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Brennan Suen

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  • Anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families kicked off this weekend with Moldova's president in attendance

    Former National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown is exporting his bigoted agenda abroad with help from pro-Russian leaders

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The 2018 anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families (WCF) began today in Moldova, led by former National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown and attended by several pro-Russian leaders, including Moldovan President Igor Dodon. Although Brown has lost much of his influence domestically in the time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his anti-marriage equality effort in California, he has cozied up with pro-Russian foreign leaders and worked to export his anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad.

    Brown serves as president of both WCF and NOM, which he also co-founded and which was instrumental in banning marriage equality in California in 2008 through the Proposition 8 ballot initiative. Proposition 8 defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the state’s constitution, but same-sex marriage was reinstated in California in 2013 after a lawsuit over the proposition made it to the Supreme Court. In the years since, NOM has lost much of its domestic influence and funding (though it still works with prominent anti-LGBTQ groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom), but Brown has focused his efforts abroad and particularly worked to increase his profile in Eastern Europe.

    Brown was named president of WCF in 2016, although he had worked with the group for years before then. Brown and WCF worked closely with Russian lawmakers, activists, and officials as the country shaped its so-called “gay propaganda” law, including Brown directly meeting with the law’s architect, Yelena Mizulina, a regular attendee of WCF conferences. That law “has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships,” according to Mother Jones, and it has led to both activist arrests and increased violence against LGBTQ people in Russia.

    In 2014, Mother Jones mapped out many of the relationships between WCF and anti-LGBTQ Russians, noting that they “were already deeply connected before they kicked off their planning this fall through ties forged while advancing anti-gay sentiment and legislation in Russia.” In the years since, Brown and WCF have cozied up to even more high-profile leaders in the region. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at last year’s WCF conference, held in his county, and this year’s event includes Moldovan President Igor Dodon (who spoke at the 2016 conference just months before his election) and several other influential politicians and individuals. Dodon’s wife’s foundation, Din Suflet, is supporting the event.

    Brown seems to have cultivated a close working relationship with Dodon over the last few years, posting about several meetings with him on Twitter this year. Dodon is a supporter of anti-LGBTQ Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has tolerated the execution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. Dodon has called him a “patriot” and campaigned on running “Moldova just the same way Putin runs Russia.”

    This year’s WCF schedule features several anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice sessions: “Against the Family - The International Networks Undermining Family and Faith,” “Human Life - The Challenges Facing the Sanctity of Life, and the Strategies to Confront Them,” “New Media - Promoting Life, Marriage and Family in the Age of Hashtag Activism,” “Motherhood - Where the Sanctity of Life, the Meaning of Marriage, and the Ideology of Gender Intersect,” and “Gender Ideology - The Latest Attack on the Family and the Legal Challenges It Poses.” In past conferences, speakers have made extreme and hateful remarks, such as Pastor Rafael Cruz, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, who said in 2015 that LGBTQ people are working to legalize pedophilia. Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has been listed as a WCF partner as recently as 2017 and has been active in supporting the conference for years.

    In addition to Dodon, the conference includes other notable attendees: Mizulina, a Russian politician and the architect of the country’s “gay propaganda” law; Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state; Russian politicians Olga Epifanova and Tamara Pletneva; Moldovan politician Irina Vlah; Slovakian politician and member of the European Parliament Anna Zaborska; and several religious leaders, including Russian Orthodox Church Archpriest Dmitriy Smirnov.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • As Kavanaugh faces first hearings, anti-LGBTQ groups are trying to overturn protections from conversion therapy in courts

    The same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court are clamouring at the possibility of overturning protections for LGBTQ people from conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    As Judge Brett Kavanaugh faces confirmation hearings to become the next Supreme Court justice, the same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed him are also pushing cases through the courts to overturn measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These groups have seized on a June Supreme Court decision that may signal a shift in how the court handles communications in professional settings -- such as in therapists’ offices or clinics offering even limited health care services -- that have otherwise been regulated, claiming that those communications would be protected under the First Amendment. They argue that the decision suggests that regulating mental health professionals from subjecting LGBTQ people to a harmful practice like conversion therapy would be ruled unconstitutional because it would be imposing limits on “professional speech.” Media should consider these cases and a lack of transparency on Kavanaugh’s record on LGBTQ issues as he faces his hearing.

    Senate hearings begin for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court

    Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings began on September 4 after LGBTQ advocates raised numerous concerns about how the court would rule on future LGBTQ cases if he is confirmed. There are many open questions about his record on LGBTQ issues, including his involvement with debates around “same-sex marriage, non-discrimination protections, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his time as President George W. Bush’s White House staff secretary. Senate Republicans had long blocked access to records from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary, and LGBTQ legal organization Lambda Legal filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents from that time to determine what role he played in anti-LGBTQ initiatives that the Bush White House supported. Just hours before hearings began, Bush's former lawyer "turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee's service in the Bush White House," and Senate Democrats in turn asked to adjourn the hearing.

    Kavanaugh has also highly praised late anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and called him a “role model” and “judicial hero.” Kavanaugh said that Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which he decried the ruling that brought marriage equality to the entire country, demonstrated a judicial philosophy that the courts had “no legitimate role … in creating new rights not spelled out in the Constitution.” Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have united behind Kavanaugh’s nomination and are calling for him to be confirmed. These groups have called him an "outstanding pick" and said he would "be strong on [their] issues."

    2018 has been a historic year for efforts protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy

    Advocates working to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy have made history this year by “recalling” the dangerous and discredited practice and working to pass protections at the state and municipal levels at a record-breaking pace. This year alone, five states -- Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Washington -- have signed protections from conversion therapy into law. That means 14 states, Washington, D.C., and dozens of municipalities across the country now have laws and policies protecting LGBTQ youth from the practice. What’s more, these protections have bipartisan support, and governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills.

    But according to the Williams Institute, conversion therapy still remains prevalent throughout the country. In a groundbreaking January report, it estimated that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the 41 states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Furthermore, the report estimated that approximately 698,000 adults in the United States have undergone conversion therapy, including around 350,000 who underwent the practice before turning 18 years old.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups who support conversion therapy are encouraged by recent Supreme Court ruling in case regarding anti-abortion pregnancy centers

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, a case involving a California law called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. The law requires anti-abortion fake health centers to post a certain type of notice, depending on whether the center is licensed by the state. Licensed clinics are required to post a notice informing clients that California provides low-cost or free reproductive health care. Unlicensed clinics are required to post a notice informing people that they were not a licensed medical facility. As BuzzFeed News reported, “The court held in a 5–4 majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas that the notice required of licensed clinics under the law ‘likely violates’ the First Amendment, but the notice required of unlicensed clinics ‘unduly burdens speech’ and is unconstitutional.”

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group working to undermine LGBTQ equality in all aspects of life, represented clients in NIFLA. The group also represented a Christian baker who refused service to a gay couple in another Supreme Court case this year, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; the case saw a narrow ruling in favor of the baker and “left open the larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

    ADF and other anti-LGBTQ groups welcomed the NIFLA ruling, and some claimed that it signaled a shift in how the courts would treat “professional speech” under the First Amendment, including how it would treat protections from conversion therapy. The Atlantic’s Emma Green described “professional speech” as “a somewhat fuzzy legal category that allows states to require doctors and lawyers to disclose medical or ethical facts, for example.” In other words, in NIFLA and potentially other cases involving communications in medical and other regulated fields, the courts are weighing whether those communications are protected under the First Amendment even though these fields are typically regulated and patients and other people seeking medical advice could be put at risk if they receive inaccurate information.

    According to Christian conservative outlet CBN News, Mat Staver, chairman of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel, declared the ruling a "prize" for his and other anti-LGBTQ groups’ advocacy against a shelved bill in California (AB 2934) that would have categorized conversion therapy as fraud. Staver said that the bill, if passed, would have been dead on arrival because of the NIFLA ruling and that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) “cases are going to be a thing of the past." Liberty Counsel had been preparing to file a lawsuit againt the bill had it passed. ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp came to a similar conclusion and predicted that the ruling would “strongly call into question the foundation of AB2943.” Pro-conversion therapy group Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI) responded to the NIFLA ruling in an email blast, saying it and other recent decisions “have opened the door for overturning the therapy ban laws that have been passed over the past five years” and that it was “seeking to reopen” two of its previous challenges to conversion therapy laws alongside Liberty Counsel. Additionally, Family Research Council’s (FRC) Peter Sprigg wrote:

    Like NIFLA in the pregnancy center context, defenders of the right to seek counseling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions (and of the right to offer such counseling) have argued that free speech also protects their activities. In challenges to laws banning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) with minors by licensed mental health providers in California and New Jersey, they argued that such laws in effect limit what a counselor or therapist may say to a client in the privacy of his or her office, and thus infringe upon the free speech of the caregiver.

    By affirming that “professional speech” is protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has cast serious doubt on the constitutionality of bans on sexual orientation change efforts.

    Conservative state-level advocacy groups affiliated with extreme national anti-LGBTQ groups are also enthusiastic for the NIFLA ruling’s potential impact on conversion therapy cases. For instance, the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) -- both affiliates of the Family Policy Alliance -- claimed the ruling could indicate that the high court could find protections from conversion therapy unconstitutional. (Family Policy Alliance is a partner of anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family that also works with ADF and FRC.) Similarly, the Illinois Family Institute announced that it is considering challenging the state’s protections against conversion therapy in light of the Supreme Court’s NIFLA’ ruling.

    These groups are already challenging protections from conversion therapy in the courts

    National anti-LGBTQ groups like ADF and Liberty Counsel have a long history of supporting and advocating for conversion therapy, and they are actively working to undermine protections from conversion therapy in courts and state legislatures across the country.

    In June, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of conversion therapy practitioners Dr. Robert Otto and Dr. Julie Hamilton against Boca Raton and Palm Beach County in Florida for their measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. In a press release about the suit, the group framed the issue as a matter of protecting “the speech of licensed professionals in the city and county who offer change counseling” and as a First Amendment violation, similar to the messaging around NIFLA’s impact on protections from conversion therapy. Liberty Counsel is also representing out-of-state conversion therapy practitioner Dr. David Pickup, among others, in a separate lawsuit against conversion therapy protections in Tampa, FL. Local news outlets have given platforms to Hamilton and Pickup to spread misinformation about conversion therapy. And before the Massachusetts legislature failed to get its bill on the governor's desk this year, MFI President Andrew Beckwith said that his group was "already working with attorneys at Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge this bill should it become law" before asserting that the NIFLA decision "undermines the legal basis upon which" protections from conversion therapy rely.

    These challenges aren’t new or unique for the group; Liberty Counsel has worked to overturn efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy for years, including failed attempts to challenge measures in New Jersey and California. According to ATCSI, the group is “seeking to reopen” those cases “and to challenge the laws passed in every state where ‘therapy ban’ legislation has be (sic) enacted.” Liberty Counsel's Staver even went on an anti-LGBTQ rant before a House subcommittee in which he called California and New Jersey laws prohibiting the practice “religious discrimination” and “one of the greatest assaults on children and families that has arisen in recent times.”

    The Supreme Court has previously turned away multiple challenges to laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, but it could take up a case in the future given the recent ruling in NIFLA and new justices sitting or potentially sitting on the court. Following the NIFLA ruling, journalists have already speculated that the Supreme Court could take up a conversion therapy case in the future. While it is unclear how Justice Kavanaugh would side on a case about protections from conversion therapy, it is clear that the same extreme anti-LGBTQ groups challenging those measures in court are clamouring for his confirmation. These groups have claimed that Kavanaugh will defend their issues as a Supreme Court justice, and conversion therapy very much could be one of those issues that Kavanaugh has a chance to defend.

  • Politico published an article saying a man’s death from AIDS was the result of a "decadent homosexual lifestyle"

    The language has since been removed after being "deemed insensitive"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a piece about disgraced late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse made a since-removed anti-gay remark about McCarthy-ally Roy Cohn, saying that Cohn’s death from AIDS was “the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end.” The piece has since been edited to remove that language, saying it was "deemed insensitive."

    Kruse wrote his report in response to a August 19 tweet by President Donald Trump, which read, in part, “Study the late Joseph McCarthy.” The piece detailed the rise and fall of McCarthy, who “earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists,” as well as the impact his adviser Cohn had on the senator. The report also noted that Cohn represented “Trump and his father when the Department of Justice sued them in 1973 for racial bias in the rentals of their outer-borough apartments.” Remarking on Cohn’s death, however, Kruse included an unnecessary and homophobic comment, writing, “He died from AIDS, the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end”:

    The piece has since been edited to read that Cohn “died from AIDS as a man who denied to the end that he was gay,” and an editor's note has been added indicating that "an earlier version of this story contained language about Roy Cohn that was deemed insensitive and has been removed." Initially after receiving criticism on Twitter, Kruse did not apologize but said that he “should have thought harder about these echoes and connotations” and suggested that “a simple ‘promiscuity’ probably would’ve sufficed.” But suggesting that HIV/AIDS is a consequence of being gay, or even promiscuous, is disparaging and damaging to the LGBTQ community. For years, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have employed similar messaging, and the Public Religion Research Institute found that in 2013, “14 percent of Americans believed AIDS might be punishment from God” for “immoral sexual behavior.”

    In fact, much of the Reagan administration’s chilling lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be attributed to its designation as a “gay plague,” something senior Reagan staff and members of the media laughed about in 1982 after “nearly 1,000 people had died from AIDS,” according to Vox’s German Lopez. The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson noted similar responses in subsequent years:

    At subsequent press conferences in 1983 and 1984, [Reagan administration press secretary Larry] Speakes — and the White House press corps — continue to respond to [reporter Lester] Kinsolving’s increasingly urgent questions about AIDS with a mix of laughter, homophobic jokes and general indifference.

    Gibson wrote that the first time Reagan “addressed the epidemic in earnest” was in 1987, after “nearly 23,000 people had died of the disease,” and even as his administration began to confront the crisis, he continued to suggest “that its spread might be slowed by ethical behavior.”

    The LGBTQ community, and in particular queer and trans black communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, which is treatable and preventable (though many barriers remain to access and patient retention). To glibly suggest that a man’s death from AIDS in 1986 was his fault, or the result of a “decadent homosexual lifestyle,” is to demean the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people. And as we saw in the Reagan administration’s response to the epidemic, that sentiment quite literally killed people. Comments such as Kruse’s necessitate more than just an edit; they demand an apology.

    Click here to find free HIV testing near you.

  • Justice Department’s new “Religious Liberty Task Force” highlights the agency's troubling ties to Alliance Defending Freedom

    Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the most powerful and extreme anti-LGBTQ groups in the country

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Department of Justice (DOJ) task force to enforce “religious liberty” rules that make it easier to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others under the guise of “religious freedom." Such discrimination is a major part of the mission of anti-LGBTQ legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and the announcement was followed by a panel that included a major ADF client and was moderated by an ADF staff alumna. Coupled with ADF's involvement in the announcement, the new task force demonstrates the influence of the group's extreme anti-LGBTQ views on the administration.

    On July 30, Sessions launched a new “Religious Liberty Task Force” that would enforce discriminatory religious exemptions guidance that the DOJ released in October 2017. (Sessions had worked with ADF on the guidance before its release.) Religious exemptions policies, such as those the DOJ released, allow people and businesses to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws and policies by citing a burden on their religious beliefs. People have frequently used the exemptions to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others.

    ADF was one of the first to break the news of the July 30 “Religious Liberty Summit” in which the task force was announced, noting that the event would feature a panel including the group’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who took his case to the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. ADF’s news release, however, did not mention that the panel’s moderator, DOJ media affairs specialist Kerri Kupec, worked at ADF for four years before joining DOJ in January. During his remarks, Sessions said that the DOJ had “been holding listening sessions” with “religious groups across America,” which ADF has acknowledged it has been involved with in the past. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has already praised the announcement of the task force.

    The Trump-Pence administration has shown a coziness with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and with ADF, in particular. Sessions’ DOJ issued an unusual brief on behalf of Phillips before oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and ADF alumni and allies have been hired by various agencies and nominated for federal judgeships. As Media Matters’ recently released research book details, ADF holds dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions on nearly every every aspect of life, including supporting laws that would punish sodomy by imprisonment, writing in favor of Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, and advocating against efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The group is in many ways the most influential group working to roll back LGBTQ equality in the country, frequently targeting basic protections for transgender students and pushing religious exemptions policies.

    The “Religious Liberty Task Force” is yet another example of a cabinet-level agency devoting significant resources to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. In January, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new division to enforce laws protecting “health care workers who express religious objections to performing abortions and certain other procedures,” including providing medical services to transgender and other LGBTQ people. ADF had previously called on HHS to rescind several LGBTQ-inclusive protections it categorized as infringing on the “religious freedom” of religious organizations and other medical providers, and it praised the division’s creation. When groups like ADF have a seat at the table with the upper echelons of our federal government, discriminatory policies such as these come as no surprise.

    To learn more about the anti-LGBTQ positions of ADF, check out Media Matters’ interactive research book, “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.”

  • NY Times theater critic’s apology for misgendering a nonbinary character underscores the need for intentional writing about the trans community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    One of The New York Times’ top theater critics had to apologize after his review of the Broadway musical Head Over Heels purposefully misgendered a nonbinary character played by a trans actress, demonstrating the need for journalists and writers to better understand how to cover these communities.

    Ben Brantley, the Timeslongtime co-chief theater critic, wrote a review of the new musical, which is based on the music of The Go-Go’s and which features “the first trans woman actress to create a principal role on Broadway.” The groundbreaking role, Pythio, is currently being played by former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Peppermint, and the character identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronoun “they.” According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, nonbinary people “don’t neatly fit into the categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ or ‘male’ or ‘female.’” In his review, Brantley unnecessarily mocked the character’s preferred pronouns, writing that another character found “himself strangely drawn to her -- I mean them”:

    These assorted role reversals are overseen by the wise oracle Pythio (Peppermint, a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” described in the program as “the first transgender woman to create a principal role” on Broadway). Pythio identifies as “nonbinary plural.” Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins), the King’s viceroy and father of Mopsa, finds himself strangely drawn to her — I mean them. 

    LGBTQ advocates and journalists criticized Brantley’s language and successfully called on the Times to make changes to the piece:

    Following criticism of the review, Brantley issued an apology and edited the report to remove the offensive language:

    Bentley’s review and subsequent apology demonstrate the need for writers and journalists to be intentional in the way they cover the trans and gender-nonconforming community. The Associated Press Stylebook has recommended the use of “they” when referring to nonbinary people as a best practice for journalists for more than a year, and LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD has written that misgendering in reports can cause the community to see “a part of themselves erased and devalued.” This kind of reporting stigmatizes an already marginalized community and can have negative impacts on its members' self-confidence and mental health. The community experiences disproportionately high levels of discrimination and violence, and homicides against trans folks spiked in 2017.

    This is the second time in a little over a month that the Times came under fire for publishing anti-LGBTQ content. On June 25, the paper published a homophobic cartoon video and accompanying opinion piece depicting President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a same-sex relationship and featuring an extended scene of their tongues intertwining while riding a unicorn through rainbows. The video drew criticism for mocking same-sex relationships and making LGBTQ people the punchline of a joke. Unlike with Bentley’s review, the Times defended the cartoon and claimed that the filmmaker “would have used the same format to satirize Trump’s infatuation with another politician, regardless of sexuality or gender.”

  • The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom 

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & BRENNAN SUEN

    “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom” is an interactive research book outlining the anti-LGBTQ positions of the influential legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). These positions were identified through extensive review of public statements by ADF and its representatives, reports on the group's legal and political activities, and publicly available materials created by the group. Information regarding significant portions of ADF's legal and political advocacy work is not publicly available; the group may hold additional positions or engage in additional activity that it refrains from commenting on publicly.

    Click here to download the interactive PDF version of this report.

  • 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.”