxicity from the notion of a person with female anatomy feeling free to use the urinal in the boys' rest room while a boy stands next to her and uses one, too.
Governor Brown is one of the liberal politicians in the world who wants to sell people on the idea that he loves freedom when he is actually addicted to disempowering people.
And shaking the certain knowledge in boys and girls of whether they can count on not being seen naked by the opposite gender, not to mention whether they are themselves actually the gender they thought they were, is a powerful, devious and pathological way to weaken them by making them question their sense of safety, security and certainty about anything and everything.
Ablow's worst fears are baseless. School districts that have implemented similar policies have reported "nothing but positive results" and no instances of misconduct, which is why anti-LGBT groups have been forced to make up incidents of their own.
Ablow went on to falsely suggest that there's no proof that transgender people even exist, even while admitting that "many psychiatrists with very impressive credentials" disagree with him:
I don't believe we have definitive data (although many psychiatrists with very impressive credentials, who seem to mean well, assert that we do) that any male or female soul has ever in the history of the world been born into the wrong anatomic gender.
Let me put that more clearly: I am not convinced by any science I can find that people with definitively male DNA and definitively male anatomy can actually be locked in a cruel joke of nature because they are actually female.
Those well-meaning psychiatrists include the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, which both recognize transgender people as real and deserving of respect and acknowledgment. Instead of taking the advice of America's largest professional psychological and psychiatric organizations, Ablow - who has no expertise in gender or sexuality issues - merely asserted that he is "not convinced" of the existence of transgender people.
Of course, Ablow has a history of commenting on issues that he's completely unqualified to discuss. A repeated misinformer on LGBT people, Ablow is one of the most prominent faces of Fox's transphobia problem. He's one of the network's most vocal defenders of junk "ex-gay" therapy programs and lashes out against the American Psychological Association for being politically motivated whenever its stances don't comport with his bigoted views. Most recently, Ablow garnered attention for declaring that "marriage died in 2013" because of gay people and polygamists. To any reality-based observer, Ablow's hyperbole and pseudoscience discredit him as a commentator on LGBT issues, but Fox News doesn't seem to mind.
National Review Online columnist Mona Charen lamented the marginalization of anti-LGBT bigotry, writing that acceptance of LGBT people is largely due to "fashion" and decrying the affirmation of LGBT youth as "child abuse."
In her January 14 syndicated column, Charen responded to a recent op-ed in The New York Times urging medical providers to ensure that transgender patients have access to fertility treatment. To Charen, the op-ed marked merely the latest indicator of society's "obsession with sexuality as identity" and its "undermining of the best interests of children in favor of the self-expression of adults." The decline of homophobic and transphobic bigotry is evidence to Charen that "[w]e have elevated sexual appetites ... to an exalted status" (emphasis added):
There are limitless identities that students could be encouraged to cultivate as they mature. A handful that leap immediately to mind: American, humorist, musician, athlete, debater, nature-lover. Instead, our universities fall all over themselves to encourage unusual sexual identities, from homosexuality and lesbianism to transgender, bisexual, transsexual, and other. It's all done in the name of "inclusion" and non-discrimination, but, let's face it, there's an element of fashion in it.Non-traditional sexual behavior is "in." There are academic courses on offer at major universities concerning "queer theory," pornography, and "lesbian gardening." (Truly.) How can any serious academic treat pornography as a fit subject for college study? It's more than a devaluation of the life of the mind; it's an assault on human dignity.
We have elevated sexual appetites -- especially unusual sexual tastes -- to an exalted status, worthy of study, defining our natures and experiences, and outranking other traits in importance. In many states, there are moves to outlaw psychotherapy that purports to change a person's sexual orientation. Without excusing or approving abusive efforts to brainwash gay people straight -- and there are some hair-raising stories out there of people subjected to "aversion therapy" and so forth -- it is interesting that we are being asked to deny people the opportunity to change in only one direction. No one is suggesting that if a straight person wants to become gay and consults a therapist who wishes to help him make that transition, that he should be prevented from doing so.
Perhaps gay activists aren't campaigning for "ex-straight" therapy because their own experiences bear out the absurdity of the idea that one's sexual orientation can be changed. But to Charen, simply acknowledging this fact brings "sexual appetites" to an "exalted status."
Charen proceeded to criticize measures adopted to affirm transgender youth, mischaracterizing a California law that allows transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identities and condemning hormone therapy for transgender youth as "child abuse":
This is child abuse. Children pass through phases. Nothing permanent should to be done to any child that is not medically necessary. Suppose a child decided that he wanted to be an amputee or a one-eyed pirate? We've lost all common sense in the face of this mania for sexual mutability.
Charen's framing of the California law dovetails with that of other right-wing critics of the law, who have peddled baseless fears about inappropriate bathroom behavior that will result from letting each student "choose" which bathroom he or she wishes to use. In reality, school districts are implementing the law on a case-by-case basis to ensure that students using it really are transgender. Moreover, school districts that have implemented similar policies have reported no instances of inappropriate behavior.
Transgender actress Laverne Cox made waves with a recent appearance on Katie Couric's syndicated talk show, where she pushed back against Couric's fixation on the genitalia of Cox and fellow guest Carmen Carrera, a transgender model. In decrying the objectification of trans people, Cox highlighted a problem that plagues right-wing media coverage of transgender issues.
On the January 6 edition of Katie, Couric repeatedly focused on her guests' gender transitions, introducing Carrera by stating that "she was born a man and that's why she's on our show," before inquiring whether Carrera's "private parts" are "different now." Carrera challenged Couric's line of questioning, saying the issue was "really personal" and that "after the transition there's still life to live, I still have my career goals, I still have my family goals."
Couric pursued the matter further when Cox joined the segment, asking the Orange is the New Black actress for her take on Carrera and Couric's exchange. Cox responded that fixating on trans people's bodies detracts attention from the realities of transgender lives:
Compelling as they were, Cox's words fell on deaf right-wing ears. The Media Research Center's Tim Graham responded by mocking Carrera and Cox's handling of what he called "those uncomfortable wiener questions" and "the bulge issue." Graham derided the "two men" for believing "[i]t's possible to pretend to be a woman and use a urinal."
Graham's transphobia dovetails with the right-wing media's approach to transgender coverage, characterized by willful ignorance and expressions of derision and disgust. After Army Private Chelsea Manning announced her gender transition in 2013, Fox News mocked her transition as "confus[ing]" and "bizarre." Fox & Friends ended a segment on Manning's transition by playing Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like A Lady),"while one Fox host cautioned viewers not to be "deceived" by Manning's announcement that she's a female.
Echoing his earlier praise for the Russian president, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan urged President Barack Obama to visit Russia "in a gesture of solidarity" after the country's recent terror attacks and to atone for those who have been "stiffing" President Vladimir Putin due to his oppression of gay people.
In his January 2 syndicated column, Buchanan noted recent bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd, arguing that, in light of the violence, Obama should reverse course and attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. According to Buchanan, such a move would convey Americans' and Russians' shared "detestation of and determination to combat terror."
As an added bonus, Buchanan wrote, an Obama visit to Sochi would make up for the president's "in-your face gesture" of sending "tennis legend and lesbian" Billie Jean King and other gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to the games. Buchanan asserted that critics of Russia's draconian anti-gay crackdown "have already had their point made":
President Obama, in a gesture of solidarity with the Russian people, who have suffered more than any European people from Islamic terror since Sep. 11, should announce he has changed his mind and will be going to Sochi.
The impact would be dramatic. The Western boycott of the winter Olympics would collapse. The attention of the world's TV cameras, along with the rest of mankind, would turn to Sochi. Success of the games would be assured.
And who would get the credit? President Barack Obama.
A message would be sent to the world that no matter where America disagrees with Russia, terrorists do not tell us where we can or cannot go, and we stand in solidarity with the Russian people in our detestation of and determination to combat terror.
Vladimir Putin, who has his prestige fully invested in the Sochi games, would see this as a magnanimous gesture, a reaching out of America's hand, to him and to Russia.
What would be the downside?
Those who have been calling for stiffing Putin and boycotting his Sochi games to protest Russia's law prohibiting distribution of pro-homosexual propaganda to youth have already had their point made.
In an in-your-face gesture, the U.S. delegation is headed by Billie Jean King, tennis legend and lesbian, who will travel to Sochi with gay athletes Brian Boitano, the ice skating gold medalist, and Caitlin Cahow, a two-time hockey medalist.
Buchanan went on to portray Putin as a vital U.S. ally on such issues as Libya, Iran's nuclear program, and the civil war in Syria. But his affinity for the Russian president is more than strategic. In December, Buchanan hailed Putin as the global leader of cultural conservatism, writing that his anti-gay policies indicate that he is "one of us."
Buchanan's love affair with Putin has blossomed as other right-wing media figures have lauded the Russian president for stymieing some of President Obama's key foreign policy goals and presiding over horrific laws banning, as Buchanan wrote in his January 2 column, so-called "pro-homosexual propaganda."
The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a California-based right-wing advocacy organization, set a new standard for dishonesty on LGBT issues in 2013, concocting a story about bathroom harassment by a transgender student in an effort to deny transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identities. In a year that witnessed a spike in transphobic commentary by right-wing media, PJI's lie proliferated on outlets like Fox News, highlighting the extent to which outright misinformation undergirds the conservative media's anti-LGBT horror stories. For its willingness to lie in the service of undermining LGBT rights, PJI has earned the dubious distinction of LGBT Misinformer of the Year.
Transgender student rights received newfound prominence this year, as Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in August guaranteeing that transgender students would be able to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities. Meanwhile, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled this summer that transgender six-year-old Coy Mathis should be allowed to use the girls' restroom at her school.
PJI joined a coalition of right-wing extremist groups working to overturn the California law, but its effort to roll back transgender rights in Colorado propelled the organization to notoriety.
As it pondered how to ensure that transgender students lost proper facility access, PJI ran into an inconvenient reality: School districts that allow students to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity have reported "nothing but positive results." Right-wing fears about inappropriate bathroom behavior had no empirical basis.
With no actual instances of misconduct to point to, PJI decided to invent one. On October 10, the organization issued a press release proclaiming its discovery of a "nightmare," alleging that a "teen boy" in Colorado had been harassing girls in the restroom:
Fox Nation and other right-wing outlets ran with the story, touting it as proof that their fears weren't so baseless after all. But when a reporter from The TransAdvocate questioned Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti about the story, Vendetti said that the report was based only on the complaints of an angry parent. "There has not been a situation" of harassment or other intimidating behavior, Vendetti said.
PJI found itself forced into a defensive crouch. In its response to Vendetti's remarks, the organization came pretty closeto conceding that its tales of bathroom harassment were made up, although PJI asserted that the mere presence of a transgender student in the restroom "is inherently intimidating and harassing." "The core of this story," PJI went on, "--that the school is elevating the rights of one self-proclaimed transgender student while minimizing the privacy rights of all the biologically female students, has not been seriously controverted."
After assuring a GLAAD official that she would challenge an anti-gay hate group leader on his history of extreme rhetoric, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly welcomed Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to defend a Duck Dynasty star, never mentioning his nor FRC's anti-gay extremism and hate group designation.
Phil Robertson of A&E's popular Duck Dynasty show, made national headlines this week after calling homosexuality illogical and comparing it to bestiality during an interview with GQ magazine. Citing his remarks, on December 18 A&E announced it would be placing Robertson on indefinite hiatus.
During the following evening's edition of The Kelly File, Kelly invited on GLAAD's Jeremy Hooper followed by Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins to discuss Robertson's anti-gay comments.
Hooper challenged Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his anti-gay record and vile rhetoric, to which Kelly promised, "What specifically? Because I'll ask him."
But Kelly never asked Perkins to explain his extreme stances against the gay community, nor did she acknowledge that the FRC is a designated hate group. Instead she merely identified FRC as "a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian world view"--a description that continues Fox's trend of referring to anti-gay extremism as Christianity. Perkins went on to defend Robertson as upholding "biblical morality" and attack homosexuality as "sexual immorality."