The Human Rights Commission in Lexington, Kentucky dismissed the argument that a business could refuse to serve gay customers on First Amendment grounds, ending a years-long conservative campaign to disguise anti-gay discrimination as free speech.
In March of 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington (GLSO) filed a complaint against Hands-On Originals, a T-shirt company that refused to print GLSO's shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival celebration. GLSO argued that the company had violated the city's fairness ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Conservative media outlets rallied to the T-shirt company's defense, accusing GLSO of trying to "ruin" a Christian business by forcing Hands-On Originals to promote a message it doesn't agree with. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group representing Hand-On Originals, similarly framed the dispute as a free speech issue, stating that "the Constitution prohibits the government from forcing business owners to promote messages they disagree with."
On October 6, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission released its recommended ruling in the dispute, concluding that Hands-On Originals had violated the city's ordinance. The decision roundly dismissed ADF's "free speech" arguments:
The Respondent argues that Mr. Adamson's objection to the printing of the t-shirt was not because of the sexual orientation of the members of the GLSO, but because of the Pride Festival's advocacy of pride in being homosexual. Acceptance of the Respondent's argument would allow a public accommodation to refuse service to an individual or group of individuals who hold and/or express pride in their status. This would have the absurd result of including person with disabilities who openly and proudly display their disabilities in the Special Olympics, persons of race or color, who are not only of differing race and color, but express pride in being so, and persons of differing religious who express pride in their religious beliefs.
The Fairness Ordinance does not require the Respondent to display any message, and does not require the Respondent to print promotional items including t-shirts. The Fairness only mandates that if the Respondent operates a business as a public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against potential customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. [emphasis added]
From the October 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro accused the Supreme Court of engaging in judicial activism in order to promote marriage equality and gay rights, suggesting that the Court wrongly struck down laws criminalizing "anal penetration" in its 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas.
In an October 6 article for Breitbart.com, Shapiro condemned the Supreme Court's refusal to take on the appeal of several cases challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. He suggested that the Court's refusal encourages "low-level courts to continue knocking down traditional marriage laws across the country."
Shapiro compared the Supreme Court's handling of marriage equality to its handling of state laws criminalizing gay sex, including its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state anti-sodomy laws across the country:
The Court clearly wants to wait until a majority of states have been forced to embrace same-sex marriage by lower-level appeals courts. Then they can determine that a "trend-line" has been established, suggest that society has "evolved," and declare that a new standard must be enshrined. That, of course, was the logic of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), in which the Court waited 17 years to overrule Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), stating that anal penetration was a hard-fought Constitutional right; the Court in that case stated that Bowers no longer applied because of "an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex." Justice Scalia rightly pointed out that the Court's statement was false - the state, he explained, still regulates "prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography." And Scalia also pointed out that "Constitutional entitlements do not spring into existence because some States choose to lessen or eliminate criminal sanctions on certain behavior." [emphasis added]
On MSNBC, a transgender student described the pain caused by right-wing misinformation about a policy that could allow athletes to participate on the team that corresponds with their gender identity.
During the October 2 edition of MSNBC's NewsNation with Tamron Hall, guest host Richard Lui led a segment on the Minnesota State High School League's consideration of a proposed participation policy for transgender student athletes. The proposal, which has since been temporarily tabled, would potentially allow student athletes to play on the sports team that matches their gender identity.
The segment featured OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer and Zeam Porter, a transgender student athlete who delivered an emotional speech during a public hearing about the proposal. When asked about the hearing, Porter described the difficulty of being exposed to misinformation about transgender students, including a misleading, transphobic ad published in Minnesota's Star Tribune:
PORTER: It was really hard to be in that space. I took away that there are a lot of people who purposely give misinformation and don't value me as a human, much less as a student or as an athlete... Being in that space yesterday was really hard.
PORTER: Other trans students have come to me and said that "I feel scared to pick up a newspaper now because I'm scared of seeing harassment. I'm scared of seeing discrimination. It's like I can't escape it, not on the court, not in the classroom, not even reading a newspaper I can't escape this discrimination. I can't escape misinformation and lies told about me." So it was really hard to hear that from other students because I'm not the only one going through this.
Two prominent LGBT groups are urging journalists to stop conflating religious belief with anti-LGBT attitudes in their coverage of the upcoming midterm elections, pointing to the dramatic rise in support for LGBT equality in communities of faith across the country.
On September 29, GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign released a resource guide for journalists covering the 2014 midterm elections. The guide, Faith, LGBT People, & The Midterm Elections, is aimed at helping journalists "challenge anti-LGBT talking heads who mask bias as a 'tenet of faith'" by highlighting growing support for LGBT equality in religious communities. According to the resource guide:
For decades, entire denominations, networks of churches, and Biblical and Talmudic scholars have been making a robust case that scripture actually embraces full and complete LGBT lives. In 2012 Christian and Jewish communities of faith spoke out for marriage equality in record numbers in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota. Likewise, the United Church of Christ has led a coalition of organizations that have sued North Carolina over its ban on marriage equality on first amendment grounds. And in Houston, Lutheran and Metropolitan Community Churches hosted and organized the effort to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Even respected evangelical Bible scholars like Dr. James Brown and Dr. David Gushee have been encouraging evangelicals to rethink their reading of Scripture on LGBT issues while Catholics for Marriage Equality refuse to abandon their LGBT sons and daughters and the faith they love. These pro-equality voices of faith matter, and they aren't getting the media attention they deserve.
Instead of highlighting religious support for LGBT equality, media outlets tend to rely on the voices of some of the most extreme voices of anti-gay conservatism, treating them as broadly representative of religious voters. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, when even mainstream news networks relied heavily on commentators like Tony Perkins - president of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council - to speak on behalf of religious voters:
The annual Values Voter Summit will take place from September 26 through September 28 in Washington, DC. The convention is sponsored by hate groups like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, and regularly features extreme rhetoric and hate from politicians and conservative media members. In 2013, Ben Carson said that Obamacare is "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." Here is some of what you can expect at the 2014 event:
Media figures speaking at the event are scheduled to include: Lt. General William Boykin, Fox News contributor Oliver North, Rick Santorum, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin, David Limbaugh, Fox News host Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor and Redstate.com Editor-in-chief Erick Erickson, Fox News contributor Sandy Rios, Mat Staver, Mark Levin, Star Parker, Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes, Brigitte Gabriel, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
Conservatives routinely attack LGBT non-discrimination laws as unnecessary, burdensome and threatening to religious liberty. But in state after state and city after city, their horror stories haven't come true.
Federal law still doesn't prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in private employment, housing, or public accommodations, despite widespread public support for such protections.
As a result, many city and state governments have taken to adopting their own non-discrimination measures. In March, Maryland banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Since then, cities like Houston, Fayetteville, and Roland Park have similarly extended existing non-discrimination protections to their LGBT residents.
Debates about local non-discrimination laws are routinely hijacked by conservative activists and media outlets that warn that protecting LGBT people is unnecessary, burdensome, and threatening to religious liberty.
Here are the five most common right-wing talking points about LGBT non-discrimination laws, debunked:
The third anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) found the U.S. military intact and stronger than ever. Despite the utter failure of their previous doomsday predictions to materialize, the same voices of opposition to DADT are now making similar prophecies about potential moves to lift the military's discriminatory ban on transgender people.
Challenges remain for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. Three years removed from the repeal of DADT, they still face harassment, discrimination and difficulties obtaining veterans' benefits. One obstacle to equality looms particularly heavy post-DADT: the prohibition on transgender service.
The Pentagon currently prohibits transgender people from serving in the armed forces, a ban that forces over 15,000 men and women currently serving to lie about their identities and deters countless others from enlisting. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has indicated the military may review this policy, which, according to the Palm Center, a research institute focused on sexuality and the military, is without sound medical reasoning and could be lifted without harming readiness.
Unsurprisingly, conservative pundits have railed against proposals to lift the transgender ban.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Center (FRC) and one of Fox News' favorite social commentators, wrote in a March FRC newsletter that lifting the ban on transgender service members would be a "fatal blow to unit cohesion and readiness" that "could compromise our troops' safety." Perkins tied the issue to military sexual assault rates.
Elaine Donnelly, the president of the anti-gay Center for Military Readiness (who once said that human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were a result of allowing women in the military) echoed Perkins, calling the idea of transgender military service an experiment that puts "an extra burden on men and women in the military that they certainly don't need or they don't deserve" and suggesting it would lead to an increase in sexual assaults.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson ranted against the mere disclosure of the estimate that 15,000 transgender people are currently serving, and said that President Obama has "turned our military into some sort of weird social experiment." Meanwhile, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh mocks the idea that transgender people should be allowed in the military with repeated uses of the term "tranny" and his token phrase "add-a-dick-to-me babe."
If the rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. Conservative media used the same attacks in their attempts to preserve DADT or replace it with a discriminatory policy even more extreme.
Three years ago, Perkins argued that repealing DADT would increase military sexual assault rates, undermine morale, and damage recruitment. Donnelly warned that after repealing DADT, "lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower" and gay service members might spread HIV through the ranks.
Erickson predicted the military bureaucracy would "go to war with Obama on the battlefield of public opinion" after DADT, while Limbaugh called the repeal "special treatment" for the gay community and intimated that it would lead to problems with "predation" and sexual harassment:
LIMBAUGH: Now, here's a question. It's an open-ended question. Will straight soldiers, heterosexuals, be able to claim sexual harassment by gays in the military? Or will such claims now be considered hate crimes? How is this gonna play out? Well, you know, because in our culture there are certain templates. It's like women never lie about rape, yet we got this ABC weather babe, you know, women never lie. Children never lie, yet we know that they do. This notion that there is predation in the homosexual community, oh, that never happens. Well, yeah, just like it never happens in the heterosexual. Of course it does. There are predators everywhere out there. Hate crimes are, if you're thinking about it, well, it's even worse than the crime that you commit. So anyway, it's a lot of stuff to shake out, so to speak.
These fears, predictably, proved unfounded. According to a Palm Center report published a year after the repeal of DADT:
Based on the substantial evidence we gathered in our research, we conclude that, during the one-year period following implementation of the policy change, DADT repeal has had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. While repeal produced a few downsides for some military members--mostly those who personally opposed the policy change--we identified important upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh advantages. On balance, DADT repeal appears to have slightly enhanced the military's ability to do its job by clearing away unnecessary obstacles to the development of trust and bonding.
Such hateful attacks on transgender service members should disqualify these discredited pundits from commenting on the issue, but with the debate over lifting the transgender service ban heating up, it remains to be seen if media will finally stop offering them opportunities to comment.
From the September 18 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Fox News hero and prominent Texas conservative Dr. Steven Hotze warned supporters during a conference call that gay activists want to overturn laws prohibiting pedophilia, calling gay people "perverted and deviant."
On September 10, Conservative Republicans of Texas leader Steven Hotze held a "Marriage Battle Plan" conference call with supporters, aimed at laying out a "battle plan" for combating "pro-homosexual rhetoric and propaganda" in federal courts. The call, which also featured Texas GOP chairman candidate Jared Woodfill, was pitched as "a meeting that liberals will be talking about for years."
A Breitbart.com columnist launched a transphobic attack on transgender former Army Private Chelsea Manning, calling her a "traitorous transsexual" and asking if the government had "cut it off yet."
In a September 16 column for Breitbart London, columnist Milo Yiannopoulos attacked Manning - who was convicted in 2013 of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks - for publishing an op-ed in The Guardian about the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Yiannopoulos repeatedly misgendered Manning, asking if the government had "cut it off yet" - referring to Manning's genitalia:
Have they cut it off yet? The penis attached to traitorous transsexual Chelsea Manning, I mean. How else to explain the level of feverish disturbance necessary for the former Private Bradley to pen an op-ed saying we should "let ISIS succeed" in its mission to destroy half the Middle East, murdering, raping and torturing anyone in its way.
Manning, is of course, suffering from a lamentable psychiatric disorder. Normally, we help people like that by giving them access to doctors and drugs.
I don't believe everything the government tells me, and I know it snoops on me more than it should, but do I trust the NSA more than I trust a loopy alleged rapist, Putin's bitch or a psychologically fragile, gender-bending convicted traitor? You bet I do. [emphasis added]
Yiannopoulos also linked to a personal blog post in which he called "transgenderism" a "disease" and suggested that some transgender women are just "marginalised, lonely" gay men crying for help.
It goes without saying that Yiannopoulos' transphobic screed contradicts expert consensus, which has acknowledged transgender identities as "part of the human condition." He relies on the discredited work of former Johns Hopkins Hospital psychiatrist Paul McHugh, ignoring current professional medical recommendations about the transgender community.
Pseudoscience aside, though, Yiannopoulos' column is a stark example of the kind of gratuitous hate speech Breitbart.com is willing to publish. Manning's Guardian op-ed had nothing to do with being transgender, but Breitbart couldn't pass up another opportunity to depict transgender people as unstable or deviant.
From the September 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the September 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Wyoming State Historical Society honored a book that asserts college student Matthew Shepard wasn't murdered because he was gay, but was instead killed in a drug-related incident - even though the book relies on wild extrapolation and questionable or anonymous sources and has been denounced as "fictional" by lawyers and investigators involved in the case.
On September 6, the society gave Stephen Jimenez's The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard an honorable mention in the nonfiction book category at a Gillette, WY luncheon.
Jimenez's book contends that Shepard's 1998 murder in Laramie was actually the result of Shepard's involvement in the methamphetamine trade - and that, through the meth trade, Shepard knew his attackers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, prior to their encounter at a bar the night they brutally bludgeoned Shepard. What's more, Jimenez claims that Shepard and McKinney were actually secret lovers - a claim McKinney has steadfastly denied and for which there's no evidence besides the word of a few shady Laramie characters. The Book of Matt dismisses strong evidence of McKinney's homophobia - including his use of the epithet "fag" to describe Shepard , his statement that he had "hatred for homosexuals" the night of the attack, and his reference to himself as a "drunk homofobick [sic]" - by blaming such language on McKinney's fondness for rap music.
People familiar with the case - including Henderson's appellate attorney, Albany County Sheriff Dave O'Malley, and Albany County Undersheriff Robert Debree -- condemned Jimenez's book as factually challenged, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation noted that The Book of Matt relied on "rumors and innuendo." Its biggest fans so far have appeared to be right-wing media personalities, who seized on the book to assail the LGBT community.
So why is the Wyoming State Historical Society honoring the book?
Rick Ewig, the society's president, told the Billings Gazette that the award "doesn't mean we accept the interpretation" of the book, suggesting that the society was honoring the book simply because it attempted to investigate part of Wyoming's history:
One year after San Antonio expanded its non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people, opponents' predictions that the measure would curtail religious liberty and free speech haven't come true.
On September 5, 2013, San Antonio's city council voted to extend non-discrimination protections to LGBT residents in housing, employment, public accommodations, city contracts, and board appointments. The ordinance was approved despite a right-wing misinformation campaign propagated by local anti-LGBT activists and national conservative media, including Fox News, Glenn Beck, and The Washington Times.
Opponents of the ordinance asserted that the ordinance could ban Christians from holding public office or winning city contracts, imperil the free speech rights of conservative opponents of LGBT equality, or even impose "criminal penalties" on anti-LGBT business owners. Those claims persisted even though the ordinance explicitly protected against religious discrimination and despite the striking of language that had raised free speech concerns.
At the time, Councilman Diego Bernal, the sponsor of the expanded ordinance expressed dismay at the "ludicrous" misinformation spread about the ordinance, telling Equality Matters, "I've been taken aback by the amount of purposeful misinformation and I find that to be very harmful."
But a year after the expansion of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance, even an opponent of the measure admits that horror stories about threats to religious liberty haven't come true.
Throughout the debate over the ordinance, opponents insisted that prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people would result in anti-Christian persecution and harassment. One of those critics was Allan Parker, president of the San Antonio-based Christian legal group The Justice Foundation. Last September, Parker warned that the ordinance would be used to target Christians:
[Parker] said the ordinance is vague and unclear but he believes it can and will be used against Christians, especially those in the business world who disagree with unbiblical sexuality.
"The leverage of the city to pressure any business to caving in is enormous under this," he explained.
But one year later, even Parker admits the ordinance hasn't ushered in a wave of anti-Christian legal action. Only two complaints have even been filed under the ordinance - one from a transgender man who alleged he had been fired because of his gender identity and another from a lesbian couple who said they were asked to leave an ice house after sharing a kiss.
In a statement to Equality Matters, Parker suggested that the small number of complaints was due to the city allegedly refraining from enforcing the ordinance:
I believe because of the outcry against the ordinance, the City and the LGBT community have refrained from actively enforcing it. Their major goal of "stigma removal" and the "soft tyranny" of the threat of criminal prosecution has been achieved.
But as Bernal told Equality Matters, the existing ordinance included safeguards against religious discrimination even before LGBT protections were added.
"It's not intended to persecute any group," Bernal said. "It's crafted in such a way that protects everybody."
Deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche told Equality Matters that her office hadn't fielded any complaints of discrimination against conservative Christians in the past year.
"The issue [of religious discrimination] has not arisen," Zertuche said.
San Antonio's experience isn't unusual. A 2012 study of local non-discrimination ordinances by UCLA's Williams Institute found "almost uniform compliance" with the ordinances, with no localities reporting spikes in frivolous litigation.