After months of denying and ignoring the persistent problem of anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace, Fox News displayed a newfound concern for employment discrimination - against religious conservatives.
On the February 4 edition of The Real Story, Fox host Gretchen Carlson hosted a "faith panel" consisting of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the 700 Club's Wendy Griffith, and American Atheists' Amanda Knief to discuss a new report from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation showing a correlation between religious freedom and economic performance. The panel delved into matters of religious views in the workplace, with Carlson suggesting that in the U.S., Christianity is no longer "allowed always as it was in the past":
CARLSON: Many people in the United States feel like in recent years in, there's been some sort of - well, that Christianity hasn't been allowed always as it was in the past, and that there seems to be some sort of attack on it, whether you believe that or not.
The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation doesn't link to the report on its website, although a summary in the Deseret News indicates that the report merely finds a correlation between improved economic outcomes and the loosening of religious restrictions, as in post-Maoist China. There's nothing in the summary pertaining to alleged religious discrimination in the U.S., of which Carlson didn't cite a single example.
Carlson's purported concern for workplace bias is noteworthy, given that it comes after Fox News has long been silent on anti-LGBT employment discrimination - a real, existing problem - or portrayed legislative efforts to combat it as a threat to religious liberty. After the historic Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in November, Fox News devoted a grand total of 19 seconds of coverage to the vote.
In a refreshing contrast to the problematic and often transphobic coverage provided by other media outlets, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry used her eponymous show to allow a transgender woman to tell her own story in a segment that highlighted the importance of letting transgender people speak for themselves.
The February 1 edition of Melissa Harris-Perry featured an interview with transgender author and activist Janet Mock, whose new memoir Redefining Realness tells the story of Mock's experiences as a trans woman of color. Harris-Perry opened the segment by noting the challenges confronting the transgender community, including disproportionate levels of violence and harassment and employment discrimination.
In her interview, Mock told Harris-Perry that she wrote her memoir to empower other trans women by "bringing words to explain my experiences" and showing that trans people "exist in the daytime and live a very full life":
MOCK: I think for me [I wrote a memoir] because not enough of our stories are being told. And I think that bringing words to explain my experiences - and not only explain my personal experiences, but also, like, the political context was really important to me, but I knew that young girls needed a personal story that reflected them. And I think that a lot of women will see - a lot of marginalized women, at least - will see themselves in the experiences that I described in the story.
The segment differed sharply from other news outlets' coverage of transgender issues. In January, an article on the sports website Grantland outing transgender golf club inventor Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt was fiercely criticized and sparked questions about the role the author's reporting may have played in prompting Vanderbilt to commit suicide. Transgender experts and advocates said that the story and its tragic ending underscored the need for news organizations to get the input of actual trans people when reporting on issues related to the community.
The Daily Caller mocked and objectified transgender students in its report on a recent legal victory for transgender youth, a report that also featured the long-debunked claim that transgender students will engage in inappropriate behavior if they're allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The Daily Caller accompanied a February 1 article titled "Maine's supreme court foists choose-your-own-bathroom policy on entire state" with a photo illustration of a woman screaming from behind a shower curtain, which the Daily Caller also used for another piece deriding transgender protections:
In the article itself, education editor Eric Owens continued his pattern of transphobic ignorance, often characterized by an objectifying fixation on the genitalia of transgender subjects. Blasting Maine's Supreme Judicial Court for its January 30 ruling that states must allow transgender students to use restrooms for the gender with which they identify, Owens wrote (emphasis added):
The supreme court of Maine has issued an opinion declaring that transgender children in the state's public schools must be allowed to choose their own bathrooms despite their genitalia or how uncomfortable other students may feel about it.
The 5-1 decision, which came down on Thursday, marks the first time any state's high court has ruled that transgender kids can use the bathroom with which they identify rather than the one matching their biological trappings, reports the Bangor Daily News.
The case, which originated in 2009 and stagnated for years in Maine's courts, involved a fifth-grade student who wanted to use the girls' bathroom. School officials said no because the student was not, in fact, a girl.
Jennifer Levi, director of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) transgender rights project, was pleased with the outcome.
"A transgender girl is a girl and must be treated as such in all respects, including using the girls' restroom," Levi stridently insisted.
The article's jump-page line read, "Transgender dudes cleverly force their way into female bathrooms all over the country":
One month after taking effect, California's new law allowing transgender students to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities hasn't given rise to the horror stories predicted by the right-wing media, according to school officials around the state.
On August 12, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act, extending to transgender students statewide rights that had already been recognized by large school districts like Los Angeles Unified School District. The passage of the law, which took effect on January 1, catalyzed a conservative misinformation campaign featuring the false claims that transphobic bullying is "not a big problem," that the law would allow bathroom "free-for-alls" with students exploiting the law to use opposite-sex restrooms, and that harassment would spike in restrooms and locker rooms.
In an interview with Equality Matters, Dr. Judy Chiasson, Los Angeles' program coordinator for Human Relations, Diversity and Equity, said that after nine years of implementing trans-affirmative policies, Los Angeles schools haven't experienced any of the problems predicted by right-wing critics of the law.
"We have had no incidents of anybody pretending to be transgender," Chiasson said.
As the district has for nearly a decade, Chiasson said that Los Angeles schools would determine students' eligibility for the law on a case-by-case basis, verifying that a student's gender identity has been "consistent" and "persistent." Conservative claims that the law would let students who aren't transgender sneak into opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms won't pan out, Chiasson said, because such claims bear no relationship to the reality of implementing transgender protections.
"We don't let children [declare] 'I'm gonna be a girl during P.E. and the rest of the day I'm going to be a boy,'" Chiasson said.
Far from creating headaches, Chiasson said, the new law is helping prevent them.
"I can assure families that a law like this solves problems. It doesn't create them," Chiasson told Equality Matters. She cited a transgender male student who long believed he had to use the girls' restroom. That situation, Chiasson said, caused far more stress and discomfort than when he began using the boys' facilities.
And while the discredited Pacific Justice Institute - which invented a story about a transgender female harassing her peers in a Colorado high school restroom - has sought to stoke parental opposition to transgender rights, Chiasson said that Los Angeles' protections have been cheered by parents.
"Within LA Unified," Chiasson said, "we have a legacy of being particularly LGBT-affirming. The parents have been very grateful because we're giving them a school where their children can be affirmed and recognized."
Other school districts' experience with the new law dovetails with Los Angeles' experience with transgender protections.
A Daily Caller writer penned an historically illiterate column proclaiming that the mission of American liberalism has always been "controlling the masses," asserting that contemporary liberals wish to engineer a world in which "we can just eradicate that last opponent of gay marriage" and "Americans are all Rachel Maddows."
In his January 30 column, Mark Judge embarked on a lengthy, error-ridden history of American liberalism featuring claims that arch-libertarian and bitter New Deal opponent H. L. Mencken was actually a liberal and that FDR's administration was riddled with communists -- a conspiracy theory that has been derided even by right-wing commentators. Judge then trained his sights on contemporary liberals (emphasis added):
With the arrival of Ronald Reagan, and the subsequent Tea Party movements, American liberals, argues Siegel, have gone back to 1920s mode, but with a twist. Like Mencken, Bourne, Upton Sinclair, and George Bernard Shaw, today's left is obsessed with containing and controlling the masses and forcing them to be ruled by their betters. It's why there is such rage at the Tea Party, no to mention the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dare to resist the sexual revolution and Obama's contraception mandate. Yet there is a twist: these same liberals now love popular culture, especially the parts of it that tweak (or twerk) bourgeois values. They have also, as [author Fred] Siegel notes, traded in their concept of a "universal consciousness" that needs to be elevated for the racial and gender identity politics of "gentry liberalism." It's not a hive mind that needs to be dragged into enlightenment; it's a bunch of dumb rednecks who need to be forced to celebrate "diversity." In either case, the goal is heaven on earth, and they will do anything to attain it.
Let me try and sum up by putting it this way: combine utopianism, snark, arrogance, selective defense of science -- that is, defense of science when it agrees with your preformed prejudices -- hostility to Western civilization, ignorance of American history, mockery of classical culture, the ability to shift sides to either defend or excoriate the masses depending on whether the people are for or against your unreasonable utopian demands (i.e. your "rights"), a Valley Girl singsong accent, and free-floating rage. Put it all together, have Obama recite an incantation over the stew, and you have a modern liberal. You have Rachel Maddow.
And as I said at the opening of this piece, I think Americans are all Rachel Maddows now. They willfully submit themselves to their betters, even if the best and brightest of those elites is a man with no experience and a proven record of lying. NSA wiretapping, drones, religious persecution -- no matter, we have a black president. Not to mention Miley Cyrus and Oprah. Now if we can just eradicate that last opponent of gay marriage, or outlaw the Tea Party, or unplug Fox News, we can usher in that heaven on earth that Randolph Bourne and H.G. Wells prophesied.
Continuing the right-wing media's baseless attacks on anti-discrimination laws as assaults on freedom, National Review Online (NRO) conducted a one-sided interview with a baker about the alleged threat to liberty posed by having to treat gay customers the same as any other customer.
In an interview published on January 29, NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez spoke with Jack Phillips, owner of the Colorado bakery Masterpiece Cakes. In December, a Colorado administrative law judge found that Phillips had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law when he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. Represented by the extremistAlliance Defending Freedom (ADF) - a group working internationally to criminalize homosexuality - Phillips has appealed the decision, charging that it violates his First Amendment right to religious liberty and compels him to communicate a message with which he disagrees.
Contrary to the assertions of Phillips and his ADF attorneys, anti-discrimination laws don't police private beliefs - religious or otherwise - but simply require businesses operating on the public marketplace not to discriminate against customers based on arbitrary characteristics like race, sexuality, or gender. But aside from perfunctory questions asking Phillips to respond to the other side, Lopez went along with the ADF's religious persecution narrative (emphasis added):
LOPEZ: What was your reaction to having a civil-rights complaint filed against you? Did you see yourself as a civil-rights violator?
PHILLIPS: It is shocking that the government has attempted to take away my freedom, and really the freedom of all Coloradoans, simply for declining to design and create a wedding cake for a marriage that is not even recognized in the state of Colorado. I am being punished for living and working according to my faith and the marriage laws of the state of Colorado.
LOPEZ: What does Christianity mean in your life? Why can't you leave it out of your cake-making?
PHILLIPS: As I have said before, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I am called to obey Him and His teachings in all aspects of my life. I cannot leave my faith out of my cake art, nor should I have to in a free country. I love doing what God has designed me to do. A marriage between a man and a woman represents the relationship of Christ to His Church. There are few things more sacred. This is one of the reasons I love making wedding cakes and why I have such passion and skill when I create wedding cakes. My religious convictions motivate me to make great wedding cakes.
LOPEZ: Has this changed the way you look at the First Amendment and freedom?
PHILLIPS: The coercion favored by the government and the ACLU in the name of "tolerance" is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom. If anything, this has actually strengthened my commitment to the First Amendment and the principles upon which this country was founded.
LOPEZ: What's the future for freedom look like from where you're standing?
PHILLIPS: I am optimistic that the courts will uphold the law and the constitutions of the United States and the state of Colorado. This country was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all, and I do not see the government's efforts to take our God-given rights away succeeding in the long run.
Days before the world's attention turns to Russia for the launch of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, conservative website Breitbart.com touted Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for "Christian values," citing the country's ban on "homosexual propaganda" while ignoring the horrific consequences Russia's anti-gay laws have had for LGBT citizens.
On January 29, Breitbart highlighted a Washington Times report on Putin's recent criticism of the U.S. for its alleged drift away from Christian principles, a rhetorical broadside fired amid the Kremlin's larger push to impose a hardline interpretation of Orthodox Christianity on Russian society. Echoing Pat Buchanan's recent assertion that "Barack Obama's America" has taken the erstwhile Soviet Union's place as the evil empire of the world, Breitbart suggested that Putin's attack on U.S. secularism indicated that Russia and the U.S. had switched places (emphasis added):
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West, including the United States, for eschewing Christian values and opting instead for a "path to degradation."
In his State of the Nation speech last month, Putin asserted that, "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values... Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan." Russia has adopted new laws that ban homosexual propaganda and criminalizes the insulting of religious sensibilities.
The law on religious sensibilities was approved in the wake of a protest in Moscow's largest cathedral by a female punk rock group, Pussy Riot. State-run television said the group's "demonic" protest was funded by "some Americans." Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values has prompted a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Extreme groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative faction who adopted a slogan "Orthodoxy or Death," are gaining prominence.
It was not that long ago that the United States was accusing Russia for being a "godless nation."
Breitbart went on to recite the Soviet Union's history of anti-Christian persecution. What the website seemed less interested in exploring was the persecution resulting from the country's crackdown on LGBT people and their allies. The "homosexual propaganda" ban Breitbart referred to could encompass positive depictions of LGBT people, displaying the rainbow flag, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, and even coming out as LGBT. Harrowing reports reveal how state-sanctioned homophobia has fueled a climate of increased anti-LGBT violence and vigilantism.
Breitbart, however, is more likely to cheer on the Kremlin's assault on LGBT human rights than to lay bare its terrifying consequences. The website's Austin Ruse has firmly established himself as one of the crackdown's foremost American conservative defenders, claiming that Russia's anti-gay laws are vital to "human rights" and protecting "the innocence of children." According to Ruse, Russia's persecution of gay people is part of a laudable effort to "resist ... the political movement to regularize and even celebrate" homosexuality.
With its latest report on "Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values," Breitbart has once again adopted language that sounds no different than that employed by the Kremlin to defend its war on LGBT human rights. Such whitewashing provides media organizations an example of what to avoid as they train their focus on Russia in the coming month.
With the Winter Olympics set to kick off in Sochi, Russia on February 7, the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD has released a media guide for covering the upcoming games, stressing the importance of highlighting Russia's anti-gay crackdown and telling the stories of LGBT Russian citizens.
On January 29, GLAAD unveiled its Olympic Playbook, in conjunction with the group's launch of a Global Voices program designed to advocate for LGBT rights around the world via improved national and international media coverage. GLAAD offered media organizations a primer on Russia's anti-gay crackdown, noting that the country's ban on so-called "gay propaganda" could target favorable depictions of LGBT people, waving the rainbow flag, public displays of affection between same-sex partners, and simply coming out as LGBT.
Additionally, GLAAD noted that LGBT Russians suffer under laws clamping down on free speech and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive any foreign financing; such entities must register with the government as "foreign agents."
Continuing in the vein of GLAAD's longstanding mission to empower LGBT people through media accountability and story-telling, the organization urged media organizations covering the Olympics to:
GLAAD's advisory also listed "pitfalls to avoid," including:
Breitbart.com Editor-At-Large Ben Shapiro predicted that Hollywood - credited with shifting American public opinion in favor of marriage equality - will soon push sentiment the other way, asserting that the weddings of 33 same-sex and opposite-sex couples at the 56th annual Grammy Awards exposes the entertainment industry's "hatred of Biblical values."
In a January 29 TownHall.com column titled "How Hollywood Is Killing Same-Sex Marriage," Shapiro baselessly asserted that Americans were beginning to abandon their support for marriage equality, arguing that the Grammys ceremony marked a key turning point. Joining other right-wing media figures in blasting the ceremony, Shapiro criticized Hollywood's "perverted" concept of marriage and its "anti-Biblical" support for the "destruction of traditional values" (emphasis added):
This wasn't an argument for same-sex marriage. It wasn't even attractive image-making on behalf of same-sex marriage. It was hatred of Biblical values cloaked in pietistic nonsense.
Begin with the marriages themselves. The only rationale for getting married on the Grammys en masse would be either attention-seeking or spite toward Americans with traditional values, or both. Neither of these rationales scream "love," "commitment" or "societal building block."
Move on to the cheering audience -- a group of anti-marriage Hollywoodites who largely see the institution itself as patriarchal. The same folks standing up for same-sex marriage at the Grammys largely scorn the institution of marriage itself. The only time they embrace marriage is when it is being mocked, undermined or perverted. That's not a cuddly case for same-sex marriage.
But this is Hollywood unmasked: angry, vindictive, self-righteous, anti-Biblical. The case for same-sex marriage rests on an application of Biblical principle -- monogamy and commitment -- to actions condemned by Biblical text. For years, Hollywood was able to get away with perverting the Bible by ignoring it. But in its rush to congratulate itself for overthrowing Biblical values without a shot, Hollywood spiked the football and revealed its true agenda. And that agenda is not the agenda of tolerance for individuals, but an ugly agenda of unearned moral superiority via destruction of traditional values.
His latest bigoted tirade fits a pattern of homophobic statements on Shapiro's part. An outspoken critic of efforts to combat anti-LGBT bullying, Shapiro has also waged baseless attacks on the "tyranny" of anti-discrimination laws, warned that marriage equality would force churches to perform same-sex marriages, and touted Matthew Shepard Trutherism because he sees it as a convenient way of undercutting the LGBT's movement's "broader agenda."
Media critics on Fox News and CNN criticized a recent article that outed the inventor of a golf putter as a transgender woman. The two networks' history of problematic transgender coverage suggests that CNN and Fox could stand to take their own advice.
On January 15, the sports website Grantland published a lengthy article by Caleb Hannan about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the founder of Yar Golf and inventor of a "scientifically superior" golf club. In the story, which Hannan described as "the strangest story I've ever worked on," Hannan outed "Dr. V" as a trans woman. Hannan wrote that during the course of his reporting, Vanderbilt resisted his outing of her. At the end of the article, he revealed that Vanderbilt had killed herself.
Hannan's digging into Vanderbilt's personal life -- and his problematic framing of a transgender woman's identity as "strange" - sparked fierce criticism and generated questions about the role his invasive reporting may have played in Vanderbilt's suicide. On January 26, CNN's Reliable Sources and Fox's #MediaBuzz weighed in on the controversy, with hosts and panelists on both shows agreeing that Grantland should have consulted a trans person before proceeding with the article.
On Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter invited ESPN.com's Christina Kahrl and GLAAD's Tiq Milan to discuss the story and the ethical questions it raised:
MILAN: What journalists can take away from this is exactly what [Grantland editor-in-chief] Bill Simmons said in his letter ... to consult with LGBT organizations like GLAAD or like the National Center of Trans Equality to see how to better -- what are the best practices to deal with situations like this.
STELTER: It goes back to one of these journalistic maxims that diversity is so important to have in newsrooms. But I wonder if that's easier said than done sometimes for these places. I think you made a point, Christina, that the article was being written for an audience that could have learned a lot about the transgender community if only the research had been done.
Meanwhile, on Fox's #MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz dubbed Grantland's story a "media fail":