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Erin Fitzgerald

Author ››› Erin Fitzgerald
  • Media Should Note Common Denominator In Recent Wave Of Anti-LGBT Court Battles

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    In the last week, two courts have decided against the rights of LGBT people and their families in major equality battles, and Texas’ attorney general has filed a third lawsuit regarding LGBT Americans. As the media cover these cases, they should connect the dots that lead back to one nefarious organization: the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extremist group leading the national fight against LGBT equality.

    Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing legal powerhouse that’s linked to nearly every recent legal attack on LGBT equality in the United States -- as well as attacks on women’s reproductive health. ADF is behind the national push for both anti-LGBT “religious freedom” legislation that seeks to legalize discrimination against LGBT people and so-called bathroom bills that aim to prohibit transgender people, including public school students, from using facilities that align with their gender identity. ADF also works internationally to attack LGBT equality, including by helping defend laws in Belize and Jamaica that would put people in prison for engaging in gay sex.

    EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. A U.S. District Judge issued a summary judgement on August 19 in favor of Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan, which fired an employee, Aimee Stephens, after she told her employers of her plans to transition from male to female. ADF lawyers are now representing the chain of funeral homes, and they lauded last week’s decision, highlighting the court’s language about company owner Thomas Rost:

    Rost sincerely believes that it would be violating God’s commands if he were to permit an employee who was born a biological male to dress in a traditionally female skirt-suit at the funeral home because doing so would support the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.

    State of Texas v. United States of America. On August 21, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against a joint guidance released by the departments of Education and Justice that explained school administrators’ obligations to ensure that transgender students can attend school without facing discrimination based on sex. It built off previous court decisions and guidance stating that discrimination against transgender students constitutes illegal sex discrimination under federal law. The injunction was sought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a lawsuit against the the federal government along with several other states in response to the guidance. The lead counsel on this case is Austin Nimocks, who works for Paxton’s office but previously served as senior counsel at ADF.

    State of Texas v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On the heels of the above court ruling in its favor, Paxton’s office filed a new lawsuit on August 23 against the Department of Health and Human Services over nondiscrimination protections and expanded medical care for transgender people included in the Affordable Care Act. This case was also assigned to Judge Reed O’Connor, the same judge who granted the injunction against transgender students. The recent actions of Paxton’s office drew swift condemnation from the editorial board at The New York Times:

    These legal assaults on equal protection for transgender Americans are based on bigotry and the specious claim that they pose a threat to the safety of others. The toll exacted on this vulnerable population is heavy and will remain so as these cases and other litigation involving transgender laws move through the courts.

    As these cases continue to move through the court system, journalists should expose the extremist legal group behind the coordinated assault on LGBT equality. 

  • After Media Spends Months Pretending Trump Is LGBT Friendly, He Hires Head Of Bigoted Website To Run His Campaign

    New Campaign Chief's Website Breitbart News Regularly Uses Anti-LGBT Slurs, Pedals Anti-Gay Conspiracy Theories, And Features Articles By Anti-LGBT Hate Group Leaders

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY & ERIN FITZGERALD

    The Trump presidential campaign’s newest hires, Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon and conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway, further prove Trump’s opposition to LGBT equality even as media whitewash Trump’s record on LGBT issues. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News regularly used anti-LGBT slurs, peddled anti-gay conspiracy theories, and featured articles by anti-LGBT hate group leaders.

  • The “Vital” Findings From The Justice Department’s Baltimore Investigation You May Not Have Heard
     

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    The Baltimore Police Department routinely mistreated and harassed transgender people, confirming what many in the community have been reporting for years, according to a Justice Department report highlighted by the Baltimore City Paper.

    The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) after Freddie Gray died in police custody 14 months ago. The findings were released in an August 10 report which concluded that the BPD engaged in unconstitutional stop and frisks, racially-biased policing, and use of excessive force, which are enabled by “systemic deficiencies” and lack of accountability. During the investigation, there were “allegations of BPD officers’ mistreatment of transgender individuals” and “concerns that BPD’s interactions with transgender individuals reflect underlying unlawful gender bias.”

    Baltimore City Paper highlighted the importance of the findings and confirmation of BPD’s anti-transgender bias in an August 11 blog post. In the report, members of the transgender community described a pattern of dehumanizing and degrading interactions with the BPD, including inappropriate searches. For example, during a traffic stop a trans woman was intentionally misgendered by an officer:

    Specifically, it details a December 2015 traffic stop wherein a transgender woman was misgendered and then harassed in police custody. During the stop, she was asked about her pronoun and told the officer that her pronoun was "she," and the officer still referred to her as "him." When this woman arrived at intake the report goes on, a supervisor (who was a woman) said, "I am not here for this shit. I am not searching that." When the woman objected to be talked to like that, the supervisor told her, "like I said, I don’t know you. I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care, I am not searching you."

    City Paper goes on to explain that the DOJ report is especially important for LGBT people because it confirms the reports and anecdotal evidence of targeted policing, particularly of trans women of color:

    What the DOJ report does not mention but is frequently mentioned by the trans community is the amount of searches performed by police simply because someone is trans, especially a trans woman, and even more so if they are a trans woman of color. Moreover, there is a particular kind of harassment by police endured by trans sex workers or even those assumed to be sex workers, which it seems, is any trans woman the police decide could be a sex worker. Being trans appears to be enough evidence that you should be searched and often, possessing condoms and being trans is enough to get you arrested, as many publications have reported over the years.

    […]

    The DOJ's look at how the Baltimore Police consistently mistreats the trans community is vital. It is also, like most of the DOJ report, nothing new to those enduring police abuse and harassment. What was well-known within the LGBTQ community and what has been an impossible-to-ignore accumulation of anecdotes ABOUT this kind of police misconduct is now even more clear thanks to the DOJ report.

  • STUDY: Which Publications Avoid Using The “Hate Group” Label For Anti-LGBT Extremists

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD & RACHEL PERCELAY

    A Media Matters analysis revealed that over the past two years, The New York Times has used the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) designation of “hate group” to clearly designate an anti-LGBT hate group only once. In Times coverage, anti-LGBT hate groups were most likely to be called “conservative” or given no designation at all. But in the same period, the Times cited the SPLC as an expert on tracking hate groups and frequently used the organization’s hate group designation when reporting on white nationalist groups. The Washington Post used the label more, but like the Times, overwhelmingly reserved its use for white nationalists.

  • National Review’s David French: Lifting The Ban On Transgender Military Service Will Result In “Thought Control”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    In a post responding to the repeal of the transgender military service ban, National Review’s David French accused the military of “thought control” and lamented the decline of “warrior culture.”

    In a June 30 press conference, the Pentagon announced that the Department of Defense is lifting the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. The decision comes after a year-long evaluation of “policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly.” As a part of the evaluation, the Pentagon commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation which found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would not impact unit cohesion and result in minimal costs.

    French quickly fired back with a June 30 post. French’s opposition to this policy change comes as no surprise given his former career at the anti-LGBT extremist legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who are best known for attacking the rights of transgender students and working internationally to criminalize gay sex. French has a history of expressing his outward disdain for transgender people. In the past, he lamented “transgender entitlement” and once described a young transgender woman as a “man” who is “on the verge of mutilating himself.”

    Part of French’s argument for opposing the lift of the ban was to accuse the military of trying to create a “social laboratory” that is promoting “radical LGBT theology”:

    But this move isn’t about national security, it’s about social engineering. Many members of the military will spend their entire careers without encountering a single transgender soldier, but they will endure hour upon hour of diversity training and thought control.

    […]

    There will be members of the military (aided and abetted by its civilian leadership) who will take this opportunity to try to retrain the ranks about the very concepts of sex and gender, introducing radical LGBT theology as the government-approved, Army-mandated world view. And God help the Army doctor or medical professional who refuses to facilitate a servicemember’s “transition.” Good luck being a chaplain preaching about the created order if there is a prickly leftist around. The administration is moving the military culture to Yale with guns just about as fast as it can.

    Fortunately the warrior culture is resilient. Infantry platoons aren’t likely to go full PC anytime soon, but the Left keeps chipping away. It will keep chipping away until the horrible reality of the battlefield reminds us all that our military isn’t a social laboratory. Our enemies focus on war while we sidetrack our soldiers with social justice.

  • NY Times Highlights Emotional Coming Out Stories Following Orlando Tragedy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    In the wake of a deadly shooting at an LGBT nightclub, the sexuality of both the victims and survivors have moved to the forefront of the narrative of communities and families coming to grips with the trauma and loss of life trying to heal.

    The New York Times highlighted the coming out stories of several people impacted by the June 12 massacre at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, FL. The Hispanic community was devastated by the violence-- a majority of the 49 murder victims were Hispanic. The June 22 article featured stories of those who were grieving in the aftermath of unthinkable violence, as well as navigating the newly exposed sexuality of themselves or their loved ones. From the June 22 article:

    Some had their sexuality revealed by accident: Gertrude Merced learned that her 25-year-old son, Enrique, was gay only after she heard the news of his death. Others, though, have chosen to expose their inner lives, stirred by the outpouring of support for Orlando’s gay community or wrought with sorrow and unable to keep their secrets in anymore.

    Cory Richards was in Pulse with his boyfriend, Enrique Rios, on the night of the attack; neither were out to their family. After surviving the attack, Richards came out to his father. Rios lost his life that night and that's how his mother found out he was gay:

    Cory Richards, 24, spent the early hours of June 12 dancing under the strobe lights at Pulse with his boyfriend, Enrique L. Rios Jr. Neither man had told his parents he was gay. But around 9 a.m., as Mr. Richards emerged from the carnage, he cried into his phone to his father.“I can’t find my baby,” Mr. Richards recalled saying. “I can’t find my baby.”

    “What?” his father responded.

    “That’s my boyfriend, that’s not my friend,” Mr. Richards said he told him of Mr. Rios. “That’s my boyfriend.”

    “I don’t care what you are,” he recalled his father saying. “You’re my son. I didn’t know, but I accept it.”

    Mr. Rios had died. A thousand miles away, his mother, Ms. Merced, 48, learned of her son’s death. And then received a call from his boyfriend.

    For Enakai Hernandez, a former regular at Pulse, news of the tragedy hit too close to home:

    Enakai Hernandez, is a 27-year-old artist who had partied at Pulse for years. On the weekend of the attack, he was staying at his parent’s home in a gated community here, sick in bed.

    When he woke and the depth of the tragedy revealed itself, his mother took him in her arms as he cried.

    “Sabes que te quiero mucho?” she has told him over and over in recent days. “Que tú eres el amor de mi vida?” Her message: that she loved her son and considered him the love of her life.

     
     
  • STUDY: What Voices Were Heard On Cable News Following The Orlando Shooting

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD, RACHEL PERCELAY & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Media Matters reviewed the diversity of guest appearances featured in cable news coverage the day after the deadly June 12 Orlando, FL, attack on an LGBT nightclub. Of the three cable networks, Fox News hosted a substantially lower percentage of LGBT guests. Although MSNBC and CNN did give considerable air time to LGBT voices, none of the three networks hosted a significant number of Hispanic or Muslim guests. 

  • Laverne Cox Has A Lot To Say About Anti-Trans Legislation But It Was Cut From Megyn Kelly’s Interview

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Transgender actress Laverne Cox indicated that her May 17 interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly omitted a discussion of anti-trans legislation -- specifically North Carolina’s HB 2, a law that prohibits people from using certain bathrooms that don’t correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Cox has been outspoken in her opposition to laws like North Carolina’s. 

  • Don’t Be Fooled By Megyn Kelly’s Laverne Cox Interview

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with Laverne Cox will likely be touted as evidence of Kelly’s ability to buck her network’s conservative slant, especially when it comes to transgender issues. But beyond her Cox interview, Kelly has spouted anti-trans rhetoric and used her show to repeatedly elevate hate group leader Tony Perkins, one of the most extreme anti-LGBT voices in the country, lending him mainstream credibility even as he peddles harmful smears against LGBT people.

    Megyn Kelly is scheduled to sit down with transgender actress Laverne Cox during a Fox TV special on May 17. Kelly’s interview with a prominent transgender celebrity will likely be hailed as evidence that Kelly is a fair-minded journalist willing to break rank with her network, especially on LGBT issues. But Kelly has a long history of anti-LGBT bias that's evident in her body of work.

    Kelly has employed anti-trans rhetoric herself on more than one occasion. During a January 2013 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Kelly and Bill O’Reilly criticized the appearance of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender woman serving time in an all-male prison, joking that she isn’t attractive enough to be in danger of sexual assault, and repeatedly misgendering her. Kelly went on to say, “The surgery hasn’t been performed yet. … He only has breasts and the hair now.” Kelly also repeatedly suggested that taxpayers shouldn’t be required to cover the costs of the inmate’s “elective surgery” during an April 2013 edition of America Live, and she mocked the suggestion that the inmate should be housed with other female inmates, lamenting that she would get “a get-out-of-male-prison-free card.”

    Kelly routinely hosts hate group leader Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to speak as a “captain of the religious right.” FRC was labeled an anti-LGBT “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010. Most recently, Perkins referred to transgender rights as “a godless system that the president is promoting.” Perkins called videos from the It Gets Better Project, an LGBT youth suicide prevention group, “disgusting” and said the organization recruited kids to come out as “homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion).” Kelly has described FRC as “a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian worldview.” Kelly has also peddled Perkins’ talking points that “Christian beliefs and Christian rights” are being trampled as LGBT rights increase, lamenting that it must be “alienating” for him to be criticized for his anti-LGBT beliefs, and accusing those in favor of LGBT equality of being intolerant.

    Kelly hosted Perkins along with GLAAD’s Jeremy Hooper to discuss a star of the Duck Dynasty TV show who called homosexuality illogical and compared it to bestiality. Hooper asked Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his anti-LGBT extremism and she said, “What specifically? Because I’ll ask him.” But Kelly immediately went back on her word and never asked Perkins to explain his history of vile rhetoric. Kelly hosts other extreme anti-LGBT groups, such as Alliance Defending Freedom, and she defends people who make anti-LGBT comments, such as Ben Carson, who compared “gays” to pedophiles and those who engage in bestiality.

    Despite recent attempts to spin Kelly’s legacy, it’s important for the media and everyone else to remember that Kelly has engaged in questionable journalistic practices. Rather than lauding Kelly in a vacuum, the media should remember to contextualize this interview within Kelly’s larger body of work.

     
  • What Reporters Should Know When Reporting On The New Policy Guidance On Transgender Students

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    The departments of Education and Justice released a joint guidance to public school administrators explaining their obligations to ensure that “all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex,” according to a May 13 press release. The latest guidance builds upon recent court decisions and Education Department guidance that discrimination against transgender people constitutes illegal sex discrimination under federal law. The guidance explicitly states that schools receiving federal funding must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity, including allowing them to use the appropriate restroom and locker room facilities.

    Here’s what journalists need to know when reporting on the new guidance:

    1. School Districts Across The Country Have Protected Transgender Students For Years Without Incident.

    School administrators from 23 school districts and four universities across the country with trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies have debunked conservative horror stories about allowing transgender students to use school facilities that correspond with their gender identity. In total, these schools serve an estimated 1.5 million students each year without any incidents of sexual harassment, assault, or inappropriate behavior as a result of allowing trans students to access bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

    2. The Department Of Education Has Already Recognized Discrimination Against Transgender Students As Illegal Discrimination On The Basis Of Sex.

    Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits schools that receive federal money from discriminating against students based on their sex. The guidance makes clear that federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student's sex for the purposes of enforcing Title IX. The Department of Education has previously released similar directives. A 2010 anti-bullying guidance letter included protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2014, the Department of Education clarified that the guidance on sexual harassment and sexual assault included protections for transgender students.

    3. Several Federal Courts Have Ruled That Discrimination Against Transgender People Is Illegal Sex Discrimination.

    The New York Times reported that while the Supreme Court has not weighed in on whether discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination, several lower courts have. From a May 10 New York Times analysis:

    In 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that it does, and some other courts have since agreed. But in 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit made the opposite finding.

    In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that discriminating against a transgender person was sex discrimination — not based on the civil rights statute, but based on the 14th Amendment. And last month, relying on a 1972 law, Title IX, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a high school must allow a transgender student who was born anatomically female to use the boys’ bathroom.

    In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled, as the Sixth Circuit did, that discrimination against transgender people violated the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination, a decision hailed by advocates as the executive branch’s first unequivocal statement to that effect.

    4. The Federal Government Has Previously Cut Funding When Schools Refused To Comply With Civil Rights Laws.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 enabled the federal government to withhold funds due to civil rights violations. The Washington Post reported that in the 1960s, the federal government “withheld funds … from more than 100 school districts in the south that refused desegregation,” according to education scholar Gary Orfield. School districts were required to adopt integration plans in order to regain funding. A private college in Pennsylvania lost funds in the 1980s when it refused to comply with Title IX over sex discrimination. More recently, DeKalb County schools in Georgia lost federal assistance when administrators obstructed federal discrimination investigations.