Media Matters first identified the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as the powerful legal group leading the national campaign against transgender student equality in November 2015. Since then, ADF has continued to email school districts, show up at school board meetings, and file lawsuits to oppose basic protections for transgender students -- and candidates who appear to be affiliated with ADF are even running in local school board races.
In 2015, Media Matters published a piece about ADF’s campaign to influence local school district policies and pass state-level legislation that would ban transgender students from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity. In December 2014, ADF started emailing public school districts across the country to “advise” them of its recommended “Student Physical Privacy” policy. In February 2015, ADF released a model state-level bill to prohibit all public school transgender students from using any facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Later that year, legislators in Nevada, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin all proposed versions of ADF's bill. Similarly, North Carolina’s disastrous anti-transgender House Bill 2 (HB 2), which passed in spring 2016, closely mirrors ADF’s model state-level bill regarding student bathroom access.
In the 2017 legislative session, over 20 anti-transgender “bathroom bills” have been proposed in state legislatures across the nation. While none of these bills have passed yet, ADF continues to use its nearly $50 million annual budget and employ its mammoth network of over 3,000 allied attorneys to try to convince public school districts to adopt discriminatory, anti-transgender policies. The organization has also worked with a local anti-transgender group, which tried to install friendly candidates on its local school board to further its causes.
It’s impossible to know the extent of ADF’s anti-transgender activism, especially because many of its 3,000-plus “allied attorneys” never publicly identify themselves as such. Below is a nonexhaustive list of situations in which ADF representatives or affiliated individuals testified at local school events and ran in local school board races, sued school districts with transgender-inclusive policies, and sent letters to schools urging them to institute anti-transgender policies.
March 20, 2017: ADF legal counsel Douglas Wardlow testified against a transgender-inclusive policy at an Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting in Minnesota. Prior to his testimony, Wardlow sent a letter to the school board in which he cited discredited anti-LGBTQ junk science researchers Mark Regnerus and Paul McHugh to support his claim that protecting transgender students from discrimination isn’t supported by medical experts (it is). This “research” included a widely denounced report by McHugh attacking transgender people that was published in a journal -- The New Atlantis -- that is not “subject to rigorous peer review” as scientific research usually is. The New Atlantis is published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which is dedicated to “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”
September 7, 2016: ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton testified at a public hearing in Prince William County, VA, on a proposed LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy for the district. As reported by the Washington Blade, Dalton told the school board that the district could face legal liability if it approved the proposal.
May 12, 2016: Ken Fletcher, ADF’s senior director of strategic relations, testified at a Board of Education meeting in Fannin County, GA, regarding rumors that the county was going to institute a transgender-inclusive restroom policy (those rumors were false). In his testimony, Fletcher cited the anti-LGBTQ hate group the American College of Pediatricians (a deceptively named extremist group with an estimated 200 to 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics) to claim that schools should lead transgender girls away from being transgender and “cure” their so-called “gender confusion” so that they do not “lead a life of heartbreak.”
May 9, 2016: ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp advised the Horry County Board of Education in South Carolina during a specially called board meeting to give the school board “legal advice” regarding Title IX. After speaking with Sharp and two other lawyers employed by the district, the board agreed not to change its existing policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.
March 2017: ADF sued the school district of Boyertown, PA, for allegedly violating the “privacy” of a cisgender boy because the school had a trans-inclusive locker room policy.
September 2016: ADF sued the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Virginia Public School District in Minnesota on behalf of a group of 10 parents calling themselves “Privacy Matters,” who said that their children’s privacy was violated by a transgender student “twerking” in the locker room.
June 2016: ADF sued the DOE on behalf of the Highland Local School District in Ohio because it said it was set to lose federal funding if it didn’t let a transgender girl use the girl’s restroom.
May 2016: ADF sued the DOE and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of a group called “North Carolinians for Privacy” in response to the DOJ’s lawsuit regarding North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ HB 2 law.
May 2016: ADF sued the Palatine, IL, Township High School District 211 and the DOE on behalf of an anonymous group called “Students and Parents for Privacy,” saying a transgender-inclusive policy created an “intimidating and hostile” environment for students who share the locker room with the transgender student.
March 2017: In Palatine, IL, an ADF-affiliated group called “D211 Parents for Privacy” is advocating for ADF’s model policy and has endorsed three candidates for the board of education in that district. It’s also targeting current school board members who voted in favor of the transgender-inclusive policy.
September 2016: ADF-affiliated attorney Derrick Good was tapped as an “emergency replacement” for a school board in Jefferson County, MO, after a controversy arose in 2015 when a Hillsboro High School student asked to use locker rooms and bathrooms that corresponded to her gender identity. Good, who said that people make “decisions” about being transgender, helped the district install an anti-transgender policy that prohibits transgender youth from using restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.
January 2017: ADF sent a letter to the school district of Egg Harbor Township, NJ, saying that it was ready to “litigate if necessary” regarding a proposed transgender-inclusive policy.
May 3, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Berkeley County School Board in South Carolina arguing that a transgender-inclusive restroom policy would “endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ free exercise rights and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”
May 2, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the school board in Candia, NH, urging it to adopt ADF’s model anti-transgender policy. At a school board meeting on May 5, 2016, multiple speakers urged the board to adopt ADF’s model policy. But the meeting ended with the school district instituting a transgender-inclusive policy.
April 28, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Durham, NC, school board of directors and superintendent saying the school district had no obligation to protect transgender students and could be held legally liable for instituting a transgender-inclusive policy. ADF later sued the district after it instituted a transgender-inclusive policy.
March 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Westwood Regional High School District in northern New Jersey opposing its transgender-inclusive policy. The policy passed with “little opposition” from school board members or the general public.
February 29, 2016: In an article about a proposed bathroom bill in South Dakota that was drafted using ADF’s language, The Washington Post reported that ADF had sent its model school policy to “thousands” of school districts nationwide, which it described as an effort to protect the “bodily privacy” of children.
January 2016: ADF sent letters to “every Tennessee school district” saying that districts could be at risk of “legal liability” for instituting transgender-inclusive policies.
Correction: This piece originally stated that ADF appeared to be trying to install friendly candidates on local school boards to further its causes; in fact, it has worked with a local group that tried to effect that change. We regret the error.