Ezra Klein's nascent news and policy site Vox.com promises readers that its journalists will "really know the topics they cover." But newly minted Vox writing fellow Brandon Ambrosino - a frequent commentator on LGBT issues - has repeatedly demonstrated that his understanding of LGBT topics is superficial at best, and frequently dangerously off-base.
In Vox's Facebook post announcing the hire, Ambrosino noted his interest in LGBT topics. That interest has manifested itself in numerous pieces whitewashing the homophobia of figures like Jerry Falwell and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, asserting that homosexuality is a choice, and condemning LGBT rights activists as bigoted.
Vox's home page promises that it's "hiring journalists who really know the topics they cover" because "[t]here's no way we'll be able to help readers understand issues if we haven't done the work to understand them ourselves":
But a look at Ambrosino's body of work demonstrates that he doesn't understand several basic facts about one of his purported specialties:
In two pieces in The New Republic, Ambrosino asserted that he had made a "choice" to be gay, failing to explain when, why, and how he made that choice. His pieces were criticized for their misuse of academic texts. His assertion also contradicts mainstream medical expertise, which overwhelmingly concludes that a person's sexual orientation isn't chosen.
Of course, Ambrosino has previously spoken of when he started experiencing "gay feelings" and realized he "was attracted to men" - strongly suggesting that his sexual orientation was something he realized, not selected. It's certainly a choice whether or not to embrace one's sexual orientation, but as Ambrosino's own words attest, it isn't a switch you can flip on and off.
In the same New Republic pieces, Ambrosino urged gays and lesbians to learn from the transgender community. Transgender activism, he wrote, is "fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices."
But being transgender isn't a choice, much less a sexual choice. A person's gender identity is a deeply ingrained, intrinsic characteristic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a person's gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Being transgender, as one expert put it, is "part of the human condition." It also has nothing to do with a person's sexuality or sexual orientation.
In addition to not understanding the most basic realities of what it means to be transgender, Ambrosino has also used the term "tranny" - a transphobic slur - to describe transgender people. Assuming that Ambrosino didn't have malicious intent, his use of the slur still reflected a remarkable ignorance of transgender issues for a frequent commentator on LGBT issues.
Ezra Klein's much-hyped news and policy site, Vox.com, has hired Brandon Ambrosino - a gay man who has made a name for himself by suggesting that being gay is a choice and whitewashing anti-gay bigotry and discrimination.
Vox, the news and policy site headed by Ezra Klein, announced on March 12 that Ambrosino had been hired as a writing fellow:
Klein's new venture - announced to considerable fanfare in January - will provide Ambrosino a formidable platform as the go-to gay writer for anti-gay conservatives seeking to legitimize their homophobia.
Ambrosino - whose professional background is as a jazz and tap dancer - first garnered considerable attention with an April 2013 essay for The Atlantic. Titled "Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University," Ambrosino's piece recounted his experience as a student at Liberty University, founded by the inflammatory fundamentalist preacher in 1971. Describing himself as "the world's most hypersexual fag," Ambrosino admitted he was an unlikely candidate to attend Liberty, but in his experience, it was "very different from what you might think of it." He lamented that the school "gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell's soundbytes."
Those sound bites included Falwell's notorious reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for which he pinned some of the blame on gays and lesbians. Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell said:
[T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."
Ambrosino's take on Falwell? He argues that the guy with the "big fat smile" has been unfairly maligned by progressives like Bill Maher. While Ambrosino never got the chance to tell Falwell that he's gay, he "wouldn't have been afraid of his response." After all, Ambrosino wrote, he's confident that Falwell wouldn't have supported stoning Ambrosino.
Right-wing media figures are celebrating a new paper purporting to demonstrate anti-Christian and anti-conservative bias in the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) listing of extremist hate groups -- conveniently ignoring the clear biases of the paper's author and the paper's glaring methodological problems.
On March 10, Breitbart.com's in-house anti-gay extremist Austin Ruse touted a new "study" from University of North Texas sociologist George Yancey, the author of "Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups," a paper appearing in the journal Academic Questions. In the "study," Yancey purports to have found that the SPLC's practice of identifying and labeling hate groups ignores extremism on the left, instead maligning right-wing groups like the Family Research Council (which Yancey calls the "Family Research Center"). Moreover, Yancey charges that the SPLC is far too liberal with its use of that designation, unfairly smearing sensible conservatives as hateful bigots.
Before taking his arguments seriously, here's what media outlets and the public should know about Yancey's anti-SPLC polemic:
1. It Isn't A Study. Yancey's paper -- republished in full on Breitbart's website -- is little more than a screed against the SPLC filled with right-wing boilerplate. ("Progressive groups who value tolerance may display intolerance when reacting to conservative individuals," Yancey writes, echoing conservative bloviators like Erick Erickson.) But Yancey's "study" lacks a systematic and coherent methodology. There's no objective metric by which he determines whether the SPLC goes too hard on conservative groups and too easy on leftist ones.
Instead, he fixates on the fact that the SPLC hasn't labelled the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as a hate group. This perceived failure on the SPLC's part is Yancey's central example of its alleged pro-leftist, anti-conservative bias.
2. The SPLC Does Hold Non-Conservative Groups Accountable. The SPLC has done extensive work highlighting phenomena like black separatism and black supremacism. In fact, it was the SPLC who exposed last summer an African-American "race war" proponent working for the Department of Homeland Security. Conservative outlets like Fox News and WorldNetDaily highlighted the story, even though those organizations have condemned the SPLC in the past.
National Review has established itself as a staunch proponent of allowing business owners refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. It's a position that unfortunately aligns with National Review's record of attacking defending discrimination against marginalized groups, including its shameful opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's.
For months, National Review's staff has worked to invent bogus justifications for anti-gay business discrimination, condemning non-discrimination efforts as a form of government overreach. Long before states like Kansas and Arizona sought to pass laws allowing business to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, National Review was championing business owners who had been sued for engaging in anti-gay discrimination.
In August, after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that photographer Elaine Huguenin violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, National Review joined other right-wing media outlets in their howls of outrage. At National Review Online, NRO contributor and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan T. Anderson blasted the ruling as a sign that social conservatives had been "driven to the margins of culture," with "religious believers" and "the truth about marriage" under judicial assault.
NRO also took up the mantle of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. In a one-sided interview published under the headline "Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom," NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez framed Phillips, whom a state judge ruled had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law, as a victim of anti-Christian persecution. Lopez wondered what the "future of freedom" looked like in a world where businesses couldn't turn away LGBT customers.
Given its support for anti-gay businesses, it was unsurprising that National Review cheered the introduction of several state license-to-discriminate bills this winter.
After USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers penned a column denouncing Kansas' bill as an example of "homosexual Jim Crow laws," Anderson took to NRO to defend anti-gay business practices as protected under "freedom of association and freedom of contract." Anderson saw "religious liberty and the rights of conscience," not the rights and dignity of LGBT customers, at stake.
As national attention turned toward Arizona following the demise of the Kansas bill, support for anti-gay segregation measures became National Review's official editorial position. Following the Arizona legislature's passage of S.B. 1062 - which would have protected businesses from being sued for anti-gay discrimination - the National Review's editors published a February 24 editorial urging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the measure. The "necessary" bill, the editors wrote, simply affirmed the ethos of "live-and-let live."
Conservative commentator Michael Medved declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that it was a "liberal lie" that a state has ever banned same-sex marriage.
During a March 7 CPAC panel titled "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?" Medved denied that gay couples have encountered state-sponsored discrimination. "There has never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage," Medved said:
Fox News is blasting Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly telling state attorneys general that they don't have to enforce their states' gay marriage bans. In reality, Holder merely instructed the attorneys general that they don't have to defend such bans in court if they deem the laws unconstitutional.
It's unclear if Fox is misreading or simply willfully distorting what Holder actually said, but either way, the network is wrong.
Addressing the National Association of Attorneys General on February 25, Holder stated that if state attorneys general conclude that their gay marriage bans violate core constitutional principles like equal protection under the law, they're not obligated to defend those bans in court. Holder also explicitly stated that attorneys general shouldn't base such decisions on "policy or political disagreements" and should stick to legal analysis of the bans' constitutionality.
Holder's guidance doesn't mean that marriage equality bans won't be enforced while they're still in effect. However, an attorney general does have the option of refusing to defend laws that he or she believes won't survive judicial scrutiny. In such circumstances, other parties may then intervene to defend a law on the state's behalf. That's precisely what's currently happening in the court battle over Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban.
This isn't Fox News' first baseless attack on Holder when it comes to the defense of anti-gay marriage laws. It was only three years ago that Megyn Kelly asserted Holder had decided not to enforce the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) after the Obama administration dropped its defense of the law in court. But the administration kept enforcing DOMA as the law of the land until the Supreme Court struck down its core provision last summer.
Three years later, it appears that Fox remains unable - or unwilling - to get its facts right.
Responding to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of a measure that would have sanctioned anti-gay business discrimination, The Washington Times' editorial board denounced the "lavender lobby" for asking for tolerance from "the people they despise most, men and women of faith."
In an editorial published on March 5, the Times assailed Brewer's veto as a blow to religious freedom, relying (and not for the first time) on the extremist Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for comment. The Times' editors argued that the only way a business owner would know a customer's sexual orientation would be if "a customer walks in announcing his sexual proclivities." The editorial also contemplated when a "wedding cake announces its sexual proclivities" (emphasis added):
The governor's veto "enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona," argued Doug Napier, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The proposed law was not Christian-specific, as it was often portrayed in the media, and would have, for two examples, protected the right of a Muslim caterer to refuse to arrange a pig roast, or a Jewish photographer (or any other photographer of good will) to decline a commission to photograph a neo-Nazi ceremony.
In saner and less litigious times than these, there never would have been a lawsuit. Bakeries, photographers and florists serve homosexual customers every day. The market is there to serve.
Unless a customer walks in announcing his sexual proclivities, a shopkeeper wouldn't know who's gay, merely cheerful or just having a bad hair day. He knows that he hurts only himself when he turns away a customer.
A wedding cake announces its sexual proclivities only when the baker puts two men or two women on it, and this, to many, mocks authentic marriage. Or maybe putting four hairy legs on a wedding cake just offends a baker's art.
The lavender lobby has a winning streak in the courts, but what homosexuals covet most is not the tolerance of the larger society, but the approval of society, and particularly the approval of the people they despise most, men and women of faith.
Conservative commentator Steve Deace accused President Obama and the media of using openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam as an excuse to divert attention from Benghazi and other alleged "failures" of the Obama administration.
Writing for The Washington Times on March 3, Deace condemned "the intolerant same-sex lobby" for pushing its "propaganda" on the American public. Deace highlighted the attention Sam, a star lineman at the University of Missouri, received after coming out in February. According to Deace, liberals pounced on Sam's announcement in order to advance "LGBTQ propaganda" - and to shift focus away from the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya (emphasis added):
Careers are made and broken at this [NFL scouting] event every year, and given the underwhelming performance of a certain prospect from the University of Missouri, his draft status could be in jeopardy.
Except this isn't just any pro prospect. This is Michael Sam. The leftist media's latest contrived attempt to distract the American people from the daily failures of the president who they cover for daily. Mr. Sam generated headlines from shills and wannabes who just couldn't get enough of the first "openly gay football player."
Of course, these are the same people that have been trying to kill football the past two years because it's too dangerous. Now they can't wait to rally around the rainbow flag. And they wonder why their credibility is about as low as that of Congress.
Not to be outdone, a flailing president who seemingly has no time to give answers to the families of four dead Americans at Benghazi, or the millions he broke a promise to that they could keep their current health insurance if they liked it, couldn't wait to jump on Mr. Sam's bandwagon.
After embarking on a tangent in which he attacked transgender people for contradicting the will of "the Creator" and referred to New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray as a former lesbian (she doesn't identify as a "former lesbian" but has said her sexuality is "fluid"), Deace concluded that the "moral foundations of Western civilization" were under assault by the LGBT movement and urged "liberty-loving Americans" to "just say no to the left."
Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat depicted business owners who wish to discriminate against gay customers as the real victims in the debate over whether it should be permissible, as a recently vetoed Arizona bill would have authorized, for businesses to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
In his March 2 column, Douthat conceded the inevitability of marriage equality, contending that once that debate is finished, the question will be whether marriage equality opponents will be able to express their "dissent" by, say, turning gay couples away from their businesses. Even as he urged his fellow Christian conservatives not to "call it persecution" if they're required to treat LGBT people equally, Douthat's entire column attempted to frame the fight for equal treatment as a matter of conservative victimization, rather than fundamental human dignity (emphasis added):
But there's another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business -- which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities -- thousands of years' worth -- to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status -- this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
But it's still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we're not having a negotiation. Instead, all that's left is the timing of the final victory -- and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan pointed to the fight against measures that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers as further evidence of "the politicization of everything," ignoring the fact that conservative media and legislators spearheaded the push to allow individuals and businesses to deny services to the LGBT community.
In a February 27 screed lamenting the decline of "the nation's morale," Noonan launched a wide-ranging attack on "the aggressive left" and its alleged responsibility for sowing the seeds of "national division." Obamacare, the IRS, the EPA, the NSA, and Nancy Pelosi all featured in Noonan's list of terribles, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whom she compared to Vladimir Lenin because Obamacare. Noonan also expressed concern about "the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place" (emphasis added):
We are suffering in great part from the politicization of everything and the spread of government not in a useful way but a destructive one. Everyone wants to help the poor, the old and the sick; the safety net exists because we want it. But voters and taxpayers feel bullied, burdened and jerked around, which again is not new but feels more intense every day. Common sense and native wit tell them America is losing the most vital part of itself in the continuing shift of power from private to public. Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies--local, state, federal--on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don't employ too many, don't take a chance! Which means: Don't grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you'll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
It's all part of the malaise, the sclerosis. So is the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place that must culturally and politically be respected. The political-media complex is bravely coming down on florists with unfashionable views. On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: "Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not." Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space? On an optimistic note, the Little Sisters of the Poor haven't been put out of business and patiently await their day in court.
While Noonan lamented the implications of a world in which being LGBT isn't sufficient reason for a business owner to deny someone a service, her survey of the "politicization of everything" excluded a look at the role of conservative media outlets like Fox News in crafting the narrative that LGBT equality poses a dire threat to religious freedom - the very narrative that led legislators across the country to begin proposing bills that would make LGBT customers legitimate targets of discrimination.