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Brennan Suen

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  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups are uniting behind Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Family Research Council and Liberty Counsel are unifying behind President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the court on July 9, and soon after, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups started pouring in praise. As a result, LGBTQ advocates and groups have sounded the alarm. The highly influential Family Research Council (FRC), whose president, Tony Perkins, reportedly was “involved in discussions with the White House” on the nomination, promoted Kavanaugh “heavily” when he was initially nominated to the D.C. Circuit in 2005, and Perkins quickly responded to his Supreme Court nomination by pledging “to help move the grassroots to gain the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.” He also praised Kavanaugh for previous rulings on “religious freedom and free speech” issues and for his “long and praiseworthy history of judging as an originalist.” FRC’s position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural,” and the organization promotes the idea that “every effort should be made to assist such persons to overcome those attractions,” including by actively working against efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy.

    Other extreme anti-LGBTQ organizations mirrored FRC’s messaging. Liberty Counsel praised Kavanaugh for a “pragmatic approach to judging” and compared his originalist judicial philosophy to that of notoriously anti-LGBTQ Justice Antonin Scalia. The group’s founder and chairman, Mat Staver, said, “I support the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” and called him “the right kind of judge we need on the bench.” Staver is known for using extreme rhetoric against LGBTQ people, including comparing them to pedophiles and saying that LGBTQ History Month is a “sexual assault on our children.”

    The National Organization for Marriage, a group that was instrumental in rolling back marriage equality in California in 2008, called Kavanaugh an “outstanding pick” who “will be strong on our issues” and a “constitutionalist.” The group noted that it “intends to do everything [it] can to secure the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh,” including launching a “Marriage Hero campaign” to organize anti-LGBTQ people at a grass-roots level in favor of his nomination. A July 10 blog post outlined several reasons NOM supports Kavanaugh.

    The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which in 2013 led a smear campaign against a transgender teenager who was harassed and received death threats after her name was leaked to the public, issued a statement calling Kavanaugh “fair and faithful to the Constitution” and noting that he had ruled in favor of PJI’s clients in a case about prayer at the presidential inauguration. PJI’s statement, however, was less enthusiastic than that of other groups and asserted that there are “important unanswered questions about his jurisprudence” and characterized his record on abortion issues as “mixed.” The American Family Association (AFA) showed a similar hesitation and initially called on its supporters to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. The following day, however, AFA issued another statement walking back its opposition and lining up more closely with other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups:

    [A]fter hearing the concerns of some of our supporters, and after hearing the passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement, we are willing to let this process play out. We eagerly await the confirmation hearings when we hope to get clarification from Judge Kavanaugh on aspects related to our concerns.

    Though extreme group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) claims to not “take a position on the merits of Supreme Court nominees,” its Twitter account posted a New York Times op-ed by a liberal law professor making the case to confirm Kavanaugh. Several ADF staff and board members have also tweeted in support of the nomination or shared articles backing the choice. ADF is one of the most influential anti-LGBTQ groups in the country and is leading the fight against LGBTQ equality at nearly every level, including working to combat transgender student equality, codifying discrimination against the community via religious exemptions, and exporting its anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad.

    It’s clear that though a few anti-LGBTQ groups showed some initial hesitation toward Kavanaugh’s nomination, they have quickly coalesced behind him. These groups are highly coordinated and would not support a nominee who they did not think shared their extreme anti-LGBTQ values. AFA’s statement reversing its opposition to Kavanaugh due to “the passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement” is telling on its own; these groups know what they would be getting with a Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, and it won’t be good for LGBTQ people.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop was just the beginning. ADF is pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post has been updated with additional information.

    On June 4, the Supreme Court granted a narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in favor of a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who refused to serve a gay couple. Phillips was represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is pushing several more cases that could determine whether public accommodations can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop cited “hostility” against ADF’s client by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the commission’s original decision on the matter. At the same time, the court also reaffirmed protections for LGBTQ people in the marketplace. This means the Masterpiece ruling applies to only this specific case and has thus “left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently,” according to The New York Times. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

    The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

    Kennedy’s prescient statement is reflective of the many similar religious exemptions cases -- in which businesses in the open marketplace seek to exempt themselves from serving LGBTQ people equally based on religious beliefs -- that are making their way up the courts. And those many cases almost all have one thing in common: Alliance Defending Freedom.

    ADF has been relentless in its work to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of life, which includes leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the country and advocating for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to alter LGBTQ people’s sexuality or gender identity. And in addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF in the last few years has been involved in several other religious exemptions cases, some of which could again bring ADF and its allies before the nation’s highest court. As Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted, ADF’s strategy is to “target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could.” What’s more, ADF's staff and its allied attorneys -- of which there are more than 3,200 -- are serving in high-up positions in the offices of state attorneys general and even on the federal bench, where they may increasingly play a role in cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    There are currently at least seven active or potentially active cases to watch -- all spearheaded by ADF and its allies -- that could eventually make discrimination against LGBTQ people in the marketplace the law of the land:

    1. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington: In the case most likely to be heard before the Supreme Court next, ADF is representing a Washington state florist who refused to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In February 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ADF’s client, and in July 2017, ADF appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to The Hill, it now “has been re-listed for discussion at the court’s next conference on Thursday,” June 7, when the court may decide whether to hear the case. 

    2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: ADF is representing a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee for coming out as a transgender woman, saying that its owner and other business owners have the right to “live and work consistently with their faith” and that the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code “is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one.” In March, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, and ADF announced that it is “consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal.”

    3. Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: In April, ADF argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, the owners of a calligraphy business, who challenged a Phoenix, AZ, ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. The lawsuit is a pre-enforcement challenge, meaning that the business challenged the nondiscrimination protections “seeking permission to refuse service to same-sex couples without actually being found in violation of the law,” according to ThinkProgress LGBTQ Editor Zack Ford. On June 7 and in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against ADF's client, affirming that the business must serve same-sex couples. In response to the ruling, ADF announced that it plans to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

    4. Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: In October, ADF filed an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, videographers in Minnesota who wanted to add wedding videos to their business services. The business owners sued the state because of a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits them from discriminating against same-sex couples, making the lawsuit a pre-enforcement challenge. Briefs to the court have been submitted, but it has not yet made a decision.

    5. 303 Creative v. Elenis: In September, ADF filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its client, a Colorado graphic designer who challenged a state nondiscrimination law that protects LGBTQ people. According to ADF, a September ruling by a federal judge “placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The judge also said that the designer could not sue to challenge the law because she could not adequately prove that a gay couple requested her services. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in May but will now hear them in September.

    6. Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: ADF represented a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast owner who denied a room to a lesbian couple. In February, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, upholding a 2013 decision that said she could not discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF has not updated its web page about the case in the months following the ruling or announced whether it will seek to appeal.

    7. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals: In April, ADF attorneys filed a brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of a “promotional printer” who declined to create custom T-shirts for the Lexington, KY, Pride Festival. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet decided the case.

    These are just seven of the many religious exemptions cases in which ADF has played a hand. It has also successfully pushed for federal Justice Department guidance that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. And it successfully wrote, justified, and defended the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill in the country, which went into effect in Mississippi last year.

    Though the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop may not have clarified whether public accommodations have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is just the beginning of a fight playing out in courts across the country at the hands of ADF.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • Alex Jones claimed Facebook would ban him if he kept using an anti-trans slur. He hasn't stopped, and he's still on Facebook.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones has claimed several times that Facebook executives told him he would be banned from the platform for his use of the anti-trans slur “tranny.” Despite supposedly receiving these warnings, Jones has not backed down and continues to use the disparaging term on his show, which he streams on Facebook Live. Jones is a right-wing conspiracy theorist and ally of President Donald Trump with a history of anti-LGBTQ extremism.

    Jones frequently targets the transgender community on his show, often using slurs to refer to transgender folks, dehumanizing their existence, and spreading vile rhetoric about them. He once claimed that transgender women may be gay men who want to “go pick up more guys” by getting “breast implants” and trying to “doll [their] hair up,” and he has also said that being transgender and having a baby is like him deciding that he is a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that “give[s] birth to leprechauns.” In other segments, Jones has said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips” and, on multiple occasions, he has tried to disparage former first lady Michelle Obama by saying she is transgender and may have committed murder to cover it up.

    Jones frequently uses the dehumanizing slur “tranny” to refer to transgender people. In fact, during his November 13 broadcast, Jones said a “high level” employee at Facebook contacted him and purportedly told him that if he continued to use “tranny,” he would be banned. (The video is still available on Facebook with the title “Facebook Forbids Infowars From Saying ‘Tranny’ or ‘Drag Queen.’”) Facebook community guidelines prohibit hate speech “that directly attacks people based on their … sex, gender, or gender identity.”

    Despite the supposed warning, Jones continues to use the slur. He said “tranny, tranny, tranny, tranny, tranny, tranny, tranny, tranny” during his November 20 broadcast, and, on December 19, he said, “James Brown never died, folks, he just became a tranny. That tranny’s called  Maxine Waters,” referring to the Democratic member of Congress from California. Jones seems to be trying to taunt Facebook by repeatedly talking about his supposed conversations with its executives and his continued use of the slur:

    Writing for The Advocate, Parker Molloy described the violence and hatred tied to the slur:

    It’s a term tied to a history of violence, oppression, anger, and hate. It’s a term I’ve been called by those who wish to harm me. And frankly, it’s a term many trans women, like slain New Yorker Islan Nettles, hear immediately prior to falling victim to physical violence.

    As Dana McCallum wrote in a 2012 article for Medium, “It’s a word people use to make trans people feel like shit, to reject our humanity, and to isolate us from the rest of the world. It’s a word people scream when they are beating us, strangling us, shooting us, setting us on fire, and dumping our bodies in ditches.”

    At a time when the amount of violence against and killings of transgender folks -- particularly trans women of color -- is growing, Jones’ use of the slur is particularly jarring.

    Video by John Kerr. 

  • Fox & Friends weekend shows ignored stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News program Fox & Friends’ weekend editions completely ignored a series of major damaging stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen. This continues the show’s pattern of playing defense for the president and ignoring damaging stories.

    On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen’s hotel room, home, and office “seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed on Friday, April 13, that Cohen has been under investigation for months and that a grand jury has been convened that is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors emphasized that while Cohen has been called Donald Trump’s lawyer, he is being investigated over his business dealings and that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work.” CNN also reported that during the raid, the FBI seized recordings between Cohen and Stormy Daniels’ former attorney.  

    Also on Friday, McClatchy reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered evidence that Cohen “secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign” after he “vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign.” If true, the evidence would corroborate parts of the Christopher Steele dossier “purporting to detail the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.”

    Yet another Cohen-related story broke on April 13, when CNN reported that Cohen “facilitated a payment plan totaling $1.6 million last year to a former Playboy model who says she became pregnant by Elliott Broidy, a leading GOP fundraiser.” Broidy resigned as a result of the revelations.

    While Fox & Friends has been silent on Cohen, Trump has reportedly called Cohen. Trump also tweeted about the matter.

    The obsequious relationship between Fox & Friends and Trump has been well documented, with Trump’s tweets frequently lining up with segments and talking points from the right-wing morning show. Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the feedback loop between the show and Trump, including how Trump has made policy announcements responding to its segments. Fox & Friends has also repeatedly ignored damaging stories about Trump and the Russia investigation.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of Fox & Friends Saturday and Sunday for mentions of the word “Michael” or “Cohen.”

  • The trans military ban is yet another example of the White House's cozy relationships with anti-LGBTQ hate groups

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    There’s new reporting about anti-LGBTQ hate group leader Tony Perkins’ role in crafting the latest White House policy banning transgender troops from serving in the military -- and that’s only the most recent reminder that we should be very, very worried about the Trump administration’s coziness with anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists.

    Hours after the White House released an updated policy banning transgender service members from serving in the military, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported that “behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’” crafted a report justifying the ban. The so-called experts included Perkins, president of anti-LGBTQ hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), and the virulently anti-trans Ryan Anderson from the Heritage Foundation, who wrote an entire book dedicated to discrediting the transgender experience. Stern also reported that Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ animosity and is a longtime friend of Perkins’, “played a leading role in the creation of this report.” This is yet another disturbing example of anti-LGBTQ extremists’ influence on White House policy and close relationships with the administration.

    Just one day before Trump announced the new policy, Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke at an official youth outreach event at the White House. During the event, Justice Department Office of Public Affairs Director Sarah Isgur Flores praised ADF as a “great organization” and thanked Langhofer for its work.

    Here are just some of the ways ADF and other anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists are directly influencing White House policy beyond the newly released ban:

    • After consulting with ADF, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions released religious exemptions guidance making it easier for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • The Justice Department issued an unusual brief on behalf of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court court case.

    • ADF is reportedly in “negotiations” with the Trump administration to undo protections for incarcerated transgender people.

    • Perkins has bragged about how many times he has visited the White House.

    • Trump is nominating attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.

    • Former ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman works in the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which has been employing more right-wing religious activists and has started a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that makes it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others.

    • Roger Severino, who wrote an anti-trans report with Ryan Anderson at the Heritage Foundation, runs the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

    • Former Family Research Council Chief of Staff Shannon Royce has emerged “as a pivotal player” at HHS as director of its Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    • Former ADF Communications Director Kerri Kupec is a Department of Justice spokesperson.

    • ADF client Sara Hellwege spoke at the HHS announcement of its anti-LGBTQ rule granting religious exemptions for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people.

    • At least four people who have worked for the Family Research Council were on Trump’s transition team.

    These groups spent years under the Obama administration pushing anti-LGBTQ policies through municipalities and states and fighting equality in court while also strategizing over how to undo the progress that has happened over the past decade at the national level. Now the current administration is welcoming them to the table and fulfilling their wish lists. Trump made a clear play for these groups and their supporters' votes when he chose Pence as his running mate, and so-called “values voters” like Perkins have repeatedly abandoned their morals to defend Trump -- and reaped the rewards in policy.

    We are witnessing a massive effort to roll back LGBTQ equality at all levels of government and on nearly every issue affecting the lives and rights of community members, and these groups are at the forefront of it. And there are repercussions outside of the policy realm: Their attacks are creating a more hostile, anti-LGBTQ environment in society at large. For the first time in four years, acceptance of LGBTQ people has decreased, and violence against the community is surging without many Americans even being aware of it.

    The trans military ban was just the latest win for anti-LGBTQ hate groups. There will certainly be more. If you haven’t been alarmed by this yet, it’s time to be now.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom is working to keep LGBTQ people from adopting children

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & REBECCA DAMANTE

    Lawyers and allied attorneys from influential anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have been working to pass and defend legislation in at least five states that allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, among others, in adoption and foster care. In 2017, three states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws, and a sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law in Mississippi also included provisions about adoption and foster care. Georgia’s state Senate passed a similar bill in February, to be considered by its House, and at least three other states are considering similar bills this year.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom spent big fighting against marriage equality in Latin America and Europe. It's losing.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, fought against marriage equality in Latin American and European courts, including by presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the Americas. Multinational courts in both countries recently ruled or advised in favor of same-sex marriage and spousal recognition. The international courts’ opinions show that attempting to export anti-LGBTQ bigotry abroad is not always a winning battle, even as ADF gains influence in our court system.

    The IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that “brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.” On May 17 of last year, ADF International presented oral arguments before the IACHR against legalizing marriage equality in its member states. The IACHR was reviewing a petition submitted in 2016 by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, "who had vowed to increase rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the majority Catholic country.” Talking about the case, ADF International legal counsel Neydy Casillas had said, “While the right for men and women to marry is recognized under international law, there is no corresponding right to same-sex marriage or a name change based on ‘gender identity.’” Casillas continued, “The American Convention on Human Rights does not obligate Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships.”

    On January 9, Reuters reported that the IACHR ruled “that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.” According to AFP and Costa Rica’s Tico Times, the ruling “said gay married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country’s laws.” The court also ruled that transgender people should be able to change their names on identification documents. In response, Costa Rica’s government said that it “would take steps to adopt the court’s criteria ‘in its totality.’” And on January 17, Panama’s government also “signaled it plans to comply” with the ruling, according to the Washington Blade.

    ADF International showcased this work in its Annual Report 2017, writing that its team argued “in defence of Costa Rica’s definition of marriage.” ADF and another anti-LGBTQ hate group, C-Fam, both participated in the 47th annual session of the OAS General Assembly.

    In a separate international case, ADF submitted an intervention in April to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a married Romanian and American gay couple who were fighting for their right to live together. The couple challenged Romanian authorities’ decision to refuse the American husband’s residence permit. On January 11, a senior adviser to the ECJ backed legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse.” According to the BBC, “ECJ Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the term ‘spouse’ included, under the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members, spouses of the same sex.” “Opinions given by ECJ advocate generals are non-binding on the court’s judges,” The Guardian noted, “but are normally followed by the full court.” The court decision, which is expected in a few months, “could have wider repercussions for the range of benefits and rights” same-sex married couples can claim.

    As expected, ADF saw the repercussions of the decision in a very different way. In April, ADF International legal counsel Adina Portaru, the “leading lawyer on the third party intervention,” released a statement saying, "Forcing a Member State to amend its national law to legally recognize same-sex relationships means deliberately ignoring a national democratic process." The statement also claimed that the ECJ "runs the risk of undermining the law" in many EU countries and "creating legal chaos as a result."

    ADF International also highlighted its work before the ECJ in its Annual Report 2017. Additionally, ADF gave legal assistance to a “Coalition for Family” in Romania that worked to collect 3 million signatures across the country in order to get a referendum “to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage” up for a vote. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also gave legal assistance and organized for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples in 2015, to visit the coalition. The United Nations has granted ADF a special consultative status, which allows its attorneys access to treaty and convention drafting meetings. C-Fam also has the same status.

    ADF is the largest designated anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and the group and its representatives have supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing gay sex both domestically and abroad. According to a major investigative report by The Nation’s Sarah Posner, ADF has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including its role in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF’s international arm has grown to “50 team members in 8 countries,” with a budget of more than 3.5 million euros, and engagement in “580 ongoing legal matters in 51 countries.” Its work in international courts proves that ADF is not simply interested in “free speech” and is in fact dedicated to eroding every aspect of LGBTQ equality both in the U.S. and abroad. It is to be seen whether ADF’s arguments prove successful in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before our own nation’s high court, but failures abroad illustrate that international courts aren’t falling for them.

  • Recent reporting on violence against trans inmates illustrates the dangers of Trump administration rescinding protections

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is negotiating with the Trump administration to undo Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender inmates

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is considering undoing protections for incarcerated transgender people after reportedly being in “negotiations” with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Transgender inmates are frequently housed with members of the opposite gender and experience the highest reported incidence of sexual violence in prisons and jails. The dangers they face are illustrated by a number of recent media reports on lawsuits trans women have filed regarding their treatment while incarcerated.

    On January 4, The Dallas Morning News reported that ADF is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The suit demands that the bureau “remove all transgender inmates” from a female-only prison in Fort Worth, TX. In an effort to settle the lawsuit, ADF is “in negotiations with the federal government” over undoing policies that protect transgender inmates. The article predicted that the Trump administration was “likely to undo” those policies. ADF lawyer Gary McCaleb, who has also been active in ADF’s work against transgender student equality in schools, told The Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” that the BOP would change some of its transgender inmate protections, particularly on the issue of whether transgender women are housed with non-trans prisoners. ADF’s work here is just one piece of its relentless campaign against LGBTQ equality.

    In weighing whether to remove protections for incarcerated trans people, ADF and the Trump administration will likely be taking aim at two pieces of Obama-era guidance. One is a January 18, 2017, “Transgender Offender Manual,” which gave guidance on the treatment of transgender inmates and sought to “ensure the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) properly identifies, tracks, and provides services to the transgender population.” The other guidance likely to be affected is the Justice Department’s 2012 standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) that require detention facilities to “incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols.” Those rules say that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, … the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.”

    According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, transgender protections under PREA can work as “a mechanism through which trans inmates essentially sue prisons for violating their rights under federal law.” Thus, the attempts by ADF and the Trump administration to alter those policies could affect transgender inmates’ ability to sue for inhumane treatment.

    Recent coverage of a number of lawsuits filed by transgender women who reported sexual and physical violence and harassment in prisons and jails demonstrates the countless hardships transgender inmates encounter. In November, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the county and jail officials after she was “placed in a male holding cell” in Allegheny County, PA. The woman was “raped and physically assaulted by [an] inmate -- despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell’s emergency call button.” The woman also said she was “harassed physically and called derogatory names” and had men watch her shower and strip-search her.

    On January 5, the Associated Press reported that a transgender woman incarcerated in Illinois “is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison” after experiencing “sexual assault, taunting and beatings” in male prisons. Her lawsuit described “how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment,” saying “that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed.” The AP reported on another filing from her lawyers that said it had been “devastating psychologically” for her to be unable to present “herself as a female” while incarcerated. The article noted the “greater risk of abuse” for trans inmates, including that “nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards — compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.”

    On that same day, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts “asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman” who is housed in a men’s prison. In her lawsuit, the woman said that she has been subjected “to strip searches by male guards” who “routinely groped” her and forced her “to shower in the presence of male inmates.” In yet another January report, the New York Post wrote that a transgender woman who was incarcerated in the notoriously violent Rikers Island jail complex is suing New York City and correction officials after being “beaten so severely by several guards that they broke her jaw, knocked out teeth and left her with two black eyes.”

    In December, Aviva Stahl wrote a piece for The Village Voice, titled “New York City Jails Still Can’t Keep Trans Prisoners Safe,” analyzing the state of incarcerated transgender people in the city's jails. Stahl’s report noted that advocates say the city’s Department of Correction has failed to protect transgender prisoners and that “some trans women have been denied entry” into the city’s Transgender Housing Unit (THU) or “been transferred into male facilities after their external genitalia were observed in medical exams.” Stahl noted that these failures are violations “of national prison anti-rape standards,” the very standards that could be affected by the negotiations between the ADF and the Trump administration. The article added that transgender people have “the highest reported incidence of sexual violence of any demographic group studied, more than eight times the rate for prisoners overall,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 2007 study found an even higher rate for transgender women: “59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    These abuses are happening even with the Obama-era protections in place. If ADF is successful in getting the Trump administration to rescind these limited protections, trans lives and bodies will be at still further risk.

  • A compliant press helped bring Alliance Defending Freedom's anti-LGBTQ hate back into the mainstream in 2017

    The hate group led the fight against queer and trans equality this year, but many in the press fell for its "free speech" narrative

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) began 2017 by being designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and finished the year arguing before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. Throughout that time, ADF fervently opposed LGBTQ equality at every step while also moving its hardline extremism more and more into the mainstream. The media, in turn, aided the group’s efforts by largely failing to contextualize its unrelenting campaign against queer and trans people.

    In the landmark Masterpiece Cakeshop case, ADF is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips, who was sued after he refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple. ADF argued before the Supreme Court on December 5, and the court will decide the case next year. But Masterpiece Cakeshop is just the tip of the iceberg of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ work this year, all of which has one thing in common: seeking to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens.

    ADF spent the year attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality at the school, local, state, and federal level

    ADF’s representation of the plaintiff in Masterpiece Cakeshop case did not occur in a vacuum. The group and its allied lawyers have worked on at least eight other legal cases involving religious exemptions this year. Religious exemptions are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups and people to justify discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” ADF helped write, promote, and justify Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemption law and fought for it in court, and it worked with Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he issued religious exemptions guidance in October. In addition, ADF has been leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the United States, including by influencing anti-trans “bathroom bills” in at least eight states.

    SPLC labeled ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group in February due to a history of the group’s leaders and affiliated lawyers “regularly demoniz[ing] LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” The hate group designation was also conferred in part for ADF’s history of supporting anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality. In 2003, the group filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas that defended state sodomy laws and called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF also supports attempts to turn LGBTQ people straight through dangerous conversion therapy, which every mainstream medical group has discredited for decades and which has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims.

    ADF has worked hard to mainstream its image, but the media has a responsibility to start contextualizing the group

    One hallmark of ADF’s year -- as it headed to the Supreme Court for one of its most consequential cases -- has been its work alongside its allies and a sympathetic right-wing media to mainstream its image and move the goalposts on what is considered hate. In a report for The Nation, Sarah Posner summarized the group’s strategy: “Increasingly wary of being called discriminatory in the wake of a decision last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center to label it a hate group, ADF has redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream.” Posner quoted First Amendment attorney Greg Lipper saying that ADF has been able to “‘take an extreme position’ and mainstream it so thoroughly that it has become ‘a viable theory at the Supreme Court.’”

    Media Matters has found that major newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times tend to avoid using SPLC’s “hate group” label when it comes to anti-LGBTQ groups but frequently identify other hate groups designated by SPLC, particularly white nationalist groups. ADF and its allies have taken advantage of media’s hesitancy to use the label and actively worked to discredit SPLC’s designation, especially when media outlets do use it. In September, ADF and a number of other groups wrote a letter to “members of the media” asking them to stop using the designation. The same groups signed a similar letter in June attacking a nonprofit database for using the designation; the database eventually succumbed to the pressure and announced its decision to stop using the label partly because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” The groups involved in these campaigns comprise a sort of “who’s who” of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and are highly influential.

    When ABC News and NBC News used the “hate group” designation to describe ADF in June reports, ADF demanded a retraction from ABC and began an aggressive media strategy to attack SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC’s and NBC’s reports. Right-wing media figures joined the chorus and echoed ADF's and others’ attacks on the designation, and ADF representatives soon made the rounds on Fox News, appearing on Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. The network has proven to be a safe space for the group to push this narrative. In July, Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Later in the segment, Carlson interviewed ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner about ABC’s and NBC’s reports. In another segment, Carlson lamented that SPLC’s list of hate groups “lump[ed]” anti-LGBTQ groups with “Nazis and crazy people.” This flawed argument has been recycled thoroughly by hate groups and right-wing media.

    But it’s not just right-wing media that has been sympathetic to this campaign to discredit the “hate group” label. CNN changed a headline from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups” after pressure from right-wing figures and media. News outlets are more than just hesitant to use the “hate group” label, though, and often fail to give any context to ADF’s work at all. Media outlets owe it to their audiences to, at the very least, contextualize ADF and groups like it. Yet a lot of coverage has been lacking in that context.

    Much of the reporting around the Masterpiece Cakeshop case fell into this trap. Time and time again, media outlets failed to contextualize ADF, instead simply noting that it was arguing the case or sometimes calling it “conservative.” In their reports on the case, The Washington Post, NPR, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times all mentioned ADF’s role in the case but failed to mention its years-long campaign against LGBTQ equality, and those compose just a small sampling of a larger problem. A report by Time explicitly said that ADF “is making the argument that [the case] is fundamentally not about LGBTQ discrimination but about free speech” but also failed to note any of ADF’s other work combating LGBTQ equality. The piece did appropriately address the ramifications of the case for queer and trans rights, but it failed to counter ADF’s narrative or give background to its work, which would’ve shown the readers that ADF’s argument about the case “not [being] about LGBTQ discrimination” is without any merit in the context of its other work.

    Leaving out important context about ADF can give readers an impression that the case, or even ADF’s work as a whole, may truly be about “free speech” rather than discrimination against LGBTQ people. ADF’s history proves that, for the group, the Masterpiece case is not about so-called “artistic freedom” or the First Amendment; it’s about preventing LGBTQ people from being fully recognized citizens in public and even private life. If news outlets won’t call it hate in 2018, they can at least give enough information for their readers to see it for themselves.

  • Sinclair is forcing local news stations across the country to air multiple false attacks on the Southern Poverty Law Center

    Right-wing groups and anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been actively campaigning against SPLC’s “hate group” designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has produced two “must-run” segments misrepresenting the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and casting doubt on its “hate group” designations. Sinclair is known for requiring its local news stations to air “must-run” segments that often look like right-wing propaganda. These must-runs come as hate groups and other right-wing organizations have ramped up their years-long campaign against SPLC in 2017.

    Sinclair’s Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman segment that ran on air on October 31 included several false claims about SPLC, including the incorrect claim that the group spent only $62,000 on legal expenses in 2015 and that SPLC gave a “hate group” designation to “a young woman who called into a radio show to discuss socialism.” (Right-wing media, hate groups, and Fox News helped amplify that same lie in October.) The segment also took issue with SPLC’s designation of some “christian ministries, think tanks and public interest law firms” as hate groups, giving an innocuous veneer to groups such as the rabidly anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel. The segment said SPLC’s inclusion of those groups in a list of hate groups that includes “the Klan and skinheads … raises serious questions,” echoing an argument repeatedly made by hate groups and right-wing media.

    SPLC responded to the segment by sending a November 21 letter to Sinclair station WSYX that called the claims made by Hyman “inaccurate, defamatory, and irresponsible.” The letter called on the station “to acknowledge on the air the errors contained in the story about the SPLC, remove any reference to the story from your website if it was posted there, and not run the segment again.” The SPLC previously called for similar action by Fox News after the channel made false claims about the group’s legal spending. On December 7, Hyman replied to SPLC in a second Behind the Headlines segment. Hyman read some of SPLC’s clarification in response to the October segment but failed to acknowledge that his previous claims about SPLC were wrong. Thus local news audiences across the country will be shown another exchange in a Sinclair personality’s petty and inaccurate attacks against a major civil rights group.

    Hyman’s segments came during a year in which anti-LGBTQ hate groups have stepped up their campaign against SPLC and its “hate group” designation. A number of those groups even launched an “SPLCexposed” campaign in an attempt to discredit the label and mainstream bigotry against the queer and trans community.

    Sinclair’s “must-run” segments feature right-wing and pro-Trump commentary and are required to be aired by all Sinclair-owned or operated local news stations. Hyman’s twice-weekly segment is just one of those so-called “must-runs.” If Sinclair’s controversial purchase of Tribune Media Group is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, the company would grow as the largest provider of local TV news in the country, adding 42 more stations to its existing 173 stations in 81 markets. In November, Media Matters compiled a list of more than 15 communities that will be affected by Sinclair’s acquisition.