A number of cities in Texas have taken the historic step of passing non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, only to see those laws challenged by the extreme right-wing U.S. Pastor Council -- a group that has called Houston Mayor Annise Parker a "sodomite" and labeled gay people "forces of spiritual darkness."
On January 20, opponents of an LGBT non-discrimination law recently enacted in Plano, Texas, announced that they had collected enough signatures to put the measure up for a public repeal vote. The effort had been organized by the Texas Pastor Council, a group that's become a political force for anti-LGBT activists across the state.
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) "to bring a united, Biblical voice to the city, state and even nation." Though HAPC is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. All three are run by Welch, share the same website and contact information, and are often lumped together -- even on the USPC website.
Louisiana Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal is the keynote speaker for a rally funded and organized by an anti-LGBT group that has blamed gay people for causing the Holocaust and advocated imprisoning homosexuals. So why isn't his appearance garnering national media attention?
On January 24, Jindal will keynote a six-hour prayer event at Louisiana State University called "The Response: A Call To Prayer For a Nation In Crisis." The event is sponsored and funded by the American Family Association (AFA), one of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country. It's also being staffed by a number of notorious anti-LGBT activists.
The event has drawn protests from members of the LSU community. On January 22, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution expressing displeasure with the event, and a university spokesperson has clarified that the rental of an LSU facility "does not imply any endorsement."
Jindal has thus far dismissed criticism of the event, according to The Clarion-Ledger:
Asked if he agreed with the American Family Association's agenda, Jindal sidestepped that question and said, "The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians."
Jindal said the protesters themselves should consider joining the prayer rally. He said they "might benefit from prayer."
AFA's status as a hate group is largely thanks to the work of its spokesman, Bryan Fischer, whose anti-LGBT remarks go well beyond mainstream social conservatism. Fischer's inflammatory comments about gay people include:
As the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in a 2011 report:
The AFA has been extremely vocal over the years in its opposition to LGBT rights, marriage equality and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. The group's arguments are filled with claims that equate homosexuality with pedophilia and argue that there's a "homosexual agenda" afoot that is set to bring about the downfall of American (and ultimately, Western) civilization.
The event is likely to attract widespread media attention - largely seen as a precursor to Jindal's eventual presidential run. Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his 2012 presidential bid with a similar AFA-backed "Response" prayer event in order to reach out to social conservatives. But Perry's association with the extreme hate group wasn't scandalous enough for major media outlets that covered the event.
And aside from a few outlets noting AFA's "controversial" stances, national coverage of Jindal's association with the hate group has similarly been glossed over by the media. It's a stark contrast to the tremendous media attention surrounding GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's infamous 2002 speech to a white nationalist group. When it comes to GOP politics, media outlets have a hard time seeing what's newsworthy about a hate group like AFA being used to cement the campaign of a potential presidential candidate.
From the January 18 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the January 16 edition of Fox News' Shepard Smith Reporting:
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Fox News Sunday will host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring a anti-gay hate group leader who's known for peddling lies and smears about the LGBT community.
On January 18, Fox News Sunday is scheduled to host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring Ted Olson, a prominent pro-equality attorney, and Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC).
According to a Fox News press release announcing the debate:
Both sides in the same-sex marriage debate are looking to the Supreme Court as it decides whether or not to weigh in on the issue. The High Court is set to discuss cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and decide whether to rule on petitions challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. We'll debate what has become a key social issue within the country, exclusively with Ted Olson, former Solicitor General who served as Co-Counsel for the plaintiffs in Virginia's same-sex marriage case, and Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council.
Perkins's FRC was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010 because it has often promoted smears and falsehoods about the LGBT community. Perkins' history of extreme anti-gay work is well documented: he's made a career of linking homosexuality to pedophilia and calling homosexuality a health risk.
From the January 15 edition of MSNBC's News Nation with Tamron Hall:
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TLC has created an arsenal of wildly successful reality television shows by sensationalizing the stories of unusual people. But what happens when the network's search for ratings gold comes at the expense of vulnerable LGBT people?
On January 11, TLC aired its controversial one-hour special, My Husband's Not Gay. The show followed the stories of four men who admit to being attracted to other men but choose - primarily for religious reasons - to pursue heterosexual relationships. LGBT groups like GLAAD called the show "downright irresponsible" for its promotion of the widely discredited idea that people can choose to not be gay. By the time the program aired, over 100,000 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for it to be cancelled.
TLC dismissed criticism of the program, stating that the network "has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment."
And it's not wrong. As The Atlantic's Emma Green notes, TLC has developed a reality TV line-up that revolves around sensationalizing unusual stories:
Inevitably, this controversy will win the show more viewers. Because this is what TLC does: It finds people living atypical lives - usually ones in tension with "progressive" cultural norms - and turns them into spectacle... This approach to programming succeeds, wildly, because it's a pure distillation of the appeal of reality television: self-righteous voyeurism.
The same can be said for TLC's obsession with the Duggar family - the extreme conservative stars of the network's wildly successful 19 Kids and Counting. The show's novelty comes from the Duggar's unusually "traditional" and religious values - especially with regards to sex.
But what happens when the desire to highlight "different ways of life" ends up mainstreaming virulent anti-LGBT ideologies?
An op-ed in The Daily Caller blamed the LGBT community for helping cause the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her own life after being rejected by her religious parents.
On Sunday, December 29, the 17-year-old transgender teenager took her own life by walking into traffic miles from her home in Ohio. In her suicide note, which she posted online, Alcorn described the difficult conditions she faced in her life: unaccepting parents, religious conversion therapy, and isolation from her peers.
Alcorn's death has become a rallying cry in the fight against transphobic discrimination and conversion therapy. LGBT youth raised in non-accepting religious families are much more likely to attempt suicide, and Alcorn's story is a heartbreaking example of the kind of anguish and hopelessness many LGBT youth experience when facing unwelcoming home environments.
But according to David Benkof in Daily Caller, it's the LGBT community that's to blame for Alcorn's suicide. In a January 7 op-ed titled "The LGBT Community's 'Suicide Strategy' Killed Leelah Alcorn," freelance writer David Benkof argues that Leelah killed herself in order to help advance the LGBT agenda:
Because Leelah's death (she was struck by a semi-trailer after stepping onto a highway) grew directly out of the LGBT community's longstanding rhetorical "suicide strategy," which goes something like this:
We need same-sex marriage because gay teens will kill themselves if they don't feel equal.
Leelah knew that the gay community habitually points to teen suicide as an impetus for social and political change. Sadly, she found meaning in trying to pitch in, hoping her death would further advance LGBT rights.
Leelah's death doesn't call for a retread of pro-gay advocacy. Instead, it should be a sober opportunity for the LGBT community to re-examine its suicide strategy, lest they continue to encourage more Leelahs.
Benkof goes on to argue that LGBT activists are "almost gleeful" about Alcorn's suicide because it gives them "one more opportunity to gather sympathy for their social and political goals."
In August, Benkof blamed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell for the rise of rape in the military. As Media Matters has previously noted:
Benkof (formerly known as David Bianco) once identified as a gay man, but in 2003, he announced that he was actually bisexual and would abstain from sex with men for religious reasons. Since then, Benkof has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He has urged the LGBT community to "let go of their obsessive insistence on being treated equally at all costs," and opposed even basic non-discrimination protections as "a threat to marriage."
TLC denies claims that its newest show, "My Husband's Not Gay," helps promote the discredited notion that gay men can choose to be heterosexual. But one of the show's stars has a history of promoting "ex-gay" therapy, even acting as a spokesman for a major "ex-gay" organization.
TLC's new show, which follows a group of men who admit to being attracted to other men but have chosen to date and marry women, has been widely criticized by members of the LGBT community for promoting the widely discredited practice of "ex-gay" or "reparative" therapy.
GLAAD has condemned the program, calling it "downright irresponsible" and warning that it puts "countless young LGBT people in harm's way." Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to stopping "ex-gay" therapy, has pointed out that many of the shows stars are closely affiliated with North Star, a fringe Mormon "ex-gay" group. So far, a Change.org petition calling for the show's cancellation has gathered nearly 100,000 signatures.
TLC has thus far shrugged off the criticism. "TLC has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment," the network said in a statement. "The individuals featured in this one-hour special reveal the decisions they have made, and speak only for themselves."
But one of the stars of TLC's show - Preston "Pret" Dahlgren - has a history of speaking on behalf of "ex-gay" ministries, repeatedly using his testimony to promote organizations that promote reparative therapy.
Fox News contributor and radio talk show host Erick Erickson declared that "the terrorists won in Atlanta" after right-wing media falsely claimed that Atlanta's anti-gay fire chief was terminated for his religious beliefs.
On January 6, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed dismantled conservatives' claims that Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired over a book that he wrote which contains anti-gay remarks, explaining that Cochran's lack of judgment in distributing the book to his employees, and not following instructions regarding his month-long suspension over publishing the book without notice to the city, is what led to his termination.
On January 7, hours after a horrific terrorist attack against staffers of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris that left 12 people dead, Erickson wrote a blog post that likened the LGBT community to terrorists for objecting to the former Atlanta fire chief's book, and stated that "the terrorists won":
A publisher published something that offended. It mocked, it offended, and it showed the fallacy of a religion. It angered.
So the terrorists decided they needed to publicly destroy and ruin the publisher in a way that would not only make that destruction a public spectacle, but do it so spectacularly that others would think twice before publishing or saying anything similar.
The terrorist wants to sow fear. The destruction of an individual is not just meant to be a tool of vengeance, but a tool of instruction. It shows others what will happen to them if they dare do the same. It is generates self-regulating peer pressure. Others, fearing the fall out, will being to self-police and self-regulate. They will silence others on behalf of the terrorists. Out of fear, they will drive the ideas from the public square and society will make them off limits.
So they demanded the Mayor of Atlanta fire the Chief of the Fire Department for daring to write that his first duty was to "glory God" and that any sex outside of heterosexual marriage was a sin.
And the terrorists won in Atlanta.
Conservative media are falsely claiming that Atlanta's anti-gay fire chief was fired from his job because of his Christian faith, ignoring the unprofessional behavior that actually led to his termination.
On January 6, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed terminated Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, following a month-long suspension which began as a response to anti-gay comments Cochran made in a self-published 2013 religious book.
Cochran was suspended after employees complained about inflammatory remarks in his book, "Who Told You That You Were Naked?," which included calling homosexuality a "perversion" akin to bestiality and pederasty. Cochran had distributed copies of his book to employees at the fire department.
Cochran's suspension and eventual firing prompted a predictable reaction from right-wing commentators decrying alleged Christian persecution. Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that Cochran had been fired for "being a Christian," while Fox News reporter Todd Starnes suggested that Cochran was being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
But in a January 6 press conference, Mayor Reed stressed that the decision to fire Cochran wasn't based on his religious beliefs:
The mayor said he decided to terminate Cochran not just because the fire chief didn't consult him before publishing the book, but also spoke out about his suspension despite being told to remain quiet during the investigation into his leadership. What's more, Reed said he believes Cochran opened up the city to the potential for litigation over future discrimination claims.
Reed stressed that his decision is not because of Cochran's faith: "His religious (beliefs) are not the basis of the problem. His judgment is the basis of the problem."
For years, efforts to pass laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations have been derailed by the right-wing myth that sexual predators will exploit those laws to sneak into women's restrooms. In 2014, that myth finally began to lose steam.
Anti-LGBT activists have had tremendous success defeating non-discrimination protections for LGBT people by fearmongering about women's restrooms. The typical talking point goes like this: If it becomes illegal to discriminate against LGBT people, male sexual predators will pretend to be transgender in order to enter women's restrooms and commit crimes with impunity.
That horror story, as absurd as it is, has been around since the inception of the modern fight for LGBT equality. It's a wildly popular tactic on the right, largely due to its effectiveness. It's a talking point that touches on concerns about privacy, child safety, and sexual assault, and it's been extremely useful in persuading even moderate voters and politicians to vote against legal protections for the LGBT community.
It's also a talking point that's been thoroughly debunked by law enforcement experts, advocates for victims of sexual abuse, and government officials in states and cities that have had LGBT non-discrimination laws in place for years.
But given the public's general lack of familiarity with transgender people and their experiences, it hasn't been hard to get voters more concerned with the prospect of wig-donning criminals sneaking into public bathrooms.
The myth has been used to attack all kinds of pro-LGBT protections -- city non-discrimination ordinances, federal employment law, and school diversity policies. It's not unusual for anti-LGBT conservatives to simply rebrand broad non-discrimination laws as "bathroom bills" - phrasing that was unfortunately often adopted by news outlets.
That trend was strong in 2014, with conservative media outlets like Fox News regularly peddling "bathroom bill" talking points to attack non-discrimination laws like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.
Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city's non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.
The ordinance would bring Cleveland's non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities - including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:
(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;
Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don't correspond with their gender identity.
But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.
A former Fox Sports analyst-turned-hate group spokesman couldn't bring himself to disagree with a radio show caller who suggested that gay people who file discrimination complaints against business should be killed.
In September of 2013, Craig James was fired from his job as a football analyst on Fox Sports due to anti-gay remarks he made during a failed 2012 Senate run. His termination made him a celebrity among anti-gay groups, and he was eventually hired as an assistant to Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council (FRC).
During the December 12 edition of FRC's "Washington Watch" radio program, James spoke with a caller who suggested that gay people who filed discrimination complaints against anti-gay business owners should be put to death. "I don't know," responded James, before adding that Christians "have to be bold and firm and much stronger" in their opposition to LGBT equality:
JAMES: Thank you Phillip. You know what, that part there, I don't know about the executing, but I do know that we have to be bold and firm and much stronger. God doesn't tell us and calls us that we have to be timid and to stand for our straight -- our beliefs. I'm doing a course right now in seminary and it's the history of the early church and it's fascinating, there's been lots and lots and lots of men and women who have died for their Christian beliefs since the beginning and now we are in a time in this country and in this world where we must be bold and stand for God and His truths.
James' ambivalence about whether gay people should be put to death is - shockingly - not totally unprecedented at FRC. The extreme hate group previously praised Uganda's notorious "kill-the-gays" law for upholding "moral conduct."
The Duggar family - made famous by TLC's popular reality television show - just helped repeal an ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination. What responsibility does TLC have for the work being carried out by its reality TV superstars?
Since the debut of their TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting in 2008, the Duggar family has slowly evolved from a television novelty to a prominent icon in Republican politics. Their religious fervor, opposition to abortion, and emphasis on conservative "family values" have helped transform them into champions for social conservatives who now make frequent appearances on the campaign trail for GOP candidates. Many have noted the disturbing and ultra-conservative radicalism that lies beneath the Duggar's "family values" - namely the family's extreme views on women's and LGBT rights.
But the Duggar family has maintained a largely symbolic role in right-wing politics - acting more as champions of a socially conservative ideal than as actual players in the fight against social progress.
Until this week.
On December 9, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, voted 52 to 48 percent to repeal its recently-enacted Ordinance 119, a measure that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories.
National news outlets correctly credited the Duggar family for helping repeal the measure. Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the Duggar family, recorded a robocall earlier this year urging voters to oppose the ordinance, falsely claiming that it would allow male sexual predators to enter women's restrooms. The family donated $10,000 to the campaigns of three vocal opponents of the ordinance. Josh Duggar, who is Executive Director of FRC Action - the political arm of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council - used his position to urge voters to repeal of the ordinance.
The margin for repeal was less than 500 votes. Given the amount of even local media coverage the Duggars' involvement received, it's not a stretch to suggest that the family played a significant role in helping repeal the ordinance.