As the online news and commentary landscape continues to expand, the nascent conservative web magazine The Federalist has quickly carved out a role as a brash, anti-establishment site. It has also become an outlet for often-rabid anti-LGBT talking points.
Launched in September 2013 as a “web magazine on politics, policy, and culture,” The Federalist is helmed by publisher Ben Domenech, a co-founder of the right-wing blog RedState.com and senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for its opposition to climate science and funding from industry sources like the Koch brothers. Co-founder Sean Davis came to conservative journalism after a career in GOP politics, having worked for Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Senior editors David Harsanyi and Mollie Hemingway and senior writer Robert Tracinski round out The Federalist's leadership.
In its short existence, The Federalist has won plaudits from conservative organizations and activists, not least those best known for their anti-LGBT advocacy. A look at the website's track record on LGBT issues leaves little doubt as to why The Federalist counts some of the most notorious anti-LGBT groups among its most ardent fans.
Touted by Domenech as a publication "that rejects the assumptions of the media establishment," The Federalist regularly frames its opposition to LGBT equality as brave defiance of elite conventions. This posture leads The Federalist to inveigh against even the most basic protections for LGBT people.
Arguments Against Marriage Equality
Take writer Rachel Lu's opposition to anti-bullying legislation. In a March 18 piece, Lu condemned such legislation as an attempt to “normalize homosexuality and transgendered behavior.” (Being transgender isn't a "behavior.") Lu situated anti-bullying policies in a larger context in which progressives seek to enforce an “Orwellian vision” of LGBT equality.
Lamenting that LGBT acceptance has become “thoroughly conventional,” Lu argued that young voters' support for marriage equality is the result of “unreflective ignorance” about “what marriage is.” Lu defended an exclusively heterosexual conception of marriage by noting that the vast majority of “cultural and historical and literary references to marriage” concern heterosexual relationships. “Enjoying sexual difference,” Lu concluded, “is critical to almost all of these romances, and while homosexuals do have Plato's Symposium and the poetry of Sappho, their stock of cultural associations is much, much thinner.”
Other Federalist writers couch their opposition to marriage equality in decidedly less literary terms. Hemingway, who refers to straight marriage as “natural marriage,” explained in a February piece that “the penis and vagina parts are actually key to this entire shebang. See: human history.”
Contributor Hunter Baker echoed Hemingway's argument in a post arguing that opponents of marriage equality are just being “commonsensical.” In what apparently passes for robust argument at The Federalist, Baker used the example of his children's confusion when they learned of the existence of same-sex relationships. They couldn't “understand why a man would want to share romantic love with another man” - definitive evidence to Baker that homosexuality is unnatural. He then compared his children's aversion to homosexuality to what he called children's reflexive “tilts away” from racism. (In reality, studies of how young children respond to dolls show that they respond more favorably to white dolls than to black ones.)
And then there's Jesus, whom writer Andrew Walker assured readers would not support marriage equality. But fear not, Walker counseled pro-equality Christians, “no sin is wider than Christ's mercy if one will only repent and believe.”
Defending Anti-LGBT Discrimination
The Federalist has more to offer its readers than fourth-rate arguments against marriage equality. The website is a reliable apologist for anti-LGBT discrimination, predictably depicting its opposition to non-discrimination protections as a noble defense of liberty against a heavy-handed government.
The website championed legislation that would have allowed Arizona business owners to refuse service to gay customers, adopting the baseless religious liberty narrative beloved of the bill's supporters. Harsanyi supported the bill as a bulwark against “secular liberals” who want people to “coexist ... or else.” According to Harsanyi, the “contemptible bullying” practiced by LGBT advocates fighting discrimination is “no better ... than the bigotry the gay community had to deal with for decades.”
Responding to Gov. Jan Brewer's (R-AZ) veto of the measure, Domenech asserted that non-discrimination protections are unnecessary because “legitimate bigotry will be punished by the marketplace.” It's an argument that demonstrates Domenech's lack of knowledge about the LGBT community, which continues to face discrimination in housing, healthcare, public accommodations, and earnings, to say nothing of how they're disproportionately targeted by hate crimes.
Last month, Hemingway defended evangelical charity World Vision's reversal of its decision to hire legally married gay Christians, calling the reversal a matter of “doctrinal integrity” and reflective of “a truly faith-based charity.”
The Federalist also isn't pleased with the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban workplace discrimination against LGBT workers. Writer Stella Morabito attacked the bill as “one ofthe most Orwellian pieces of legislation ever to receive bipartisan approval in the Senate,” attacking the very concept of gender identity as a pernicious construct, even though it's well established in the medical community.
Owen Strachan continued in The Federalist's burgeoning practice of embarrassingly ignorant transphobia with a February post assailing protections for transgender students in Maine and California. Repeating baseless smears that have been thoroughly debunked by experts, Strachan claimed that allowing transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity would allow “all citizens, no matter how deviant, to enter any restroom, and ... all teenage boys, no matter how sexually prurient, to shower with the girls.”
The Federalist invariably denounces LGBT equality as the pet project of cosmopolitan, government-expanding, Middle America-hating elites. As such, it appears that there's no low to which the website won't sink in defending anti-LGBT bigotry against those who call it out. This became painfully obvious during the debacle following Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's comments comparing homosexuality with bestiality and terrorism.
Instead of reflecting on the damage such demeaning remarks have done to LGBT people, Rachel Lu decided that the uproar greeting Robertson's comments was about “anti-redneck” prejudice on the part of “the liberal media.” But lest one accuse The Federalist of not harboring a diversity of opinion, Adrienne Royer argued that the fiasco was really about liberal elites' anti-religious prejudice. “The threat of the Robertsons,” Royer wrote, “isn't in Phil's politically incorrect comments. The threat is that this family has figured out how right-wing politics and Evangelical Christianity can influence pop culture without being the punch line or the bad guy.”
Central to The Federalist's ethos is the notion that it's willing to fearlessly defend freedom in the face of attacks from the reviled liberal elite. It's especially ironic, then, that a website constantly on the guard against “Orwellian” liberalism so regularly defends draconian anti-gay bigotry in the name of liberty.
But The Federalist's persecution myth has endeared it to a number of prominent anti-LGBT allies. Consider the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right group working internationally to criminalize homosexuality. The ADF, which helped draft Arizona's license-to-discriminate bill, promoted Domenech's piece written in the aftermath of Brewer's veto. Meanwhile, Hemingway has appeared on the radio program of hate group leader Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization notorious for peddling bigoted and dangerous anti-LGBT falsehoods.
Upon The Federalist's launch, Domenech promised readers stories “of heroes, martyrs, and villains.” It takes an especially warped worldview to constantly cast an historically marginalized group in the latter role, with their oppressors so often heralded as “heroes” and “martyrs.”