Author Page | Media Matters for America

Brianna January

Author ››› Brianna January
  • Virginia TV news failed to explain why it was wrong for a fired teacher to repeatedly misgender a trans student

    Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.

    On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.

    Coverage failed to note the harms of misgendering trans people

    Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.

    For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”

    GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”

    School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.

    Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:

    As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.

    Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.

    Virginia TV news coverage featured considerably more statements in support of the anti-trans teacher

    In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.

    From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:

    Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.

    WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.

    Similar cases have emerged that are being supported by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom

    While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.

    As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).

  • Anti-LGBTQ media and groups have been crying "censorship" as flawed research on trans teens is re-evaluated

    A Brown researcher published a flawed study about so-called "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" that relied on surveys from anti-trans websites. The report claimed that teens were coming out as trans due to “social contagion”; after concerns were raised, it is now under review.

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In August, a researcher at Brown University published flawed research about so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a concept that suggests that young people may be coming out as trans due to “social and peer contagion” and that has not been recognized by any mainstream medical organization. Among other flaws, the study was widely criticized for surveying only parents found on anti-trans parent communities rather than transgender people themselves, and Brown and the academic journal that published the study have since pledged to re-evaluate the work. Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups responded by calling the reassessment “academic censorship” and saying Brown and the journal had caved to “transgender activism.”

    Brown University researcher Lisa Littman published a flawed study that claims teens may be identifying as trans due to social influences

    A Brown University researcher published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” that suggested teenagers were identifying as trans due to “social and peer contagion.” In August, Brown University researcher Dr. Lisa Littman published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study suggested that transgender youth are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that both multiple peers in pre-existing friend groups coming out as transgender and “increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity” raise “the possibility of social and peer contagion.” From PLOS ONE (citations removed):

    The description of cluster outbreaks of gender dysphoria occurring in pre-existing groups of friends and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raises the possibility of social and peer contagion. Social contagion is the spread of affect or behaviors through a population. Peer contagion, in particular, is the process where an individual and peer mutually influence each other in a way that promotes emotions and behaviors that can potentially undermine their own development or harm others.

    Littman’s study surveyed the parents of transgender people ages 11-27, circulating the survey on three websites: 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org. Those websites are online communities primarily for parents of transgender people who deny their children’s identities, and the study acknowledged that the survey was specifically targeted to “websites where parents and professionals had been observed to describe rapid onset of gender dysphoria.” In fact, according to trans researcher Julia Serano, the phrase “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and accompanying acronym originated on those very websites in July 2016, before Littman’s study or abstract were released. The term and acronym are frequently used by parents who do not accept their children’s trans identities; there is even a website called parentsofrogdkids.com. Prior to releasing her full study, Littman published an abstract in the Journal of Adolescent Health in February 2017 describing supposed parental experiences with ROGD.

    Gender dysphoria is an established diagnosis involving “a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning.” The American Psychiatric Association recommends affirming the gender expression of people with gender dysphoria, including through “counseling, cross-sex hormones, puberty suppression and gender reassignment surgery” as well as social transitions not involving medical treatments.

    After fielding concerns about Littman’s methodology, Brown and PLOS ONE announced they would re-assess her research

    PLOS ONE is seeking “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses” after receiving complaints. On August 27, PLOS ONE announced that it would re-evaluate Littman’s study due to “concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology.” Slate’s Alex Barasch noted that “re-evaluating a study’s content and methodology doesn’t stymie the scientific process; it’s a natural and necessary extension of it.” From PLOS ONE’s announcement:

    PLOS ONE is aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy and [Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines. As part of our follow up we will seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses. We will provide a further update once we have completed our assessment and discussions.

    Brown University removed a news article about the study after receiving complaints about Littman’s research and its methodology. After experts and advocates pointed out several flaws in the study’s methodology and PLOS ONE announced its own re-evaluation, “Brown determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.” The next day, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health issued a letter confirming that the article had been removed “because of concerns about research methodology,” acknowledging concerns that the flawed study’s conclusions could harm the transgender community, and reiterating the university’s commitment to academic freedom and “the value of rigorous debate informed by research.” On September 5, the university released an expanded statement, proclaiming, “Brown does not shy away from controversial research.” The statement claimed that the article’s removal from the university’s news site was “not about academic freedom,” but rather “about academic standards,” noting that “academic freedom and inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

    Researchers, experts, and journalists have found several flaws with Littman’s research

    The World Professional Association for Transgender Health urged restraint of the term “ROGD” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which publishes the internationally accepted Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines for managing gender dysphoria, released a position statement about ROGD on September 4, noting that it “is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association” and has not gone through “the deliberative processes by which diagnostic entities and clinical phenomena are classified and established.” WPATH’s statement said ROGD “constitutes nothing more than an acronym created to describe a proposed clinical phenomenon that may or may not warrant further peer-reviewed scientific investigation.” From the September 4 statement (emphasis original):

    At present, WPATH asserts that knowledge of the factors contributing to gender identity development in adolescence is still evolving and not yet fully understood by scientists, clinicians, community members, and other stakeholders in equal measure. Therefore, it is both premature and inappropriate to employ official-sounding labels that lead clinicians, community members, and scientists to form absolute conclusions about adolescent gender identity development and the factors that may potentially influence the timing of an adolescent’s declaration as a different gender from birth-assigned sex.

    ...

    WPATH also urges restraint from the use of any term—whether or not formally recognized as a medical entity—to instill fear about the possibility that an adolescent may or may not be transgender with the a priori goal of limiting consideration of all appropriate treatment options in accordance with the aforementioned standards of care and clinical guidelines.

    Researchers writing in PinkNews: Littman’s study “was heavily biased towards specific groups” and “tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” Writing for PinkNews, researchers Florence Ashley of McGill University and Alexandre Baril of the University of Ottawa said Littman’s research “was heavily biased towards specific groups and in no way can be said to be representative of the general population” because it surveyed parents from specific anti-trans websites. Their report contended that “the study tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” They also pointed out that research suggesting that trans identities are the result of a “contagion” attempts to frame the narrative in a way that “distinguishes ‘good,’ true transgender people from ‘bad,’ fake trans people, allowing proponents to claim that they have nothing against trans people — well, at least the real ones.”

    Slate’s Alex Barasch: “The sites that participants were culled from are full of damning evidence of bias” against transgender people. Barasch noted that Littman’s study was “purportedly about 256 trans-identified ‘adolescents and young adults,’” but it is “perhaps fairer to say that it’s about their parents, who participated in a 90-question survey about their relationships with and perceptions of their children—with no input from the kids themselves, and no controls to speak of.” Barasch identified several problems with the study’s sample, including that it sourced parental reporting from websites with anti-trans biases such as 4thwavenow.com, which “hosts long missives from parents who have strenuously denied their children’s identities for years.” He continued, “In exclusively surveying parents from these ‘gender critical’ spaces, Littman sharply limited both the relevance and the validity of her results.”

    Barasch added that “one of the study’s most glaring flaws” is that Littman made no effort to substantiate the claims of the parents who participated in her study by speaking to their transgender children. He noted that the study’s findings about "the worsening of parent-child relationships" after the child came out and the children's preference to befriend other LGBTQ kids actually weakened its conclusions about trans identities being a “social contagion” because young LGBTQ people would be more likely to “flock together online or in-person” if they face “skepticism and hostility at home.”

    Finally, Barasch noted that the concept of ROGD “treats the emergence of dysphoria around or after puberty as something new and unusual that should be treated with suspicion” when in fact the medical community recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” Barasch highlighted examples of PLOS ONE retracting several other studies that featured “questionable research” and pointed out that “peer review isn’t an automatic assurance of ironclad science” and that the review of the study “is both standard and vital.”

    Researcher Julia Serano: The concept of ROGD originated in 2016 on three blogs “that have a history of promoting anti-transgender propaganda.” In an essay on Medium, biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano explained that the concept of ROGD was not new, but originated in 2016 on three anti-trans blogs -- the same blogs from where Littman drew her sample. Thus, Serano wrote, Littman’s study was “entirely based on the opinions of parents who frequent the very same three blogs that invented and vociferously promote the concept of ROGD.” She contended, “This is the most blatant example of begging the question that I have ever seen in a research paper.” Serano also refuted the study’s assertion that gender dysphoria in the surveyed parents’ children was “rapid,” writing that “the word ‘rapid’ in ROGD doesn’t necessarily refer to the speed of gender dysphoria onset. … Rather, what’s ‘rapid’ about ROGD is parents’ sudden awareness and assessment of their child’s gender dysphoria (which, from the child’s standpoint, may be long standing and thoughtfully considered).”

    Brynn Tannehill in The Advocate: Transgender youth featured in the study may have avoided coming out to “hostile parents,” which could have led to parents perceiving their gender identity development as “rapid.” Responding to an abstract of Littman’s study released in 2017, transgender advocate and author Brynn Tannehill -- who recently published an explanatory book about transgender issues -- pointed out flaws in the hypothesis that young people may be identifying as transgender because of other LGBTQ friends and online LGBTQ media. She noted that “transgender youth in unsupportive homes are much more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with LGBT friends at school and peers online than family.” Tannehill added that those youth often “stick to ‘safe’ LGBT social groups” and “delay telling hostile parents until they cannot bear not to,” which could explain why the parents Littman surveyed from unsupportive online communities thought that their child’s identity came on rapidly.

    Tannehill in INTO: “Littman failed to mention the viewpoints of the groups from which she drew her sample” and did not interview supportive parents or trans youth. Writing for the digital magazine INTO, Tannehill reiterated that the study “failed to address the much more realistic explanation that transgender teens with anti-trans parents look for support from other LGBTQ youth online because they fear the reaction of their families.” She also noted that Littman did not acknowledge the anti-trans viewpoints of the websites from which she drew or sampled, “nor did she make any attempt to reach out to groups for supportive parents” or interview transgender youth.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have claimed Brown “is in denial about transgender identity” and “caved to cross-dressers”

    Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse: Littman’s study “reveals trouble in transgender paradise.” Cathy Ruse of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council wrote a post in The Stream attacking Brown University for removing news about Littman’s study from its website. Ruse called the move “censorship” and asserted that “there’s an alarming trend of adolescents suddenly announcing they’re in the wrong body.” She also defended the study’s survey of parents rather than the actual transgender young people the study was about, writing that this “acknowledged limitation of the study” is a response to clinicians accepting what transgender patients tell them “at face value, never seeking the parents’ perspective.” Ruse has a history of disparaging trans identities, and she has previously suggested that affirming transgender children “can be child abuse.”

    American College of Pediatricians’ Michelle Cretella: Littman’s study “was quickly silenced” because “transgender activists called for censorship.” Writing for The Heritage Foundation’s right-wing outlet The Daily Signal, American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Michelle Cretella said that Littman’s study “was quickly silenced by activists and by Brown University,” which “disconnected its link to the study and issued an apology” for it because “transgender activists called for censorship.”

    ACPeds is a small and extreme anti-LGBTQ group of physicians that broke off from the legitimate American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Cretella and ACPeds have worked for years to discredit trans-affirming science and policy under the veneer of credibility offered by the group’s misleading name, which “is easily confused with the AAP.” Cretella has claimed that affirming transgender youth is child abuse.

    ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol posted several times about ROGD on Twitter. ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol retweeted several posts about Littman’s study, including from two of the anti-transgender parent forums where Littman sourced her data. Van Mol promoted a tweet linking to a petition calling for Brown to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman and her study. He also tweeted a link to an article about Littman’s study and asserted, “Idealogues (sic) are trying to suppress a study that shows the effect of peer pressure on transgenderism.” Van Mol has a long anti-LGBTQ record, including advocacy in favor of forcibly changing sexuality or gender identity through the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. He has actively worked to oppose measures to protect LGBTQ people from the practice.

    Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins: Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators.” Laurie Higgins of the extreme anti-LGBTQ state organization Illinois Family Institute wrote that Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators” after feeling “the wrath of men in dresses with flowing tresses and bearded women in dungarees.” Higgins called Brown’s removal of its article about the study “censorship” and claimed, “No matter how well a study is designed and executed, if trannies don’t like the findings, ‘progressive’ universities will not draw attention to it even if the study is conducted by their own faculty.” Higgins previously called transgender identity a “superstition” and compared trans people and their allies to a cult. She has also praised the Trump-Pence administration’s plan to redefine “gender” to exclude the transgender community.

    Right-wing media and proponents of the study have called the re-evaluation “academic censorship” and said Brown and PLOS ONE caved to LGBTQ activists

    Proponents of ROGD launched a petition to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman’s research. Supporters of the ROGD concept launched a petition urging Brown and PLOS ONE to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” in response to the study’s re-evaluation. The petition implies that the study was being censored, claiming that Brown and PLOS ONE should “resist ideologically-based attempts to squelch controversial research evidence.” The petition, which currently has 4,900 signatures, was shared by some of the same anti-trans websites where Littman collected data for her study, including 4thwavenow and Transgender Trend.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Brown’s decision: “Acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived.” Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed that Brown was “censoring” Littman’s study and stopped promoting it because “activists descended” and “were offended by the conclusions of the study.” Carlson claimed that activists found Littman’s conclusions “ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable.” He also asserted that they “demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands.” Carlson has previously denied the existence of the trans community, claimed that trans-affirming policies would hurt women, and hosted anti-transgender guests like ACPeds’ Cretella on his show. From the September 11 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Brown University is censoring a scientific study by one of its own researchers because political activists don't like it. In a paper published earlier this month, a tenured Brown professor called Lisa Littman found that teenagers who say they want to switch genders are often influenced, not surprisingly, by friends and social media like all young people are. Well, the study was solid enough to be picked up by a reputable scientific journal. In fact, Brown’s PR department sounded a press release promoting the study. But then activists descended. They were offended by the conclusions of the study, not because the conclusions were wrong -- no one even argued they were wrong -- but because the conclusions were ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable. They demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands. The university yanked the press release and apologized for sending it in the first place.

    This is not really about Brown. This is what it looks like when reason itself dies: Politics trump science; empirical conclusions are banned; acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived. This is what they told you the Christian right wanted to do. They were lying. As soon as they took power, they did it themselves. Of course.

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “The left went insane” over Littman’s study, “so Brown caved” in an act of “academic tyranny.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that “Brown immediately caved” by removing its article because “any effort to actually research the environmental component of transgenderism is met with raucous calls for censorship.” Shapiro alleged that PLOS ONE and Brown “turned against the study because it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism” and called the situation “academic tyranny.”

    Shapiro: “Science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness.” On his show, Shapiro repeated talking points from his Daily Wire post and claimed that Brown had “buried the study” and “caved” because “it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism.” He called the move “insane,” claimed that “science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness,” and called leaders at Brown “cowards.” Shapiro then predicted that Brown would fire Littman, saying that the left “will go after anyone who does not follow the basic leftist consensus on politics, they will destroy science in order to do so, and they will censor people.” Shapiro has a history of anti-transgender bigotry, including calling transgender troops “mentally ill soldiers” and mocking transgender men and women who date them. He has also called being trans a “mental disorder” and “tyranny of the individual.”

    One America News’ Liz Wheeler: “This is even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech. This is akin to book banning and book burning.” On the September 7 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler railed that Brown’s decision to remove its article on the study was “even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech,” comparing it to “book banning and book burning.” She continued, “This is taking a scientific study because it doesn't substantiate your political view and erasing it. That's so creepy.” Wheeler’s guest Amber Athey, a Daily Caller contributor, asserted that Brown “decided to get rid of the study not because they think that it didn’t meet scientific standards but just because they don’t like the results of it.”

    Wheeler: Brown is participating in “thought control. … That’s incredible scary. That is 1984.” In another segment, Wheeler repeatedly claimed that Brown’s removal of its post about the study was an example of “thought control.” Wheeler and her guest, The Daily Caller’s Anders Hagstrom, compared the situation to the dystopian novel 1984 and the Soviet era. Wheeler had previously criticized the Boy Scouts for accepting transgender youth and has suggested that affirming trans identities will lead to accepting “transracial, “transable,” and “transbaby” identities in which people believe themselves to be of a different race, ability or disability, or age. From the September 17 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point:

    ANDERS HAGSTROM (REPORTER, THE DAILY CALLER): I know there’s a study at Brown college where a similar thing happened where this -- I can't remember if it was a he or a she who did this study, but they basically found that something regarding transgenders and a gender dysphoria and the way that children may grow out of it. And people objected to what that study found, and they just said, “OK, you're not allowed to publish that anymore. You can’t do any more research.”

    LIZ WHEELER (HOST): Right, because it might offend activists who are advocating for the transgender ideology.

    HAGSTROM: Yeah, exactly, because it might offend people.

    WHEELER: This is why I say this is thought control, because when you pick and choose what information is to be made public, and you pick and choose what you're going to hide from the American people because it might influence their thought in a way that you don't want. That's incredibly scary. That is 1984. That is thought control. It goes beyond the speech control.

    HAGSTROM: It’s Soviet, yeah.

    WHEELER: The way that you control speech is you control what people are allowed to put in their heads so that they can form those ideas. It's terrifying, and it’s sanctioned now by liberals on these campuses.

    Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta: “Brown University has decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” On August 30, Breitbart News’ Tom Ciccotta wrote that Brown had “censored a research paper on gender dysphoria” because the university “decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” Breitbart often pushes anti-transgender narratives and cites ACPeds’ anti-transgender positions as credible.

    The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski: “Is transgender the new anorexia?” The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski called Littman’s study a “blockbuster” for arguing that transgender identities “might be a ‘social contagion’ -- a maladaptive coping technique for troubled teens, spread by peer groups and the Internet.” Tracinski claimed that Brown retracted its press release “in response to a furious outcry from transgender activists” who saw the research as a “threat.” He also posited that the study began because researchers saw “eerie parallels” of “social contagion” between eating disorders such as anorexia and transgender identities, and then highlighted the study’s assertion that so-called ROGD, “with the subsequent drive to transition, may represent a form of intentional self-harm.” He further claimed that medical professionals who offer gender-affirming care are “ideologically motivated gender dysphoria specialists” who “have engaged in massive malpractice in their zeal to ‘affirm’ their young patients’ self-diagnosis.”

    The Federalist’s Joy Pullman: Brown “repressed” the study because it reinforces the idea that “transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullmann wrote that Brown had “repressed” Littman’s study “after a transgender activist feeding frenzy.” She continued, “The reason trans activists went nuts is that the study reinforces what plenty of parents, public health experts, and doctors have been saying: Transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” She also said that transgender advocates “demand[ed] suppressing the results” and that Brown “chose to prioritize the unreasonable demands of a tiny minority above the potential well-being of children and the process of scientific inquiry.” Pullman admitted that “the study design has many flaws — self selection and self reporting among them.” However, she claimed that it was “comparable in quality to studies that LGBT activists amplify when it serves their narratives.” Despite its flaws, Pullman still praised the study because “Littman found a number of things that make transgender narratives look terrible.” The Federalist is a go-to outlet for conservatives to push anti-LGBTQ stories, compare transgender inclusion to “transgender authoritarianism,” and call gender-affirming procedures “mutilation.” From the August 31 post:

    This makes it obvious why transgender activists do not want this information public. It suggests many gender dysphoric young people hit a rough patch in life (or several), have poor or immature coping skills, and got the message from peers, online, or both that transgenderism was a handy, simple explanation for their feelings that also offered instant social acceptance and attention.

    National Review’s Madeleine Kearns: Brown “succumbed to political pressure” and “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking.” In a post titled “Why Did Brown University Bow to Trans Activists?” National Review’s Madeline Kearns claimed that Brown and PLOS ONE “succumbed to political pressure” by re-evaluating the study and that the university “appears more concerned with its marketability than with finding truth,” which she said “undermines academic freedom.” Though she acknowledged that there were concerns about the sample of parents coming from 4thwavenow and other biased websites, Kearns suggested that Brown’s removal of its article about Littman’s study was “cowardice” and “part of a bigger trend” -- an example of how “a radical ideological lobby has, once again, been highly effective in bullying dissenters into silence.” She concluded that Brown “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking to the feelings of ‘some members’ of their community.” National Review has a history of providing a platform to anti-LGBTQ figures such as anti-transgender conservative commentator David French, who in a May 9 article repeatedly misgendered Chelsea Manning and declared, “He’s a man.”

  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that 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 -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • Massachusetts media lift up voices of those the state's anti-trans ballot referendum would impact most

    Transgender Bay Staters have shared their thoughts about Question 3, which could dismantle the state's trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Massachusetts print and TV outlets lifted up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, who explained how dismantling the state’s trans-inclusive public accomodations nondiscrimination law would personally affect them and their community. Media often fail to feature the people who would be most impacted by the policies they cover.

    On November 6, Massachusetts residents will vote on Question 3, a ballot referendum to determine the fate of the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. In 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that expanded the state’s existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people to include public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The state’s existing law had already protected transgender residents from discrimination in housing and the workplace. Earlier this year, Anchorage residents defeated a similar anti-transgender referendum.

    A recent poll by University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Boston Globe estimated that 74 percent of likely voters want to uphold the state’s current law but also found that voters have widespread confusion around the wording of ballot Question 3. Even though the referendum was created to dismantle trans rights protections, a “yes vote” actually supports the existing protections and a “no vote” repeals them. According to CBS Boston, researchers found that “many voters had trouble understanding the ballot question and what their vote would mean.” Anti-LGBTQ opponents in favor of a “no” vote have relied on the thoroughly debunked "bathroom predator" myth, baselessly fearmongering that allowing transgender people access to public accommodations that align with their gender identity poses a threat to safety and privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms, especially that of women and girls.

    Massachusetts media and Teen Vogue have lifted up the voices of the people who would be most affected by the repeal of trans-inclusive protections

    Media often fail to include members of impacted communities when talking about issues that are important to them. A Media Matters report of coverage of trans issues on Fox News found that the network didn’t host a single openly transgender guest over nine months. Additionally, networks often exclude the Muslim and Hispanic communities in related coverage, and news coverage discussing the GOP’s health care rollback regularly ignored people of color and the LGBTQ community. As Massachusetts residents consider their vote next month, local outlets are featuring the stories of transgender Bay Staters and their families to explain why the existing law is important to their community.

    Cape Cod newspaper The Sandwich Enterprise featured an October 10 op-ed by Eric Nelson, a Massachusetts resident and father of a transgender son, urging voters to support the current protections by voting “yes on Question 3.” Nelson acknowledged that at first he had trouble understanding his son’s gender identity but noted that he “saw the remarkable change in his self-confidence and happiness after he finally shared” his identity with his family and friends. He also pointed to disparities faced by transgender people, including a 41 percent attempted suicide rate “compared to 1.6 percent of the general population,” and highlighted how trans students often suffer “harassment from fellow students, teachers, medical personnel, strangers in public areas, even parents and other family members.” In addition, Nelson shined a light on the scourge of anti-transgender violence and homicides, writing, “In 2017, there were 28 documented victims in the US.” Media Matters found that major national cable and TV news outlets generally ignore stories about that violence. From the op-ed:

    I want both of my children to be safe from all threats, and would do anything — anything — to protect them. But there are too many legitimate threats out there for me to be concerned about false ones like the claim that male predators will masquerade as transgender women to access women’s bathrooms.

    Anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity have been around for years in 19 states and 200 municipalities, and there is no evidence to support this claim.

    No, what I fear most are those who would harm or harass my son, or deny him basic rights like using a public restroom, simply because he’s transgender. If anything, he’s the one at risk.

    Mariel Addis, a transgender Bay Stater, wrote an October 10 op-ed for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which stressed that many people who fear or oppose transgender rights likely do not even know a transgender person. She wrote that while some opponents “believe that the negative stories put forth by the opponents of Ballot Question 3 are true -- in reality, they don’t hold water.” Addis shared that she underwent her gender transition “alone, without the support of much of my family,” calling it “the best thing I have ever done for myself.” She continued, “I don’t regard my transition as a choice, but as a necessity,” also writing that it was “the most difficult challenge I have ever encountered, but I have been rewarded for taking it on.” After sharing her story, she urged readers to protect her rights because transgender “people deserve your respect and the same rights to live as every other citizen in the Commonwealth."

    The Daily Hampshire Gazette published a separate piece featuring others who would be disproportionately affected by Question 3. “Western Massachusetts Parents of Transgender Adults” wrote a September 26 op-ed that said, “We care about the safety of our children, and we worry about the dangers when society legalizes discrimination.” The group pointed to a study which revealed “that 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts faced discrimination in a public place in the prior year.” The op-ed went on to note that “this is not just an issue for us, the parents. We believe that our community — all of you — care. In a world of growing hate and fear, voting to uphold these vital protections for all is something you can do.”

    Sabrina Renaud, a caregiver for a transgender child, wrote an October 9 letter to the editor to local outlet the Reading Patch, saying that the state’s current law “makes for a safer and more welcoming community for everyone.” She said that a repeal of trans-inclusive protections would be “disheartening and terrifying.” She continued: “All people, but children especially, need to feel validated and supported in order to thrive and it worries me to think of the message that will be sent if the current law is not upheld when voters go to the ballot this November.”

    WGBH News, Boston’s NPR station, aired a debate on its show Greater Boston on September 27 between “Yes on 3” representative Mimi Lemay, the mother of a transgender child, and Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) president Andrew Beckwith of the “No on 3” campaign. Lemay discussed the impact the upcoming vote will have on her family and pushed back against Beckwith’s claims that the current law risks the safety and privacy of women and girls. Beckwith repeatedly pushed the “bathroom predator” myth, which Lemay debunked by citing the Williams Institute’s recent study which found “no uptick at all” in cases of sexual misconduct due to Massachusetts’ law. She also highlighted that a majority of transgender residents in the state have reported harassment in public accommodations. From the September 27 edition of WBGH News’ Greater Boston:

    Transgender people, like my son Jacob, they live in this state. They have a right to go about and enjoy everything this state has to offer -- restaurants, bookstores, cafes, hospitals -- without fear of being harassed. The harm that is done to them on a daily basis is real. What you [Beckwith] are creating, this fear, is not real, and as a mother, this concerns me.

    In addition to outlets in Massachusetts lifting up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, Teen Vogue published an October 12 op-ed by Nicole Talbot, a transgender Massachusetts teen, continuing in its trend of high-quality political coverage. Talbot wrote that though she is not old enough to vote, she is sharing her story to encourage voters to protect her rights and uphold the state’s law. She also noted that “a small group of opponents forced the issue to a ballot referendum” by depicting transgender people as “criminals in restrooms” and “airing scary, misleading ads that claim protecting people like me harms the safety of others.” From the op-ed:

    This law has been in place for two years and there has been no increase in incidents that opponents claim will happen. A crime is still a crime and harassment in restrooms remains illegal. In fact, police associations and women's organizations publicly support this law. It is making us all more safe, not less.

    I encourage Massachusetts voters to get the facts. Transgender people are people just trying to live their lives. When voters see Question 3 through this lens, the answer is simple: Yes to uphold the current law. Yes to ensure transgender people have the same protections as everyone else. Yes to set the example of equality for the rest of the nation.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups have been fighting the inclusive law since it was introduced

    Beckwith’s anti-LGBTQ state organization, Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), is associated with several extreme anti-LGBTQ groups at the national level: It is a state ally of the Family Policy Alliance, and it is also partnered with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    MFI has opposed the existing trans-inclusive law since it was first introduced in 2016. Within weeks of the bill becoming law, the group launched its “Keep Massachusetts Safe” campaign to garner signatures for the ballot referendum that seeks to repeal the law.

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups attack Christine Blasey Ford after she reported that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her

    American Family Association: “Unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible”

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and American Family Association have attacked Christine Blasey Ford and worked to discredit her after she reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school.

    Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups united behind his nomination, offering praise for Kavanaugh’s candidacy and saying he would be “strong” on their issues. Many of those same groups have doubled down on their support by attacking Christine Blasey Ford and questioning her motivations after she reported that Kavanaugh groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and rape her in high school.

    Tony Perkins, president of the highly influential Family Research Council (FRC) who was reportedly “involved in discussions with the White House” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, attacked Ford’s credibility on the September 21 edition of Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. During his appearance, Perkins called Ford’s story “very, very suspect,” questioned why she hadn’t come forward sooner, and asked whether or not drinking alcohol may have affected her story. Perkins also questioned whether Ford and potential witnesses “really remember the facts” and whether her attempted rapist was even Kavanaugh at all, in line with a recent conspiracy theory created by conservative media figure Ed Whelan.

    Speaking at FRC’s anti-LGBTQ Values Voter Summit, Perkins urged Republican lawmakers in attendance to “move much more aggressively” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and former FRC President Gary Bauer, declared the “political process” surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination to be “political waterboarding” and a “travesty.” According to The Associated Press, Bauer mockingly re-enacted what a conversation with Ford and law enforcement may have sounded like and was reportedly met with laughter.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has also attacked Ford, including by writing a six point list of so-called “disturbing facts that undermine her story.” Several of those points suggest she came forward for political reasons. The post attempted to discredit Ford by highlighting her political affiliations and those of her lawyer, Debra Katz, claiming the two “have a history of Democratic activism” and anti-Trump advocacy. Liberty Counsel also launched a “fax barrage” directly linking its supporters to the offices of elected officials to send messages of support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The “fax barrage” served as a fundraiser for Liberty Counsel and claimed that Ford’s story does “not align with the moral integrity” of Kavanaugh. Additionally, Liberty Counsel sent an email blast to supporters in which its Chairman Mat Staver called Ford’s story “a shameful, desperate attempt to destroy a person in order to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court” and characterized her as “someone who has an ever-changing story with plenty of political motivation.”

    In a separate email to supporters on September 22, Staver continued attacks against Ford, saying she was “being used to create an excuse to delay the hearing” and listing statements from various supporters of Kavanaugh in an attempt to undermine her credibility. On September 24, Mat Staver’s wife Anita Staver, who serves as president of Liberty Counsel, suggested that Ford was a liar in a tweet: “I believe survivors but not liars!”

    Additionally, former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber, who still co-hosts one of its radio programs, attacked Ford on Twitter, where he likened her to a “suicide bomber” and compared her story’s effect on the Kavanaugh confirmation to a “political witch burning.” Barber also said Ford “would be fully exposed & further discredited,” and that “true victims” will be “distrusted because political vultures cried wolf one too many times.” In a separate post, he claimed, “We have entered the age of #MeToo McCarthyism. Pure evil.”

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association (AFA) has also launched attacks against Ford. Bryan Fischer, host of AFA’s American Family Radio show Focal Point, attempted to use Ford’s political affiliations and her lawyer’s legal career to discredit her story in a September 17 blog post. Fischer claimed that Katz “has made a career out of dismissing sexual assault allegations against liberal politicians.” In the same blog post, Fischer wrote, “The Bible is very clear that no serious allegation should ever be accepted against someone on the basis of one lone allegation.” In a September 18 email to supporters, AFA President Tim Wildmon reiterated that claim and wrote that “unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible.” AFA initially did not support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court but quickly reversed course after hearing the “passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement."

    Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 27, about Kavanaugh’s attempted rape.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • Maine newspaper editorial boards call on Gov. Paul LePage to protect LGBTQ youth from dangerous conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The editorial boards of major newspapers in Maine are urging the state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, to sign a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, a discredited and harmful practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

    In late June, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. If LePage signs the bill into law, the state will become the 14th (in addition to Washington, D.C.) in the country to ban the practice; dozens of municipalities across the country have also enacted similar policies. Governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills, but according to the Williams Institute, the practice remains prevalent throughout the country: The organization estimated in January that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Conversion therapy is supported by national anti-LGBTQ groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, and its advocates frequently appear in local news to spread dangerous lies about it.

    As LePage considers signing his state’s recently passed bill, two of the largest newspapers in the state are urging him to to protect LGBTQ Mainers.

    The Portland Press Herald’s editorial board urged LePage to protect LGBTQ youth in the state from conversion therapy in a July 2 editorial, noting that should he refuse to sign the bill, he would be the first governor to veto such a measure. The editorial highlighted the major medical and psychological associations that have denounced the practice and cleared up some common misconceptions associated with efforts to protect LGBTQ youth:

    The bill does not interfere with any religious tradition. Preachers can still talk about sin and redemption as they see it. Parents remain free to communicate their values to their children.

    The only thing that would change is that a practitioner in Maine could no longer hang a shingle and charge money for pseudo-scientific treatment with the state’s approval.

    Same-sex attraction is not something that needs to be cured. The government also should have no role in telling people that their gender expression is right or wrong. Ethical psychotherapists have long ago stopped attempting this treatment because it doesn’t help their patients – it harms them.

    Thirteen other states have passed a bill like this, and no governor has vetoed one. It’s time Maine joined them by taking this humane step.

    The Bangor Daily News’ editorial board drew similar conclusions in an editorial also published on July 2. In it, the paper noted that conversion therapy has been condemned by major medical associations and that the practice “doesn’t work.” It also noted its harmful mental and physical health outcomes, which can include “shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide among those its practitioners seek to ‘convert.’” The paper further wrote that “LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers” and urged LePage to sign the legislation into law.

  • South Carolina's budget bill secretly contains an anti-LGBTQ adoption policy, but local media don't seem to know about it

    Update: The budget has been sent to the governor

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    UPDATE (6/29) : South Carolina legislators approved the state’s budget bill, keeping the anti-LGBTQ provision intact. If signed into law, South Carolina would be the third state to legalize discrimination in adoption and foster care this year, following Kansas and Oklahoma.

    South Carolina’s legislature has quietly included an anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care provision in the state’s 500-plus-page budget bill, and media in the state have not once mentioned it as the state’s legislature prepares to take up the budget later this month. This move comes just weeks after Oklahoma and Kansas passed stand-alone bills legalizing discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents, which received scant national media coverage during their deliberation. If South Carolina’s budget passes, those three states will be the only ones in the country to have passed anti-LGBTQ measures through their legislatures thus far in 2018.

    According to LGBTQ advocacy organization the Family Equality Council, South Carolina legislators have “quietly written” a one-paragraph amendment to the state’s proposed 500-plus-page budget bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to receive funds even if they deny placement to LGBTQ families and non-Christian families, among others, if they cite “a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” Two similar measures, written as stand-alone bills, passed earlier this year in Oklahoma and Kansas. At this time, those two bills are the only anti-LGBTQ measures that have passed in state legislatures this year; South Carolina’s measure, if passed, would be the third adopted in 2018, making South Carolina the 10th state in the country to codify discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents. These efforts are part of a broader state-level strategy known as "Project Blitz" by the Christian far-right and are supported and influenced by anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom.

    Earlier in the year, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order to help permit a child welfare agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, to discriminate against non-Christian families. And in what has been called an “unusual move,” he also asked the federal government for a religious exemption to allow that same agency to discriminate in its foster placements.

    A Media Matters analysis found that major local print and TV news outlets serving South Carolina did not report on the state budget’s anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care amendment between the time of its introduction on March 13 through June 19, a week before the legislature reconvenes for a second special session on June 27. Other attempts to pass similar anti-LGBTQ adoption initiatives around the country were introduced as stand-alone bills; hiding the measure as an amendment within the large budget bill instead of introducing it as a stand-alone bill may have enabled legislators in South Carolina to avoid press on the issue.

    In an earlier study, Media Matters found that national media virtually ignored the consideration of the anti-LGBTQ adoption bills in Kansas and Oklahoma, failing to educate audiences on the only anti-LGBTQ measures to pass so far this year during their deliberation. When national media fail to report on historic discriminatory bills like those in Kansas and Oklahoma, legislators in other states may be emboldened to try to pass similar measures quietly, like what’s happening in South Carolina. It's time to sound the alarm about these discriminatory bills, and local news is a perfect place to start.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for the top four print outlets serving South Carolina -- the Asheville Citizen-Times, The Greenville News, The Post and Courier, and The State -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the word “budget” within 25 words of the words -- or variations of the words -- “adopt,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “same-sex,” “gay,” “LGBT,” “non-christian,” “religion,” “faith,” “amendment,” or “38.29” (the section number of the budget amendment). Media Matters' analysis was limited by reports and outlets available on Nexis. 

    Media Matters also searched iQ media for all South Carolina markets and surrounding markets serving South Carolina -- Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson; Columbia; Charleston; Myrtle Beach-Florence; Charlotte; Savannah; and Augusta-Aiken -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the words or variations of the words “adopt,” “foster care,” “38.29,”and “budget” within 25 words of the words or variations of the words “gay,” “same-sex,” “LGBT,” and “amendment.”

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.