As Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) faces a repeal effort at the ballot box, Houston media outlets need to do a better job of correcting right-wing misinformation about the ordinance, holding its opponents accountable, and ensuring that LGBT advocates are no longer pushed to the sidelines of the debate.
HERO is likely headed to the November ballot after a coalition fighting to repeal the measure announced that it had collected 50,000 signatures to place HERO up for a repeal vote.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve HERO, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. A coalition dubbing itself "No Unequal Rights" immediately launched a repeal drive, and the campaign's July 3 announcement that it had collected nearly three times the required signatures sets the stage for a divisive four-month slog. The repeal fight is likely to be especially damaging for Houston's LGBT community; scholars note that public referenda on LGBT rights can easily become dominated by misinformation campaigns.
In the coming months, Houston media outlets have the opportunity to correct their frequently problematic and misleading coverage of HERO . Here's how:
HERO opponents have focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that affording transgender individuals equal access to gender-appropriate facilities will make it easier for sexual predators to assault women and children. But the transgender bathroom myth is completely baseless. Independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted transgender protections report no problems stemming from the laws, with one sexual assault victims' advocate calling the myth "beyond specious."
Still, in the month after HERO passed, local media outlets in Houston gave significant play to the transgender bathroom myth.
The coalition leading the repeal crusade might be called "No Unequal Rights" - ostensibly because the ordinance grants "special rights" to the LGBT community. But the ordinance establishes the same non-discrimination protections that already exist in several Texas cities.
Outlets should note that HERO isn't just an LGBT ordinance. It bans discrimination based not only on sexual orientation or gender identity, but also sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy.
The O'Reilly Factor aired a segment mocking San Francisco's LGBT pride parade, playing on a number of tired and disparaging tropes about gay people.
The July 7 edition of The O'Reilly Factor featured a recurring segment dubbed "Watters' World" during which O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters attended San Francisco's annual LGBT pride parade. During the segment, Watters interview a number of parade attendees and often paired their comments with sound effects and movie clips meant to poke fun at their responses:
The segment touched on a number of typical right-wing stereotypes about gay people and pride parades; Gay people are promiscuous and predatory (and wear tight pants)! Why are there no straight pride parades? Gay pride parades shove homosexuality down people's throats!
At the end of the segment, Watters assured O'Reilly that none of the parade attendees had "assaulted" him.
Fox Nation picked up the segment, spotlighting one attendee who told Watters she wanted a "gay world":
The conservative media is falsely accusing JPMorgan Chase of giving its employees an "LGBT loyalty test" thanks to dishonest reporting by a number of anti-LGBT activists.
In a June 29 blog post, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) co-founder Robert George shared a message from an employee at JPMorgan Chase, who alleged that an internal employee survey had included a question asking employees to indicate whether they were any of the following:
1) A person with disabilities;
2) A person with children with disabilities;
3) A person with a spouse/domestic partner with disabilities;
4) A member of the LGBT community.
5) An ally of the LGBT community, but not personally identifying as LGBT.
George baselessly asserted that the survey was a warning to anti-LGBT employees:
The message to all employees is perfectly clear: You are expected to fall into line with the approved and required thinking. Nothing short of assent is acceptable. Silent dissent will no longer be permitted.
Breitbart.com's resident anti-LGBT extremist Austin Ruse picked the story up shortly thereafter, accusing Chase of giving its employees an "LGBT loyalty test":
Ruse also reported that a second source had confirmed the existence of the Chase survey after questions were raised about the authenticity of George's original report.
In a July 4 blog post for Crisis, Ruse brought his characteristic paranoia to bear, declaring that the workplace is now "hostile territory" for anti-gay conservatives and warning that "the dominant sexually correct mafia" was coming for their jobs:
Conservative columnist Dennis Prager claimed that "heterosexual AIDS" is a crisis "entirely manufactured by the Left," continuing his years-long campaign of peddling dangerous and inaccurate AIDS denialism.
Prager's July 1 syndicated column featured a defense of the Washington Redskins' name. Prager accused the "American Left" of being preoccupied with "manufactured" controversies and crises, including "heterosexual AIDS":
The great majority of American Indians understandably just don't care. Like heterosexual AIDS and so many other crises, this has been entirely manufactured by the Left. Since 1947, there has been a movie theater, the Redskin Theatre (with the same logo as the football team), in Anadarko, Okla., a city whose population is divided evenly between Indians and whites and that calls itself the "Indian Capital of the Nation." Why, in 67 years, have the Indian populations of Anadarko and Oklahoma not changed this theater's name? Because the Left hadn't made it an issue. It's not an Indian issue; it's a left-wing issue. [emphasis added]
Prager's comparison is the latest in his long and bizarre history of falsely asserting that HIV and AIDS aren't issues for heterosexuals. As Adam Serwer wrote for The American Prospect in 2008, Prager exemplifies a strain of "AIDS denialism" that suggests that "AIDS is a 'gay' problem, and so heterosexuals don't have to worry about it."
In a 2007 column titled "Does the Left Value Truth?," Prager wrote:
The homeless, heterosexual AIDS and rape. For years, mainstream liberal news media purveyed false information supplied by Mitch Snyder, the major liberal activist on behalf of the homeless. Likewise, we were told by gay and AIDS activist groups that AIDS "doesn't discriminate," meaning that heterosexuals in America were as likely to contract the HIV virus as homosexuals. It was never true in America (Africa may be another story for other reasons). [emphasis added]
According to Prager, AIDS activists invented the myth of heterosexual AIDS in order to generate hysteria about the disease. During a June 2008 edition of his radio show, he equated heterosexual AIDS with other purportedly exaggerated threats, including climate change and secondhand smoke:
The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision might make it harder for millions of LGBT Americans to access treatment that could revolutionize the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has sparked debate over whether the court's opinion grants business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT customers and employees on religious grounds. The decision is already being celebrated by a number of anti-LGBT activists who see it as a license to ignore non-discrimination laws, while some commentators have argued that the decision was tailored to avoid creating a blank check for homophobic business owners.
But the Hobby Lobby decision's most significant implication for the LGBT community may be its impact on Truvada, a controversial "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection and may revolutionize the battle against HIV/AIDS.
In May 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed Truvada, which is a pre-expsure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs, for use by patients deemed at risk for HIV/AIDS. When taken properly, Truvada reduces the risk of HIV by more than 99 percent effective.
Despite its effectiveness, Truvada remains a hotly debated topic in the LGBT community, with critics warning (incorrectly) that Truvada users are more likely to engage in unsafe sex and deriding users as promiscuous and irresponsible.
In April, USA Today noted the similarities between the controversy surrounding Truvada and conservative opposition to birth control:
Demetre Daskalakis, the Mount Sinai doctor, said the Truvada debate recalls the way birth control was viewed in some quarters in the 1960s -- as an accessory to promiscuity.
"Anyone who takes Truvada, someone is looking at them and saying they're licentious," Daskalakis said. "When this becomes more normalized, we'll be fine."
Houston media outlets helped spread misinformation about the city's newly enacted non-discrimination ordinance, parroting the talking points of anti-LGBT groups working to repeal the measure.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination based on categories including race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, led by the Houston Area Pastors Council, immediately announced a repeal drive and have spent the month of June attempting to collect the 17,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure up for a vote in November.
Anti-LGBT activists, like Texas Values' Jonathan Saenz and Fox News' Mike Huckabee, focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that the protections will make it easier for sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms. That myth has been extensively debunked by independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted similar protections.
But the transgender bathroom myth played a prominent role in local media coverage of the ordinance. During the month that HERO opponents collected signatures for a repeal effort, Houston news outlets repeatedly cited the myth without attempting to debunk it according to an Equality Matters analysis:
What's especially disconcerting is how local reporters themselves often appeared to buy in to the transgender bathroom smear. A June 26 report from Fox affiliate KRIV's Andrea Watkins illustrated this kind of problematic coverage:
Houston media outlets have failed to hold anti-LGBT activists accountable for the misinformation they have spread about the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), currently the focus of a repeal effort. Media outlets have allowed myths about the ordinance's protections for transgender people to go unchallenged and have disproportionately cited anti-LGBT groups and advocates in their reporting on the measure.
Fox News contributor Ben Carson is slated to keynote an event hosted by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) - an anti-LGBT hate group that is notorious for inventing a fake story about a transgender teen harassing people in a public restroom.
For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz agreed with a right-wing radio host that gay activists are trying to put Christians in concentration camps, asserting that the gay rights movement wants "to put people in jail" if they disagree with marriage equality and "the homosexual lifestyle."
In a June 20 interview with Raging Elephants Radio, Saenz condemned a recent Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling affirming that a Denver-area baker had violated the state's non-discrimination law by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. Host Claver Kamau-Imani asked Saenz whether the ruling was tantamount to sending the baker to a "concentration camp." Saenz agreed, asserting that there's "no question" gay rights supporters ultimately aim to imprison opponents of LGBT equality:
KANAU-IMANI: Alright, let's get back to Colorado. So you have a baker that does wedding cakes and they say they don't want to do a two-man wedding cake or a two-woman wedding cake with the little figurines on top or whatever. And so the homosexual couple, whether it's man and man, woman and woman, whatever, they go to this specially created commission to deal with this, file a complaint against the business, and so the commission says 'No, you're gonna make this cake, plus, you're going to go to concentration camp,' essentially. Is that what you're telling us, Jonathan?
SAENZ: That's right, that's right. You know, they tried to do something like that here in Texas - I think it was a bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis that dealt with hate crime stuff, where they would've forced you to participate in an event of the quote-unquote community that you had offended. And so we testified against this legislation and it ended up dying on the Senate side. But I mean, this is what they want. I mean, there's no question. I've seen it. I've seen them try to do it with legislation here in Texas at the state level. It is a goal of theirs to put people in jail that disagree with homosexual marriage, without question - or the homosexual lifestyle. [emphasis added]
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson suggested that people might not be born gay, compared homosexuality to alcoholism and adultery, and warned that gay people who don't repent won't be "saved on the last day."
In a June 20 blog post for RedState.com, Erickson expressed his support for Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was criticized last week after comparing homosexuality to alcoholism. In his post, Erickson claimed that the science around sexual orientation wasn't settled, warning gay people not to "give in" to their temptations and repent for their homosexuality in order to be "saved":
So, again, fewer and fewer voices are willing to speak up. Those of us who can, should speak up. So I will say it - I largely agree with Governor Rick Perry and appreciate him speaking up.
While most of my generation is pretty accepting of the idea that a person can be born gay, there is no settled science on the matter. There certainly is no settled science on pick your own gender adventures. But to say so is apostasy in this secular world. It really does not matter though. Whether one is born gay or not does not mean God made a person gay. And whether it is the unrepentant alcoholic, homosexual, adulterer, liar, or any of the others the Duck Commander listed, none are going to be saved on the last day without repenting.
No one said life was easy, but too many are too ready to give in instead of repenting. Too many tire of the struggle and decide the struggle is just another form of normal. And frankly, it is apart from God. That too is why so many want to drive God out of the public square. God gives us Hope to overcome the struggles of this world, including the flesh. Left to our own devices, Romans 1 tell us we get exactly what we are getting. But we are not creatures of this world -- none of us. We are passing through to eternity. YOLO is a lie and if it feels good it does not mean we should do it. The zeitgeist of the present age tells us otherwise, but the Holy Spirit calls us to a higher and better and more eternal purpose.
Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote, "What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized . . . .As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral - the 'bourgeois' family as it is invidiously called - is now seen as pathological" [emphasis added]
On June 19, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) held its second March for Marriage - an event that proved to be largely a repeat of last year's march, with dismal attendance, bussed-in supporters, and examples of anti-gay animus on display.
An estimated 2,000 attendees convened at the U.S. Capitol for a rally culminating in a march to the U.S. Supreme Court. As he did for last year's event, anti-equality State Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-NY) bussed in a large group of mostly Spanish-speaking evangelicals from the New York area, after promising rally-goers an expense-free trip to Washington to "visit the monuments." Equality Matters approached several attendees to ask about their reasons for attending the rally and their means of getting there, only to be told that they spoke little English.
Throughout the rally, speakers like Fox News host and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco stressed that the rally was pro-marriage, not anti-anybody. But as others monitoring the event documented, anti-gay animus was clearly on display.
One rally-goer held a sign declaring that people who "embrace homosexuality" do so because they "hate God and love to be sinful," instructing gay people to "repent":
"Repent or perish," another sign ominously warned:
Another attendee's sign denounced "sodomy & abortion" as "wrong":
In an interview with Equality Matters, one attendee predicted "violence" if marriage equality came to pass nationwide. Pressed on whom he thought would perpetrate violence, the man noted that many people are "angry" about same-sex marriage and stated that he didn't want "what homosexuals do" recognized as equal to his marriage:
The right-wing Washington Times is effectively serving as an unofficial sponsor for the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) upcoming March for Marriage. The news outlet is hosting NOM's petition to "stand for traditional marriage" and plans to livestream the march on its website.
The Washington Times is doing its part to promote the event; The Times' website is hosting a NOM-sponsored petition urging readers to sign and "stand for traditional marriage," instructing the government not to "seek to redefine it":
In a June 17 blog post, NOM announced that it had developed a "special partnership" with the Times to livestream the event on the news outlets website:
Thanks to a special partnership with The Washington Times, the official media sponsor of the 2014 March for Marriage, we will be live streaming the event on the world-wide web!
We are also very gratified that The Washington Times is hosting a marriage petition on their website which I encourage you to go sign right away. Click here to add your signature and show your support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This petition and the signatures we gather will be an important statement, along with the March itself, to our leaders in Washington and to the mainstream media that Americans still clearly stand for marriage.
NOM also announced that the Times would be creating a "special magazine" commemorating the march and encouraged supporters to subscribe to the Times' digital edition:
Finally, The Washington Times is creating a special magazine commemorating the March for Marriage. (You will find this online on Thursday on the same page as Thursday's livestream -- stay tuned to The Washington Times for more details!)
You can also get this special magazine by subscribing to the The Washington Times National Digital Edition. You can access this great, interactive "living digital daily newspaper" anywhere and anytime, showcasing the articles and features readers have come to enjoy from the home of fearless reporting and American values. Best of all, it is available for your desktop and laptop plus your favorite mobile device from the Apple and Google Play stores. Visit washingtontimes.com and click on the subscribe button to learn more.
Cultivating a "special partnership" with NOM and blatantly touting its march represents a clear violation of basic journalistic ethics. It's one thing for The Washington Times to cover the March for Marriage. It's another thing entirely to shill for the event.
A Boston Globe columnist compared anti-gay groups fighting against marriage equality to activists who fought against Jim Crow-era racism, attacking marriage equality supporters for trying to "redefine" marriage.
In a June 18 op-ed, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby touted the upcoming March for Marriage in Washington, DC - an event sponsored by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The march is likely to be a largely astroturfed event and will be attended by some of the most extreme anti-gay voices in America.
According to Jacoby, however, the anti-gay activists attending the march should be compared to the civil rights heroes who fought against Jim Crow era discrimination:
It would certainly be easier to make peace with the new order, especially considering the aggressiveness and hostility that many "marriage equality" activists deploy against those who oppose gay marriage.
Then again, much the same could have been said a century ago to those who insisted -- in the depths of Jim Crow -- that the cause of civil rights and racial fairness was worth fighting for. They too must have heard with regularity that they were on the "wrong side of history." The promise of Reconstruction was long gone. In much of the country, black enfranchisement was a dead letter. The Supreme Court had ruled 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation -- "separate but equal" -- was constitutional. The president of the United States was a white supremacist on whose watch black employees were fired from government positions, and public facilities in Washington were segregated.
Honorable voices argued that blacks had no realistic option but to make the best of a bad situation. But there were others who insisted that the lost spirit of abolitionism could be revived, that Jim Crow could be fought and eventually overturned, that "separate but equal" was based on a falsehood and would ultimately prove untenable. They founded the NAACP in 1909, launching a movement that would eventually transform America. [emphasis added]
CNN and Fox News have largely ignored the news that President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by companies that contract with the federal government - an historic measure that will protect up to 28 million workers.
On June 16, a White House official revealed that President Obama would sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The move comes seven months after the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure that has subsequently languished in the House as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to bring the measure up for a vote.
ENDA's diminishing prospects led many LGBT activists and Democratic lawmakers to press Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors. The ACLU's Ian Thompson hailed an executive order as "the single most important step" Obama could take absent congressional action to combat anti-LGBT employment discrimination. One estimate suggests that Obama's executive order will protect up to 28 million workers.
In a June 16 segment highlighting the persistent problem of anti-LGBT employment discrimination, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow laid out the context of congressional intransigence that led to Obama's decision to act unilaterally on the issue:
While Maddow's network gave the news of the impending executive order 31 minutes of coverage, CNN and Fox News barely covered it at all, with each providing a mere 20 seconds of coverage: