Author Page | Media Matters for America

Rebecca Damante

Author ››› Rebecca Damante
  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Florida broadcast media should learn from mistakes of West Palm Beach's coverage of ban on harmful anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy 

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Broadcast media in Florida must learn from the mistakes of West Palm Beach broadcast coverage of Palm Beach County’s passage of a ban on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy, which is a harmful and discredited practice based on the false notion that sexuality can change. During the month in which the vote took place, West Palm Beach media coverage featured considerably more voices supportive of the discredited practice that is opposed by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in the country. West Palm Beach media also turned to a prominent advocate of the practice without noting her anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Nearly 90 percent of segments failed to note that conversion therapy is a discredited practice and that sexuality cannot be changed.

  • 2017's worst anti-trans lies and smears 

    Media Matters looks back at some of the worst smears, lies, and liars attacking the transgender community in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing media figures and anti-LGBTQ hate group representatives have a long history of spreading anti-trans hatred and lies, and 2017 was no different. From hate groups attacks on trans children and students to Alex Jones’ anti-LGBTQ extremism, Media Matters rounded up some of 2017’s most transphobic misinformers and their lies.

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Right-wing conspiracy theorist and ally to President Donald Trump Alex Jones has cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist this year as he repeatedly used the slur “tranny,” dehumanized trans people's existence, and spread vile rhetoric about them. Though Jones has repeatedly said he is “not against gay people,” Media Matters has documented a pattern of extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that proves otherwise. 

    In one segment on his show, for example, Jones said that transgender women may be gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting “breast implants” and trying to “doll [their] hair up.” On another episode, Jones compared a transgender man who had a baby to Jones deciding that he is a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that “give[s] birth to leprechauns.” In other segments, Jones has said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips” and suggested that former first lady Michelle Obama has a penis and may have killed late comedian Joan Rivers, saying that he was “not putting trannies down” with the comments.

    Jones accused transgender women of being gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting breast implants and dolling up their hair.

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 7/10/17]

    Jones compared a pregnant transgender man to a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that gives “birth to leprechauns.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/3/17]

    Jones said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/7/17

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    In 2017, hate group leaders and right-wing media personalities continued their fight against LGBTQ equality in schools, attacking transgender students and children, their parents, and teachers who teach trans-inclusive lessons. These attacks are also happening on a policy level, with hate group Alliance Defending Freedom spending much of the year trying to block transgender student equality by inserting itself in debates at local school districts and in state legislatures about transgender students’ access to restroom facilities that align with their gender identity.

    In July, anti-LGBTQ hate group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Dr. Michelle Cretella asserted that parents accepting their transgender children's’ gender identity is “child abuse” and spread myths and junk science about transgender people during an episode of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. ACPeds is a small, deceptively named hate group with only a few hundred members that is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics. In another example, right-wing media figures attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Right-wing website PJ Media suggested that parents “move out of [their] community” if they feel it is necessary to protect their children from being turned into “mind-numbed robots who nod affirmatively in the face of lies,” and anti-LGBTQ FoxNews.com contributor Todd Starnes called the events “an example of how schools have been indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda” and “activist bullies.”

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group ACPeds’ Cretella called accepting transgender children “child abuse.”

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/24/17]

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Right-wing figures and anti-LGBTQ hate groups continued to reinforce the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, which asserts that policies allowing trans people to use restrooms that align with their gender identity will create an opening for sexual predators to assault women. That myth has been long debunked by experts and government officials in more than a dozen states, school administrators, and sexual assault and domestic violence prevention experts, but pundits and anti-LGBTQ figures continued to push the lie in 2017.

    On February 15, Tony Perkins, the president of anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), dubiously claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive bathroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms.” Similarly, on an episode of a special panel show on Houston’s Fox 26, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRTx) Jared Woodfill said that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be.” In yet another example, Charmaine Yoest, a right-wing political commentator who is now in a top communications post at the Department of Health and Human Services, asserted that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.

    FRC’s Perkins claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive restroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms”

    [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 2/15/17]

    CRTx’s Woodfill claimed that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be” with trans-inclusive restroom policies.

    [Fox 26, What’s Your Point, 5/22/17]

    Former right-wing pundit Yoest said that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.”

    [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 2/23/17]

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    When Trump announced he would ban transgender people from the military, right-wing media and hate groups pushed misinformation about transgender service members and called them “mentally ill.” (The ban has so far been paused by the courts.) Other right-wing lies about the ban included the claim that the cost of medically necessary health care for transgender service members would be in the billions, that allowing transgender members to serve would interfere with military readiness and cohesion, and that a majority of transgender people are unable to be deployed due to their health care needs. Analysts have found minimal additional costs involved in providing health care to transgender service members and no negative impacts on military cohesion or readiness.

    Right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro responded to the ban by saying that “the military should not accept mentally ill soldiers.” Shapiro tweeted that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military,” and again implied that transgender people have a “mental illness.” Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who is the vice president of anti-LGBTQ hate group FRC, similarly pushed the myth that transgender people have some “kind of physical or mental illness” and claimed that their inclusion in the military was part of “a test bed for nothing but social experiments.” According to the American Psychological Association, “Identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.” Other leading medical organizations agree.

    FRC’s Boykin pushed the lie that transgender people are mentally ill, saying, "We shouldn't recruit people with any kind of physical or mental illness."

    [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/24/17]

    Shapiro claimed that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military. People are 4F [unfit to serve] for a variety of reasons. Mental illness can be such a reason.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Shapiro said that “The military should not accept mentally ill soldiers,” but Trump’s announcement “should not have been done by tweet.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Over the past year, right-wing media figures attacked transgender people with offensive language, anti-trans slurs, and even the denial of trans existence. In addition to the steadfast slandering of transgender people by Alex Jones, other right-wing media figures employed transphobic rhetoric that can have severe consequences on transgender people and youth. Calls from transgender youth to the Trevor Project’s suicide hotline increased this year, and the project cited “anti-transgender rhetoric” coming from elected officials and others as “putting lives at risk.”

    In a November rant lamenting the surge of LGBTQ victories in 2017 elections, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh used the anti-trans slur “tranny” and insisted that LGBTQ people be referred to only as “homosexual,” saying, “the word is homosexual.” On Fox, Carlson hosted a transgender guest and insulted her by accusing transgender people of “faking” and repeatedly pushing the myth that people can just “decide” to be transgender on a whim. This kind of rhetoric places doubt on transgender existence.

    After trans candidates won 2017 elections, Limbaugh insisted that all LGBTQ people be referred to as “homosexual” and used the anti-trans slur “tranny.”

    [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/9/17]

    Carlson insulted a transgender guest and accused transgender people of "faking."

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/24/17]      

  • Debate moderators must ask New Jersey gubernatorial candidates about abortion

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    In the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have faced off in one debate so far, and moderators Sade Baderinwa and Jim Gardner did not ask either candidate about their stance on abortion access -- an issue on which both have been inconsistent. This mirrors a larger pattern, as the New Jersey gubernatorial candidates were also not asked about abortion in 2013. Given that many anti-choice restrictions are imposed at the state, rather than the federal level, the moderator of the next debate has a responsibility to ask Murphy and Guadagno about their positions.

  • A hate group's anti-LGBTQ law just went into effect in Mississippi. Here's what you need to know.

    The Human Rights Campaign called Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom” bill “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A sweeping, so-called “religious freedom” bill went into effect in Mississippi on October 10, and advocates are calling it the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” claims to protect “sincerely held religious beliefs” but would in fact give religious organizations, businesses, and individuals broad license to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people. The law is a legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians, and it was heavily influenced and crafted in part by anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful legal organization that has been involved in pushing similar legislation across the country.

    Mississippi’s extreme anti-LGBTQ law HB 1523 went into effect on October 10

    Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which Mother Jones called “one of the nation’s most sweeping religious exemption laws,” went into effect on October 10. The law permits “widespread discrimination based on ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.’” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill into law in April 2016, but its implementation stalled after a court challenge led to a district judge issuing an injunction that blocked the bill. On June 22, a federal appeals court lifted the district court’s injunction. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the law allows “discrimination by individuals, businesses, religiously-affiliated organizations — including hospitals, schools, shelters and others — against LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi” based on religious beliefs. After the law took effect on October 10, Lambda Legal and the Mississippi Center For Justice filed an appeal asking that the U.S. Supreme Court strike it down.

    Five things the media need to know about Mississippi’s HB 1523, “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”:

    1. The bill codifies 3 “sincerely held religious beliefs,” including opposition to both marriage equality and sex outside of marriage

    According to the ACLU, HB 1523 is unique in that it makes Mississippi “the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter.” Indeed, the bill purports to be designed to protect people with three specific “sincerely held religious religious beliefs”: that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage,” and that “male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” The law gives individuals, private associations, and religiously affiliated organizations license to legally make discriminatory actions against LGBTQ people and others under the guise of holding those three positions.

    2. HB 1523 is the “broadest" anti-LGBTQ law enacted since same-sex marriage was legalized

    According to The Associated Press, HB 1523 is “considered the broadest religious-objections state law enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.” The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has also spoken out against the law, calling it “the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” and “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.”

    HRC wrote that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination againist LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The organization outlined examples of potential areas of discrimination, noting that “taxpayer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBTQ families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBTQ person.” It could also allow foster families to force LGBTQ children into dangerous “conversion therapy,” a harmful practice that attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity and that has been discredited by every mainstream medical group. The law also allows religious organizations to terminate or discipline an employee “for being gay, trans, or pro-gay, even if they have roles that have nothing to do with religion or education,” according to The Daily Beast.

    The law’s text notes that the government cannot act against individuals who decline to treat, counsel, perform gender affirmation surgery, provide psychological services, or provide fertility services to LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, and others based on codified religious beliefs. According to The Daily Beast, HB 1523 would also give schools, businesses, and other organizations license to discriminate against transgender people, as this law could be used to force transgender individuals to use bathrooms that do not align with their gender identity or “to dress as their biological sex at birth.” The law explicitly allows employers and schools to establish "sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming.”

    Under HB 1523, even government employees are given legal protections to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The Daily Beast wrote that state employees can “proselytize, condemn homosexuals as sinners, argue that gay people should be killed, or put up posters condemning homosexuality as a sin” at their jobs without fear of discipline. The law explicitly allows state employees and judges to recuse themselves "from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages.” That means that county clerks, judges, and magistrates could refuse to authorize same-sex marriages without consequence.

    3. HB 1523 is the legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians

    For years, right-wing media have peddled the myth that Christians are being persecuted by LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, particularly focusing on anti-gay small-business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex couples. Fox News has long touted stories of business owners -- including a photographer, baker, and florist -- who refused to provide services to same-sex couples and were then sued for violating nondiscrimination ordinances, and Fox News employees Todd Starnes and Erick Erickson have written books devoted to the anti-LGBTQ Christian persecution myth.

    Other right-wing media outlets have adopted a similar myth that LGBTQ-inclusive protections will lead to the persecution of Christians. For example, Jonathon Van Maren of Life Site News claimed that there has been a “rapid rise of rainbow fascism” leading to the destruction of businesses owned by Christians. Van Maren continued, “Christian business owners saw the wages they needed to feed their families dry up because they were targeted by gay activists and labeled hateful, homophobic bigots simply for declining to assist in celebrating a gay union.” A post in The Daily Caller listed examples of “LGBT anti-Christian bullying,” arguing that “the fight for respect and equal rights for gays and lesbians has ... occasionally been co-opted by anti-Christian bigots who target individuals’ businesses and threaten them with violence.” Some right-wing websites, like RedState, have used the pejorative term “gay mafia” to describe activists fighting business discrimination against LGBTQ people. A post using the term in its headline asserted that LGBTQ activists’ “primary objective is the complete and utter destruction of morality and Christianity in America–and in the end, the Constitutional rights of every American.”

    4. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom helped write, promote, and justify the law and fought for it in court

    According to The Washington Post, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was heavily involved in the creation of HB 1523, starting its work on the bill before the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The Post reported that ADF lawyer Austin R. Nimocks first emailed a lawyer in Gov. Bryant’s office on June 24, 2015, and in one of his emails attached what he called a “model executive order that would prevent state governments from discriminating against their citizens because of their views or actions concerning marriage.” Mississippi’s bill “adopted many of the identical passages,” according to a brief by an attorney leading challenges against the bill. In March 2016, ADF attorney Kellie Fiedorek sent Bryant two drafts of a signing statement, which is “the final step in the legislative process,” saying, “We looked through a number of Gov. Bryant’s signing statements and tried to use his voice. Please feel free to pull from either one that is most helpful to you and your boss ... we’re here to serve.”

    ADF has also provided legal support to Bryant and other Mississippi officials. The group represented Bryant and John Davis, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, after a federal judge blocked the entire bill from taking effect on June 30, 2016. When the case reached the U.S Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, ADF attorneys joined Bryant in issuing a brief in favor of the law and were a part of his legal team.

    5. ADF has been involved in writing, promoting, and defending RFRAs in other states

    ADF has been directly involved in the drafting of other state “religious freedom” or “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRAs), including working quietly with a state senator in Iowa earlier this year. There, ADF worked on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 RFRA, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The ACLU of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. In 2014, ADF helped write Arizona’s SB 1062 -- a vetoed bill that would have expanded legal protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers -- and in 2015, ADF “had a hand in” writing Georgia's tabled RFRA.

    ADF lawyers have also testified on behalf of or directly promote so-called “religious freedom” bills; in fact, ADF’s vice president of media communications, Greg Scott, characterized enacting RFRAs as “a legislator’s most important duty.” In 2013, ADF senior counsel Joel Oster testified in favor of Kansas' RFRA, which was signed into law that year, and in 2015, ADF senior counsel Michael J. Norton testified in defense of Colorado’s failed "Freedom of Conscience Protection Act.” The organization also promoted a RFRA in Arkansas and helped advise Indiana lawmakers during the debate over the state’s RFRA. In 2016, ADF attorney Matt Sharp testified before the South Dakota legislature in support of a law promising to “ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions,” and ADF counsel Kellie Fiedorek spoke about the so-called “benefits” of a RFRA proposed in West Virginia.

    In addition, ADF's reach extends beyond its own representatives’ support for enacting RFRAs to state legislatures where ADF alumni and “allied attorneys” introduce and sponsor similar legislation. North Carolina state Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R) sponsored a failed 2015 RFRA in her state after having proudly boasted of her continued “involvement in promoting religious freedom and other family values as an Allied Attorney" with ADF on her now-defunct campaign website. Similarly, in Louisiana, House Rep. Mike Johnson (R), who previously worked as an attorney for ADF, sponsored another anti-LGBTQ RFRA in 2015.

    ADF’s involvement in drafting and promoting state RFRAs should not come as a surprise, as the organization's president, Michael Farris, co-chaired a committee that lobbied Congress to pass a federal RFRA in 1993. More recently, ADF consulted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on his sweeping religious freedom guidance, released October 6, which makes “it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and women” and “legal for nearly any business to fire someone or deny a person services based on religious objections.”

  • Gillespie and Northam should be asked about abortion in the next Virginia gubernatorial debate

    Candidates in 2013 were asked about abortion. Moderators in 2017 must do the same.

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & SHARON KANN

    In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie have faced off in two debates -- neither of which has included a question about their positions on abortion. On October 9, Northman and Gillespie will participate in a third debate, moderated by NBC affiliate WCYB anchor Paul Johnson and featuring reporter Carmen Forman as a panelist. Given Gillespie’s known extremism on abortion and reproductive rights, Johnson and Forman have a responsibility to ask both candidates about their views on the issue. 

  • All the right-wing lies about Trump’s transgender military ban, debunked

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Right-wing media figures have helped promote a series of myths about transgender service members in the U.S. military in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would ban them from serving. These debunked myths include the claim that the cost of medically necessary health care for transgender service members would be in the billions, that allowing transgender members to serve would interfere with military readiness and cohesion, that a majority of transgender people are unable to be deployed due to their health care needs, and that being transgender is a mental illness that makes people unfit to be in the military.

  • Calling Texas' anti-trans bathroom ban a "safety" measure is a nod to a pervasive, debunked lie

    Houston media echoed supporters of anti-trans bathroom ban calling it a "safety" measure. This is a nod to the debunked bathroom predator myth.

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    Houston, TX, broadcast news media’s coverage of a proposed statewide anti-transgender bathroom ban -- which would prevent transgender people from using public restrooms that align with their gender identity -- frequently cited supporters’ claims that a ban was necessary in order to protect the “safety” and “privacy” of women and children. This rhetoric served as a less-explicit but still insidious nod to the debunked, anti-transgender bathroom predator myth that has been touted before, which claims that transgender-inclusive restrooms would allow sexual predators to enter women’s bathrooms and assault or harass them.

    On June 6, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced a 30-day special session to discuss 20 items that had not been approved during the legislature’s regular session, including legislation related to transgender people’s access to restrooms, officially billed as a “privacy” item. About a week into the session, which started July 18, Texas’ Senate passed its version of the bathroom ban, but the bill did not make it out of the House State Affairs Committee and thus never received a vote in the state’s House of Representatives.

    During the special session, Houston outlets widely mentioned supporters’ claims that the measure is a “safety” and “privacy” issue -- a nod to the debunked bathroom predator myth

    Though they generally also noted that the proposed bathroom ban would encourage discrimination, Houston news stations covering the special session repeatedly and uncritically mentioned the “privacy” and “safety” concerns of the bill’s supporters. Houston’s CBS 11 reported that “supporters” of the proposed bathroom ban “say it’s an issue of privacy and safety.” Houston’s NBC affiliate similarly said, “The bill’s author still argues the bill protects privacy and safety of Texans.” Likewise, Houston’s Fox 26 News claimed, “Supporters say it’s about safety and privacy, but opponents believe it targets transgender people.” Houston’s ABC 13 noted that “Republicans say this is a safety issue.” The reports mirrored the language Abbott used when he claimed the bill was meant to “help women have privacy, safety, and security to the fullest extent possible.”

    The claims that the “bathroom bill” is about “safety” and “privacy” concerns are an implicit nod to the bathroom predator myth, which media should acknowledge has been debunked.

    Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been at the forefront of the fight for a “bathroom ban,” has consistently referred to the legislation as “privacy legislation.” He called it “Texas Privacy Act” and said it was a matter of “public safety” in a video about the special session. Patrick also said that “adult women don’t want men following them into the ladies’ room, nor do they want their little girls or granddaughters being followed in a bathroom by a man.” In an interview in July, Patrick said: “We don't want sexual predators — and I'm not talking about transgender people ... I don't want sexual predators masquerading as being transgender to enter into a bathroom to follow a little girl.”

    Similarly, before the special session began, Abbott said that Texas needed to address student “privacy, safety, and security” with a proposed ban. During the session, he asserted that he wanted a ban that “at a minimum … protects the privacy of our children in public schools.” In 2015, during a debate about a proposal to, among other things, add gender identity discrimination protections, Abbott tweeted a more explicit version of the myth: “Vote NO on the City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.” The Campaign for Houston, which was run by anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT), praised Abbott for the tweet. CRT interchangeably pushes “privacy” rhetoric and the bathroom predator myth, as seen in its pledge to “continue the fight for privacy” in a August 24 fundraising email which also says that the legislation “keeps biological males, including registered sex offenders, out of women’s bathrooms.”

    The anti-transgender bathroom predator myth has been thoroughly debunked

    The anti-transgender bathroom predator myth has been widely debunked by experts and government officials across the U.S., including in 16 states and the District of Columbia and school administrators in 23 school districts and four universities. In 2015, 17 U.S. school districts covering 600,000 students told Media Matters that they had not experienced any problem after implementing transgender protections. Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota assembled a “myths and facts” sheet about its gender inclusion policy, which said, “There is no correlation between unsafe school environments and providing equitable access to facilities for transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

    Likewise, numerous experts working in sexual violence and domestic prevention have said that the right-wing bathroom predator myth is false. In an interview with Media Matters, Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said she has “never heard of … instances” nor “seen any research” to validate the bathroom predator myth. Palumbo also noted that “one of the most vulnerable populations there are is the transgender population” when it comes to sexual violence.

    The bathroom predator myth was widely reinforced in HERO coverage

    In 2015, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was put up for an unsuccessful vote as a ballot referendum. It would have protected people from “discrimination based not just on gender identity and sexual orientation, but also 13 classes already protected under federal law” including sex, race, religion, disability, and others. And according to The New York Times, an early “draft of the bill included a section, later removed, that would have let transgender people use the bathroom that best reflected their gender identity. Opponents seized on the issue and never let go.”

    The city’s media played a significant role in killing HERO by uncritically utilizing the bathroom predator myth in its coverage. During one month in 2014, for example, more than half of local station Fox 26’s coverage mentioned the bathroom predator myth. Both Houston’s Fox and CBS affiliates included b-roll footage of restrooms without commentary in over half of their HERO coverage during a two-week time period in 2015, and the myth was mentioned in at least 10 segments across the four major news networks in Houston during that same time. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as CRT and Family Research Council pushed the myth particularly hard, as did Fox News.

    Some Houston outlets explicitly pushed the bathroom predator myth during special session coverage

    Though it was less explicit than in the HERO coverage, some outlets reporting on the special session still uncritically reinforced the debunked bathroom predator myth, beyond simply referencing “safety” and “privacy.” Perhaps the most egregious example came from the Fox 26 special panel show What’s Your Point. In May and June, the Houston Fox affiliate hosted anti-LGBTQ extremist and CRT President Jared Woodfill seven times in 10 days, and on May 22, Woodfill discussed the possibility of a special session on What’s Your Point. He claimed that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be.” Guest Steve Toth, a Republican former state congressperson, added, “This is not about a transgender boy. This is about a sex offender being able to walk into a bathroom, unchecked, and no one can stop them. That’s what this is about.”

    Houston media coverage has improved since HERO, but mentions of “safety” and “privacy” must have necessary context in the future

    Characterizing the bill as a “safety” and “privacy” bill still implies that transgender-inclusive bathrooms are unsafe. Though explicit mentions of the mythical bathroom predators have noticeably decreased, media must add necessary context to their coverage to clarify that banning transgender people from the bathroom facilities that correspond with their gender identity does nothing to ameliorate “safety” or “privacy” concerns. In fact, transgender people are the ones at increased risk for violence and sexual assault in bathrooms. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s landmark U.S. Transgender Survey found that 12 percent of transgender people “report that they have been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the last year” and that 59 percent have “avoided bathrooms in the last year because they feared confrontations in public restrooms at work, at school, or in other places.”