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Brennan Suen

Author ››› Brennan Suen
  • Right-wing evangelicals are using Pete Buttigieg to attack progressive Christians

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and media are even calling for Buttigieg to stop being gay and undergo conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and media are attacking progressive Christians as not "serious Christians" after openly gay and Christian Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called out Vice President Mike Pence for his anti-LGBTQ policies.

    On April 7, remarking on his sexuality, Buttigieg said “that if Pence has ‘a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me -- your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.’" Pence has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights, and he responded to the comments by accusing Buttigieg of attacking his Christian faith.

    Buttigieg is very open about his Christian faith. The New York Times described Buttigieg as “a devoted Episcopalian who fluidly quotes Scripture” and quoted him saying that his relationship with his husband Chasten “has moved me closer to God.” He has also cited his Christian faith as part of the reason he supports progressive policies.

    Despite his faith, right-wing evangelicals are attacking Buttigieg as anti-Christian and calling progressive Christianity -- particularly Christians who support LGBTQ equality and reproductive choice -- a “hypocritical farce” and “politicized sham.” Several outlets even said Buttigieg should stop being gay, suggesting that he undergo and support the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy.

    Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups say progressive stances on sexuality and abortion go against Christian teachings

    In response to Buttigieg’s comments, right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups attacked not only Buttigieg’s beliefs but also the entirety of progressive Christianity.

    Right-wing anti-LGBTQ commentator Erick Erickson penned a post titled “On Meet the Press, Pete Buttigieg Shows Why Progressive Christianity is a Hypocritical Farce” that suggested that Erickson’s hardline anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion beliefs are the only acceptable form of Christianity. In the piece, Erickson claimed that “Buttigieg keeps trying to play a Christian on television” and cited Buttigieg’s beliefs as a reason why “progressive Christianity is so corrupt and flawed.” He also said that Buttigieg “wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like,” pointing to his sexuality and stance on reproductive choice. In an earlier post, Erickson claimed that Buttigieg “is not really Christian so much as he is Episcopalian,” a point that he has repeatedly doubled down on.

    In a post on anti-LGBTQ outlet LifeSiteNews, writer Michael Brown said that Buttigieg's comments on President Donald Trump are “the height of hypocrisy” after Buttigieg criticized Trump for being “at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.” Brown referred to Buttigieg as “a professing Christian and practicing homosexual” and claimed that it is “utterly absurd” for a “serious Christian” to be “pro-abortion and ‘married’ to his same-sex partner.” Additionally, Brown implied that a “true follower of Jesus” cannot be gay and quoted a Bible verse suggesting that LGBTQ people will go to hell. He concluded by saying that “there is nothing Christian about” a “pro-abortion, practicing homosexual who claims to be a Christian calling out Trump’s alleged ‘hypocrisy.’”

    Peter LaBarbera, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, released a statement titled “Pete Buttigieg's Fake Christianity: Democrat Mocks God by Using Him to Justify His Homosexuality.” LaBarbera called Buttigieg “a living, walking and breathing example of the politicized sham that is religious-left ‘Christianity’ today.” He continued, “Buttigieg quotes Scripture even as he defies it with his very public, and very fake, ‘marriage’ to another man,” adding, “No faithful Christian proudly identifies by his or her besetting sins, nor seeks to justify them before a holy God.”

    In an appearance on anti-LGBTQ media figure Todd Starnes’ Fox Nation show, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that Buttigieg “has an issue with the words of Scripture.” Perkins also compared him to “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” claiming that Buttigieg’s progressive agenda is “not in line with the Scripture,” including his support for reproductive choice and same-sex marriage.

    Several outlets suggested Buttigieg denounce his sexuality and stop being gay

    Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups doubled down on their attacks of Buttigieg’s identity by going so far as to say that he should stop being gay.

    In LaBarbera’s post, he asserted that “it is Buttigieg himself who is defiantly living out his own quarrel with God every time he proudly celebrates his sexual sin and, worse, uses God to justify it.” LaBarbera further called for Buttigieg to stop being gay, saying, “Christians should pray that Pete Buttigieg repents of his proud homosexuality and dedicates himself to serving Christ in Truth—rather than mocking Him for political gain.” He also subtly advocated for conversion therapy, saying that “homosexual behaviors … can be overcome through the grace and power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6), as testified by countless ex-‘gays’ and former ‘transgenders.’"

    In his LifeSiteNews post, Brown claimed that Buttigieg should come out and say he does “not affirm [his same-sex] desires, act on them, or celebrate them.”

    And in a blog titled “The Problem with Pete Buttigieg: His Sexual Conduct,” Bryan Fischer of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association called for Buttigieg to “exit from the addictive and self-destructive behavior that is endemic in the homosexual community and set his feet on a higher path.” Fischer also suggested Buttigieg undergo conversion therapy, saying, “It’s unfortunate that Buttigieg never developed a relationship with Jesus Christ because Christ came in order to give ordinary human beings victory over exactly the kind of sexual temptation to which Buttigieg surrendered.” Fischer concluded that “the first question Pete Buttigieg needs to be asked: ‘Do you oppose reparative therapy for teens struggling with same-sex attraction, and would you make it a crime? Yes or No?’”

    These suggestions, both implicit and explicit, for Buttigieg to undergo conversion therapy and renounce his sexuality are part of the broader trend of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and figures supporting a discredited practice that causes harm and even death.

    These opinions are extreme and not representative of most Christian viewpoints

    Attempts to discredit Buttigieg’s Christian faith reflect right-wing evangelicals’ broader efforts to create a false “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to pit religious people, particularly Christians, against LGBTQ people. However, anti-LGBTQ bigotry is not reflected in mainstream Christian beliefs, and the majority of members in most religious groups in the United States believe that homosexuality should be accepted. In May 2018, research from the Public Religion Research Institute found that “most religious groups now support the legalization of same-sex marriage” and although a majority of white evangelicals and Mormons still do not express majority support, “there is evidence that even these groups are trending toward majority support.”

    Right-wing media’s claims that Buttigieg’s marriage and progressive platform go directly against Christian beliefs further contribute to a misleading and destructive narrative that has been ongoing for decades. These assertions are untrue and do not reflect the strengthening support for LGBTQ rights in Christian communities in the U.S.

  • Anti-LGBTQ attacks against high-profile queer Americans should be a wake-up call to everyone

    The community has been struggling with increasing violence for years, and two recent attacks show that none of us is safe

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    The threat of violence and harassment is nothing new for those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those who are trans or people of color. We know that our safety is at risk when we hold hands in public; queer sex workers know they risk their lives just by going to work; trans women of color know that they could be killed at any time just for existing in public. The list goes on. But after two reports of high-profile queer people being beaten or harassed for their identities in the past week, it seems like everyone else might finally be waking up to the reality that their LGBTQ friends and family are simply not safe.

    In the early hours of January 29, two people reportedly physically attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett -- a gay Black man -- while “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to police. And on January 30, anti-trans so-called “feminists” barged into a meeting and recorded themselves repeatedly harassing and misgendering high-profile trans activist and author Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

    Smollett’s attack has been significantly covered in news media, and rightly so. But there is also Candice Elease Pinky, the Black trans woman who was shot in a Texas gas station parking lot on January 24, and Dana Martin, the first reported trans woman to be killed in the United States in 2019. According to HRC, there were “at least 26 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2018. And in 2017, there were “a total of 52 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides,” according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP); that number reflected a staggering 86 percent increase in single-incident reports from the previous year. This violence is most frequently targeted toward trans women of color, but even homicides of queer cisgender men went up from four to 20 between 2016 and 2017 -- a fivefold increase.

    But many Americans who are LGBTQ allies had no idea. In 2018, Media Matters published a yearlong study of TV news coverage of those 52 homicides in 2017, and what we found shows why Smollett’s attack may have been such a wake-up call for so many: The media was barely touching these stories. Throughout a year of coverage, seven networks discussed anti-LGBTQ violence for less than 40 minutes total -- and a quarter of that discussion came from Fox News, which regularly traffics in anti-LGBTQ animus.

    And it’s not just physical violence that we should be talking about. The majority of LGBTQ Americans, like McBride, “have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” A 2017 Harvard study put numbers to it:

    Regarding individual forms of discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.

    During Smollett’s attack, the assailants reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This sentiment should not be a surprise; it has come straight from the top. President Donald Trump has regularly used his office as a platform to bully and demean others, and his followers have become emboldened. Bullying is increasing; right-wing extremists are circulating liberals’ private information “to encourage harassment or violence”; and right-wing terrorism remains the biggest national security threat. All this while, as trans advocate Brynn Tannehill explained, right-wing media have been inciting violence against transgender people by demonizing them as a threat to women and children as well as U.S. national security, even sometimes hinting that violence is "an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public."

    But there is another group of people who claim to be liberal and feminist yet also pose a direct threat to the LGBTQ community. “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” also known as TERFs, are anti-trans activists who claim that transgender people threaten the safety of cis women, and they are behind the targeted harassment and misgendering of Sarah McBride.

    TERFs have worked for years to dehumanize transgender people and to exclude trans women from female spaces and the broader movement for women’s equality, and they have increasingly cozied up to the right to do so. On January 28, just days before two TERFs harassed McBride on video, the right-wing Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of anti-trans activists “from the Left” to argue against a bill that aims to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in current nondiscrimination laws. Introducing the panel, vehemently anti-trans researcher Ryan T. Anderson made it clear that combating trans equality is a value the right shares with TERFs, and they are willing to work together despite their differences on other issues. Heron Greenesmith, researcher at the think tank Political Research Associates, described the alliance between the right and TERFs to NBC News:

    “They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

    Anti-trans harassment is another piece of the right-wing playbook that TERFs have capitalized on. The two TERFs who interrupted McBride during a private meeting -- Posie Parker and Julia Long, who identifies as a lesbian -- repeatedly misgendered her on video, describing her as “male,” and pushed myths about trans-inclusive facilities being a safety risk for cisgender women. According to PinkNews’ report, Parker had also been at the Heritage Foundation just days before its panel, though she denied involvement with the January 28 event.

    The attacks on Smollett and McBride should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Black queer folk, transgender people, queer immigrants, and those at the intersections of these identities have been living with this fear and pain for years, and it has shown no sign of getting better. The right has been emboldened to enact violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and it is actively trying to fracture our community by teaming up with TERFs. In fact, this alliance has given this strategy a name: “divide and conquer.” One anti-trans activist said, “If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

    But we will not be fooled, and we will not be divided. Queer equality and liberation are nothing if they are not intersectional. As the last week has shown, if one of the community’s most beloved actors can’t walk home without experiencing racist and homophobic violence, and one of our most effective advocates can’t go to work without being targeted for harassment, then none of us is safe.

  • WSJ op-ed pushing flawed anti-trans research inadvertently reaffirms that trans people are who they say they are

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by conservative columnist Abigail Shrier pushing flawed research about transgender youth and a dubious concept called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” which purports that young teens are coming out as trans because it is “fashionable.” Shrier wrote that she spoke with 18 parents concerned that their children were dealing with so-called “ROGD,” but she acknowledged that most of their children remained transgender, inadvertently demonstrating the flawed research driving this anti-trans fearmongering.

    The concept of so-called rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) originated in 2016 on anti-trans blogs, and Brown University researcher Lisa Littman surveyed those same blogs for a flawed study published in 2018. The study suggests that transgender youth -- primarily transgender boys who were assigned female at birth -- are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that they are coming out due to increased exposure to transgender friends and media figures and claiming that they had shown no signs of gender dysphoria in the past. Both the journal that published the study and Brown University announced they would re-evaluate it due to methodological concerns, including that it relied on parental reports from biased, anti-trans blogs. (One of the two on-the-record sources Shrier cited in her op-ed was a spokesperson for one of those blogs, Brie Jontry from 4thWaveNow.)

    Shrier’s recent piece reaffirmed what was already apparent in Littman’s study: The vast majority of the young people whose parents are being surveyed to push this concept have persisted in being trans. In Littman’s study, less than 6 percent of transgender youth whose parents were surveyed no longer identified as trans (for about another 11 percent, it was unclear whether they still identify as trans). And in Shrier’s op-ed, she could point to only “two mothers whose daughters have desisted” out of the 18 parents she interviewed. But whether parents perceive their children’s coming out as “rapid” or not is beside the point; even when parents are surprised by their children’s gender identity, trans youth remain who they say they are.

    Shrier used many right-wing buzzwords and comparisons to describe ROGD’s flawed concept that being transgender is “fashionable,” a “social contagion,” and similar to “cutting and bulimia.” She also claimed that ROGD “comes on suddenly in adolescence, afflicting teens who’d never exhibited any confusion about their sex,” and is thus different from the established definition of gender dysphoria, which Shrier describes as beginning “in early childhood.”

    In fact, Slate’s Alex Barasch has noted that the medical community instead recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” The parents cited by Shrier and Littman may also have perceived their children coming out as sudden because these young people avoided coming out to “hostile parents” and instead sought advice and support online or from circles of friends. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has urged restraint from pushing the idea of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.”

    Shrier also relies on fearmongering about often medically necessary care such as top surgery and other gender affirmation procedures, describing them as “irreversible physical trauma” and “voluntary disfigurement.” There are a number of flaws in this description; it not only makes the false assumption that all trans people need or want surgery as part of their transition, but it also gives the false impression that transition-related surgeries are routinely performed on trans youth. In reality, WPATH’s internationally accepted “standards of care” describe surgery as “often the last and the most considered step in the treatment process for gender dysphoria” while also noting that it is “essential and medically necessary” for many in the transgender community “to alleviate their gender dysphoria.”

    The standards of care note that many interventions for trans adolescents are reversible, including social transitions -- in which the young person begins living in their stated gender identity -- and puberty blockers, which delay the onset of puberty. It also says that chest surgery for transgender boys -- the subset of youth who were assigned female at birth, which is the group ROGD predominantly claims to address -- should be carried out “preferably after ample time of living in the desired gender role and after one year of testosterone treatment” to give “adolescents sufficient opportunity to experience and socially adjust in a more masculine gender role, before undergoing irreversible surgery.”

    Rather than acknowledge the multipronged and varied processes in which trans people affirm their identities, Shrier resorts to using scare tactics and simplifying a lengthy and thought-out process that generally involves the transgender individual, medical and mental health professionals, family, and friends. Furthermore, there is no indication that any of the very small number of trans youth supposedly studied in Littman’s survey or Shrier’s op-ed underwent any irreversible procedures, demonstrating that the transition process already has measures in place and is safe for the small number of adolescents who may determine that they are not transgender.

    The Wall Street Journal is one of the most high-profile news outlets to push the flawed concept of ROGD (though right-wing media have run wild with it). In September, the paper published another op-ed criticizing the academic journal and Brown University for re-evaluating and backing away from Littman’s study and calling their action “suppression.” Shrier has written about gender and transgender issues for the paper before as well, including an August op-ed called “The Transgender Language War” and a July one titled “Masculine Dads Raise Confident Daughters.” Breitbart News is already promoting her latest piece.

    Ultimately, pieces like this are dangerous for both trans youth and the community at large. Not only does Shrier recommend the ineffective and dangerous practice of conversion therapy for trans youth, writing that protections from the discredited practice threaten “counselors who might otherwise dissuade teens from proceeding with hormone treatment or surgery,” but the concept of ROGD itself also essentially calls on parents to doubt their children when they come out as trans. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth whose families reject them are already “8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide” as their LGB peers with accepting families, and the number is likely higher with trans youth, who already experience disproportionately high rates of suicide (particularly transgender boys and men). For them, flawed research like that pushing so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” can be a matter of life and death.

  • How the hoax that the LGBTQ community is embracing pedophiles went viral

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing groups and figures have worked for years to smear LGBTQ people by associating them with pedophiles, but this summer, a myth that the LGBTQ community is embracing pedophiles went viral on social media with the help of anonymous right-wing message boards, fake news-purveying websites, and the conservative media echo chamber.

    The online forum 4chan has led similar misinformation campaigns since at least 2016, but a July post on The Daily Caller escalated the false narrative that pedophiles were attempting to join the LGBTQ community. This narrative has garnered more than 875,000 Facebook impressions across multiple outlets and via numerous stories in the time since The Daily Caller’s piece was published.

    Far-right anonymous message boards have led misinformation campaigns to associate pedophiles with the LGBTQ community for years

    Each year since 2016, anonymous message board 4chan -- a hotbed of far-right extremism, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns -- has initiated or bolstered misinformation campaigns attempting to connect LGBTQ people to pedophilia. Most notably, users have falsely claimed that the LGBTQ community is adding a “P” for “pedosexual” to become the “LGBTP” community. Fact-checking website Snopes debunked two “LGBTP” misinformation campaigns that originated on 4chan in 2016 and 2017. Both campaigns partly targeted LGBTQ people in a failed attempt to trick them into supporting pedophiles.

    When right-wing hoaxes first start on 4chan, they are generally isolated to a small base of far-right users. Those users then take these myths to more mainstream platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, and fake news purveyors and other right-wing websites also pick them up, helping to escalate them. For example, the 2016 campaign called on users to begin pushing the narrative on Tumblr, and the 2017 campaign suggested people “push pedo acceptance particularly on the LGBT bandwagon via twitter sockpuppets etc.” A sockpuppet account is “a fictional identity created to bolster some point of view.” These campaigns also typically use images and hashtags to increase engagement, including a fake “LGBTP” poster and hashtags like #GaysForPedoSexuality and #loveisageless. Snopes’ report included an archived Facebook post that shared the fake “LGBTP” poster in December 2017. Additionally, questionable websites published and reposted stories pushing 4chan’s misinformation.

    In yet another rebranding of the fake “LGBTP” campaign, a 2017 Reddit thread -- which appears to also have been inspired by 4chan -- falsely claimed that a new “clovergender” identity was emerging and asserted that such people are “attracted to young children, sexually or romantically,” because “their mind fails to develop past the age of 13” and they “are actually children at heart.” In January 2017, disgraced pharmaceutical executive and criminal Martin Shkreli, who was later suspended from Twitter for harassing a journalist, tweeted about the myth. Snopes also reported that a Facebook page was created to accompany the campaign. The report called the hoax “part of a years-long tradition on the part of 4chan and 8chan to dupe the media and social media with fantastical claims of non-existent trends and events,” and said that its “underlying intent … appeared to be undermining the legitimacy of transgender identity.” Also in January, far-right activist Mark Collett posted a video on YouTube titled “The LGBT Agenda is Helping to Normalise Paedophilia,” which was flagged as “inappropriate” but garnered more than 140,000 views. In July 2017, another video pushing the myth of “pedophile acceptance” and including a fake "LGBTP poster" received more than 676,000 views.

    Right-wing media, spearheaded by The Daily Caller, made the misinformation go viral this year

    The multiyear online effort to associate the LGBTQ community with pedophiles finally had its moment in July, after false stories tempered the “LGBTP” narrative by focusing instead on a small community of pedophiles who refer to themselves as “minor-attracted persons” (MAPs). Those stories falsely asserted that the community had created a MAPs “pride” flag, which was found to be fake, and that the group of pedophiles was attempting to join the LGBTQ community. The fake flag was sourced from random social media posts that appear to be part of yet another anti-LGBTQ misinformation campaign. Though an LGBTQ news outlet fell for the hoax first, right-wing website The Daily Caller launched it into the far-right echo chamber, resulting in more than 875,000 combined Facebook engagements across several posts.

    The first major piece to come out about the topic was a July 7 post on LGBTQ website Gay Star News, which received 3,300 Facebook engagements according to social media analysis tool BuzzSumo. Another LGBTQ website, One True Voice Online, reprinted the story that same day. Gay Star News posted an update three weeks later calling the flag “a hoax” at the very bottom of the post and did not change the headline or content of the piece. A Google reverse image search reveals that the flag image had infrequently circulated online in late June and early July on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, as well as in a post on the website for a community-based app called Amino. Gay Star News used several of those posts as evidence to publish its story.

    Despite Gay Star News’ major error, it wasn’t until The Daily Caller wrote up the story in a July 9 post -- which received more than 78,000 Facebook interactions according to CrowdTangle -- that the hoax began to pick up. The post dubiously asserted that pedophiles, rebranded as MAPs, “seek to be a part of the LGBT+ community, even going so far as to make a ‘Pride’ flag for Gay Pride Month” and are following “in the liberal trend of rebranding things by giving them more ‘politically correct’ names.” The post also embedded a tweet from an unverified account with less than 1,000 followers featuring the so-called pedophile pride flag:

    But this flag is not real, and the use of a random Twitter post to source a report raises major editorial red flags. Snopes investigated and found that “the image was created as part of a troll experiment on Tumblr.” Its report noted:

    Pedophiles did not coin the term “minor attracted persons” (or MAPS) to rebrand themselves in 2018 in order to gain entry to the LGBT community. Organizations such as B4UAct have been using the term “minor attracted persons” for years to refer to “adults who experience feelings of preferential sexual attraction to children or adolescents under the age of consent.”

    Snopes also found “no evidence that this flag originated in earnest as a MAPs Pride Flag,” instead reporting that it “appears to have originated” in a June 13 Tumblr post in which the poster admitted to designing the flag. Snopes added that the poster’s profile page has changed from stating “Support NOMAPS,” an acronym for “Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons,” to stating that “Y’all need a therapist, not a community” and noting that the poster is “not here for a MAP Community.” (It is important to remember that the 2016 4chan thread included several posts encouraging users to spread their disinformation campaign on Tumblr.)

    There is essentially no evidence indicating that groups of pedophiles are actively attempting to join the LGBTQ community, and there are no legitimate LGBTQ organizations or activists working to include pedophiles in the community. LGBTQ news outlet Hornet reviewed the websites of several MAPs groups, noting, “If you look over these groups’ sites, you won’t see any Pride flag, let alone the one pictured above.” The post also observed that “a Pride flag seems to run counter to their entire mission” because the groups “are about helping people deal with pedophilic attraction to control and get rid of it, not embrace it.” Snopes also reached out to a major MAPs community, the “Prevention Project,” which had not heard of the flag.

    Although it was clearly fabricated, The Daily Caller’s story was the beginning of a snowball effect that resulted in close to a million social media engagements. Prominent fake news purveyor YourNewsWire (now NewsPunch.com) wrote up the Daily Caller’s piece and it went viral, garnering 472,000 Facebook engagements according to BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo also found that it was one of YourNewsWire’s top five pieces of content over the past year. Several other websites -- many of which publish fake news -- pushed the story and drew high levels of engagement, including The Free Thought Project (116,900 engagements), Now the End Begins (102,100 engagements), Louder with Crowder (61,000 engagements), and Neon Nettle (6,600 engagements). The majority of these websites quoted extensively from The Daily Caller’s piece, or even copied it entirely.

    Prominent anti-LGBTQ outlet LifeSiteNews also published a story on the topic that said, “‘Gay Liberation’ was always about sexual liberation for all, no matter what age.” Its post cited Gay Star News and garnered 11,300 Facebook engagements. Right-wing propaganda website The Western Journal also relied heavily on The Daily Caller for its post on the topic that received 24,600 engagements. Even the United Kingdom edition of LGBTQ magazine Attitude parroted the The Daily Caller’s story, using the same tweet as a source as well as the same testimonial from a MAPs group. Although he did not adopt The Daily Caller’s exact framing of the story, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mentioned the “LGBTP” myth as real at least three times after the misinformation campaign went viral this year. On YouTube, far-right personality Laura Tam, who calls herself “Roaming Millennial,” uploaded a video using the fake MAPs flag and also pushing the hoax. Tam’s video received nearly 200,000 views.

    The Daily Caller’s piece was also shared on far-right anonymous message board Kiwi Farms, which regularly leads harassment campaigns, including one that led to the suicide of a transgender woman. There were nearly 300 posts discussing the piece in Kiwi Farms’ thread. There were also hundreds of comments in a Reddit thread about The Daily Caller’s piece, further demonstrating that these forums can gin up misinformation campaigns and escalate them through right-wing media validators -- and that hoaxes continue to grow in the right-wing echo chamber, including back on the message boards.

    These misinformation campaigns have real-world consequences

    These anti-LGBTQ pedophile hoaxes have not just been limited to the internet; there have been several instances of this narrative causing real-world consequences in the last few years. Even political figures and regulatory agencies have fallen for these hoaxes, publicly sharing them on social media.

    Twice over the summer, someone in Oregon posted fake flyers pushing the pedophile hoax. In late July, a “Pedophiles are people too” sign that included a pride flag appeared near an elementary school in West Linn, a Portland suburb. Conservative actor James Woods, who has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter, posted an image of the poster on July 31, writing, “And so it begins…” On June 19, hundreds of fake posters advertising a “Central Oregon Gay Pride” sponsored by the National Association of Man-Boy Love (NAMBLA) -- a largely defunct pro-pedophilia organization -- appeared in Bend, OR. The posters used the acronym “LGBTQP” and wrote, “Bring the kids! XOXO.” They also featured “a stolen image of an actual child — Instagram star, vogue dancer, and 8-year-old draganista Desmond is Amazing,” according to LGBTQ outlet them. Desmond’s mother, who runs his social media accounts, issued a statement in response, saying their family was “offended, angry, and yes, hurt.” “The fake posters hurt our family intensely as well as many of his fans,” she told them. “To know that someone would take a photo of a beautiful 8-year-old boy and use it as hate propaganda is shameful and despicable.”

    These misinformation campaigns have not been limited to the U.S. South Africa’s Film & Publication Board, which regulates media in the country by classifying content with age guidelines, tweeted the 2017 “LGBTP” poster from its verified account last December. It retracted the tweet the following day and admitted it had fallen for “a hoax.” In Brazil, the son of fascist President-elect Jair Bolsonaro posted the same fabricated poster days after The Daily Caller published its piece in July. He has not deleted the tweet.

    EU vs Disinfo, a website run by the East StratCom Task Force created by the European Council “to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns,” wrote in August about a similar disinformation campaign in Serbia that targeted the European Union. Serbian outlets asserted that pro-LGBTQ legislation was “preparing the ground for legalising paedophilia” there. EU vs Disinfo noted that “equating sexual minorities to paedophilia is one of the frequent techniques of pro-Kremlin disinformation” and linked to a Serbian outlet’s post that featured several of the “LGBTP” memes and images circulated on far-right message boards and other social media in 2016 and 2017.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals have spent years smearing the LGBTQ community by associating them with pedophiles

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals have long employed the myth that LGBTQ identities are linked with pedophilia to smear the community and fearmonger about equality. Alan Sars, founder of the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), called pedophilia and “homosexual behavior … often intrinsically linked” and falsely asserted that “there is a definite link as well between child molestation and later homosexual behavior” in his book The Homosexual Agenda. The 2003 book was on the recommended reading list for ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship program as recently as 2015. Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins has called pedophilia a “homosexual problem,” and he falsely claimed that science shows “a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia” in 2010. After the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders in 2015, Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said the organization would become “a playground for pedophiles” and that there would be “all kinds of sexual molestation.”

    Anti-LGBTQ groups like these have major influence over local, state, and national policy debates as well as public opinion, and their work smearing the LGBTQ community by falsely linking it to pedophilia has certainly been effective over the last decades. But the recent coordinated effort from far-right message boards, right-wing outlets, and fake news purveyors helped bring one of their common narratives to a wider audience and spread the misinformation like wildfire. In today’s fragmented media ecosystem, where anonymous users can organize misinformation campaigns that are heedlessly repeated by websites with no editorial standards, it’s not hard to see how old myths can become new again.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • These are the LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could take up this term

    The Trump-Pence administration asked the Supreme Court to review trans military ban cases. There are several other LGBTQ-related cases it could decide to take up this session.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration has once again asked the Supreme Court to take up one of its policy priorities and bypass lower courts in what has been called an “unusual” move -- this time, to expedite a ruling on its proposed policy banning openly transgender service members from serving in the military. And that’s just one of several LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could hear this session, with other topics including employment discrimination, trans-inclusive school facilities, and religious exemptions for businesses. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has connections to several of those cases.

    Though there has been media coverage of the trans military ban cases, several other important cases that may reach the high court fly under the media’s radar. Here's a look at LGBTQ-related cases that may be heard by the Supreme Court this term:

    Trans military ban

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    Trans military ban

    In July 2017, Trump announced on Twitter that he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a 2016 policy change by the Obama administration that allowed trans people to serve openly. In March, the Trump-Pence administration released its official policy. In developing the plan, the administration reportedly relied on a panel of “experts” that included the vehemently anti-trans activist Ryan T. Anderson and Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. There have been four lawsuits filed against the ban, and according to CNN, “District courts across the country have so far blocked the policy from going into effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in one challenge earlier this fall and the DC Circuit will hear arguments in early December.”

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the Supreme Court to review three of the cases, bypassing lower courts: Doe v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Karnoski v. Trump. According to The Advocate, Doe “is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," and the other two are pending before the 9th Circuit. Neither appeals court has ruled on any of these cases, but the 9th Circuit has heard arguments in one challenge already.

    The Guardian reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s request “is the fourth time in recent months the administration has sought to bypass lower courts that have blocked some of its more controversial proposals and push the high court, which has a conservative majority, to weigh in quickly on a divisive issue.” The New York Times noted that the DOJ’s request for the Supreme Court to review the issue is unusual, as it “does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket.” According to the Supreme Court’s rules, it should take up an issue “only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this court.”

    Speaking to The Washington Post, several lawyers challenging the ban have “said there is no reason for the court to abandon its usual policy,” and according to The Daily Beast, if the Supreme Court does review the issue, it “would theoretically only be considering whether or not to lift the injunctions that have been placed on the rollout of the transgender troop ban” while the lower courts continue to debate the legality of the ban itself. However, there is also a chance that the high court could find a way to rule directly on the ban’s constitutionality.

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    There are three cases that the Supreme Court could take up involving interpretations of workplace protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

    The primary debate around Title VII involves whether protections from sex discrimination also encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly as the Supreme Court has already ruled that employers cannot discriminate based on gender stereotypes. In May 2017, Congress introduced the Equality Act, a bill that would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act.

    In October 2017, the DOJ issued a memo that said (emphasis original), "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status." Of the three Title VII cases that the Supreme Court might take up, one involves a trans woman who was fired for her gender identity, and the other two involve men who were fired for their sexual orientation.

    The first case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who was fired after coming out to her longtime employer. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor based on Title VII protections, saying, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex” and that “discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

    The influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing the funeral home at the center of the case, and ADF’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to take up the case in July.

    In October, the DOJ filed a brief in support of the funeral home. It issued a similar brief in favor of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case decided last session. Solicitor General Noel Francisco signed the Harris Funeral Homes brief and argued in support of ADF’s client in Masterpiece Cakeshop. ADF had identified Francisco as one of its more than 3,200 allied attorneys in several press releases in 2016, but the group later claimed that this had been “our mistake” and that he was not in fact an allied attorney. ADF shows a distinct lack of transparency about who its allied attorneys are, and another group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine Francisco’s exact relationship with ADF.

    In a second case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his employer Altitude Express for firing him in 2010 after he “told a female student that he was gay.” (Zarda died four years after he filed the suit.) The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in February of this year, deciding that Title VII “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Altitude Express and its lawyers petitioned the case to the Supreme Court in May.

    In a third case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock sued after “he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for a Georgia county’s juvenile court system when his employer found out he is gay.” The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Bostock, saying that Title VII does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. In May, Bostock and his lawyer asked the Supreme Court to weigh in given a split in circuit courts’ rulings on the matter.

    The high court was originally expected to consider petitions to review the three Title VII cases on November 30, but it has since “delayed its timeline for considering whether to grant review.” According to Bloomberg Law, “The court’s next scheduled conference is Dec. 7, and it has no more conferences scheduled for December. The first conference of the new year is scheduled for Jan. 4.” If it does not grant review by mid-January, the court would not be able to hold oral arguments for any of the cases during the current term, which began in October.

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    In June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The decision did not indicate how the high court should rule on other similar cases or on the larger question of whether businesses can deny services to LGBTQ people but rather ruled that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown “hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Phillips’] objection.” This next session, however, the Supreme Court could make a broader ruling on a similar case.

    In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the owners of the now-shuttered Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, a violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. According to The Oregonian, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against the bakery owners and “upheld the order, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year.” Their lawyers -- from the anti-LGBTQ legal group First Liberty Institute (previously known as Liberty Institute) -- filed a petition for Supreme Court review in September. At least four of those lawyers have connections to ADF: Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, and Hiram Sasser have both been identified as ADF allied attorneys, and Michael Berry and Stephanie Taub both participated in ADF’s legal fellowship program.

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    ADF has filed another petition asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on an LGBTQ-related issue in the Joel Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case. In that case, cisgender students represented by ADF sued their school district after Boyertown Area High School passed an inclusive policy that allows transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. This differs from the high-profile Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case, in which a trans student sued his school district for passing a discriminatory policy.

    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Boyertown’s trans-inclusive policy and against ADF’s client in July, citing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination ‘based on sex’ in federally funded educational programs.” ADF has also attempted to leverage Title IX in its arguments, saying that the school’s trans-inclusive policy would create a “hostile environment” in violation of Title IX because its cisgender clients would have to interact with trans students in school restrooms and locker rooms. ADF thus contended that cisgender students who feel “embarrassed and harassed” by being in the same restrooms as trans students would be discriminated against “on the basis of sex.”

    There are several potential outcomes if the Supreme Court does take up the case. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that if the court ruled against the plaintiffs, it would likely decide “that local school districts like Boyertown cannot be barred from establishing transgender protections” rather than making a more sweeping decision “to affirm that all transgender students nationwide are protected under Title IX.” However, Allen noted the increasingly conservative makeup of the court and contemplated what could happen if it ruled in favor of ADF’s clients:

    There’s another outcome that has the potential to be catastrophic for a generation of transgender students: The Supreme Court—now with a conservative majority and two Trump picks—hears the case and agrees that transgender students cannot be protected by school policies. In the worst case, they agree that Title IX not only doesn’t protect transgender students, but actually requires schools to discriminate against them.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups are emboldened by the new Supreme Court make up

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including ADF, have united around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court, assuming he would champion their issues and cement the conservative majority on the court. Like the Trump-Pence administration, these groups have been emboldened to push for discriminatory policies in the courts, such as overturning protections against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. ADF and others like it also have unprecedented influence over the administration; the White House even briefed ADF President Michael Farris about the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report. Farris and ADF argued twice before the Supreme Court during the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases before the high court.

    Additional research by Kayla Gogarty and Brianna January.

  • Anti-LGBTQ forces warn that Colorado's first openly gay governor is a threat to Christians

    As Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis makes history, an anti-LGBTQ group and right-wing media outlet have dubiously attempted to pit religion against the LGBTQ community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire have used the successful campaign of Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, to push a false narrative pitting religion against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, they have leveraged the story of anti-gay Colorado baker Jack Phillips -- who went all the way to the Supreme Court in a case involving his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple -- to say that the state is persecuting Christians and that Polis’ election would result in religious people losing their rights.

    Extreme and influential anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor based on the particulars of the case, citing “inappropriate and dismissive comments” from one of the Colorado civil rights commissioners as “hostility” toward Phillips’ religion. Polis called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope,” adding that Congress should pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would amend civil rights protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other areas of life to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

    After Polis’ historic win, The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois published an article headlined “Colorado Elects First Openly Gay Governor In U.S. History As The State Persecutes Christians.” Bois highlighted Polis’ “commitment to LGBTQ principles” and wrote, “The ascension of Polis in Colorado comes at a time when the state has increasingly positioned itself as an enemy of religious liberty, most notably in its persecution of baker Jack Phillips.”

    Before Election Day, anti-LGBTQ group Family Policy Alliance also featured Phillips in a campaign ad against Polis. According to LGBTQ news outlet INTO, the ad said, “Assaults on Jack’s faith – and yours – could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” and a statement released alongside the ad asserted that “the decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come.” Family Policy Alliance sent an email promoting the ad on October 24, which claimed that Polis’ election “means that things could get even worse for Jack and other people of faith in Colorado.”

    The group deleted the ad within days and scrubbed references to the video from its website. A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told Baptist Press on November 2 that the group “was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was ‘pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.’" That second ad, titled “Jared Polis vs. Freedom,” asserted that if elected, Polis would threaten “the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.” (During the 2018 election, Family Policy Alliance and its member group Massachusetts Family Institute worked extensively to undo a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Massachusetts. The repeal effort failed.)

    The Family Policy Alliance ads and The Daily Wire’s story rest on the false premise that the LGBTQ community and people of faith are at odds, or that equal rights for LGBTQ people somehow result in the loss of rights for people of faith. Anti-LGBTQ figures often set up this “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to gin up sympathy for individuals and groups who wish to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing their faith. But these figures, often right-wing evangelical Christians, do not represent all people of faith or even speak for all of Christians. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality should be accepted -- including majorities of most religious groups. Almost 1,300 faith leaders filed an amicus brief defending the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and condemning the use of “religious freedom” arguments to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to the brief’s press release, the faith leaders represented 500,000 congregants “from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S.” And though the Supreme Court ruled against the couple, the decision did not indicate how similar court cases should play out. But Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the baker in the case, is litigating several other cases that may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious exemptions.”

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • These anti-LGBTQ group alumni work in federal agencies that will interpret potential anti-trans definition of gender

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” according to an October 21 story in The New York Times. The definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- where numerous alumni and allies of major anti-LGBTQ groups currently work.

    According to the Times, the move is considered “the most drastic” yet in the administration’s onslaught against transgender rights, and “the new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition” of the trans community. The effort is being led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Office for Civil Rights, whose director, Roger Severino, formerly worked for the right-wing Heritage Foundation alongside many other anti-LGBTQ staff who fill the Trump-Pence administration.

    The departments charged with enforcing Title IX are staffed with several alumni from anti-LGBTQ groups, including the extreme and influential Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Family Research Council (FRC). The following people with positions in the departments of Justice, Education, Labor, and HHS have ties to anti-LGBTQ groups:

    In addition to their former work at anti-LGBTQ groups, several of these agency staff have said or supported extreme anti-LGBTQ measures. DOJ's Kupec was a visible spokesperson for ADF and made numerous media appearances defending the group’s anti-LGBTQ work. HHS’ Royce has promoted the dangerous and ineffective practice of conversion therapy, saying that “the ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story” and that she had counseled “people who were in a homosexual lifestyle.” She contended then that they “generally found themselves in a desperate place” and “have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God’s principles,” using that claim to argue against same-sex marriage. Her former employer, FRC, has vehemently supported conversion therapy. Another HHS staffer, Bowman has said that advocates for same-sex marriage have an “appetite for McCarthyism” and compared them to thugs. Additionally, two other FRC alumni -- Charmaine Yoest and Teresa Manning -- temporarily worked for the Trump-Pence HHS. Yoest moved to a White House job, and Manning abruptly stepped down from the job.

    HHS’ suggested language defines sex “as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” which defies medical consensus and the lived experiences of trans and gender-nonconforming people all over the world. Vox’s German Lopez described how the proposal would affect the everyday lives of transgender Americans:

    The proposal would effectively erase protections for trans people, who identify with a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth, from federal civil rights laws — ensuring that the laws do not prohibit discrimination against trans people in any setting, including the workplace, housing, schools, and health care.

    Furthermore, the Human Rights Campaign’s Charlotte Clymer outlined other examples of severe consequences that could result in the administration’s “severely restrictive and narrow definition of sex”:

    • Same-sex couples and their families could be turned away from emergency shelters

    • A transgender person could have their insurance deny them coverage for transition related care

    • A gay man could be harassed about being gay at a job skills training

    • An elderly same-sex couple could be denied in home meal service

    • A transgender woman could be turned away from a hospital for a broken ankle

    Additional research by Kayla Gogarty.