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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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
The Trump-Pence administration asked the Supreme Court to review trans military ban cases. There are several other LGBTQ-related cases it could decide to take up this session.
The Trump-Pence administration has once again asked the Supreme Court to take up one of its policy priorities and bypass lower courts in what has been called an “unusual” move -- this time, to expedite a ruling on its proposed policy banning openly transgender service members from serving in the military. And that’s just one of several LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could hear this session, with other topics including employment discrimination, trans-inclusive school facilities, and religious exemptions for businesses. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has connections to several of those cases.
Though there has been media coverage of the trans military ban cases, several other important cases that may reach the high court fly under the media’s radar. Here's a look at LGBTQ-related cases that may be heard by the Supreme Court this term:
In July 2017, Trump announced on Twitter that he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a 2016 policy change by the Obama administration that allowed trans people to serve openly. In March, the Trump-Pence administration released its official policy. In developing the plan, the administration reportedly relied on a panel of “experts” that included the vehemently anti-trans activist Ryan T. Anderson and Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. There have been four lawsuits filed against the ban, and according to CNN, “District courts across the country have so far blocked the policy from going into effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in one challenge earlier this fall and the DC Circuit will hear arguments in early December.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the Supreme Court to review three of the cases, bypassing lower courts: Doe v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Karnoski v. Trump. According to The Advocate, Doe “is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," and the other two are pending before the 9th Circuit. Neither appeals court has ruled on any of these cases, but the 9th Circuit has heard arguments in one challenge already.
The Guardian reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s request “is the fourth time in recent months the administration has sought to bypass lower courts that have blocked some of its more controversial proposals and push the high court, which has a conservative majority, to weigh in quickly on a divisive issue.” The New York Times noted that the DOJ’s request for the Supreme Court to review the issue is unusual, as it “does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket.” According to the Supreme Court’s rules, it should take up an issue “only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this court.”
Speaking to The Washington Post, several lawyers challenging the ban have “said there is no reason for the court to abandon its usual policy,” and according to The Daily Beast, if the Supreme Court does review the issue, it “would theoretically only be considering whether or not to lift the injunctions that have been placed on the rollout of the transgender troop ban” while the lower courts continue to debate the legality of the ban itself. However, there is also a chance that the high court could find a way to rule directly on the ban’s constitutionality.
There are three cases that the Supreme Court could take up involving interpretations of workplace protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
The primary debate around Title VII involves whether protections from sex discrimination also encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly as the Supreme Court has already ruled that employers cannot discriminate based on gender stereotypes. In May 2017, Congress introduced the Equality Act, a bill that would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act.
In October 2017, the DOJ issued a memo that said (emphasis original), "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status." Of the three Title VII cases that the Supreme Court might take up, one involves a trans woman who was fired for her gender identity, and the other two involve men who were fired for their sexual orientation.
The first case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who was fired after coming out to her longtime employer. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor based on Title VII protections, saying, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex” and that “discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”
The influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing the funeral home at the center of the case, and ADF’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to take up the case in July.
In October, the DOJ filed a brief in support of the funeral home. It issued a similar brief in favor of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case decided last session. Solicitor General Noel Francisco signed the Harris Funeral Homes brief and argued in support of ADF’s client in Masterpiece Cakeshop. ADF had identified Francisco as one of its more than 3,200 allied attorneys in several press releases in 2016, but the group later claimed that this had been “our mistake” and that he was not in fact an allied attorney. ADF shows a distinct lack of transparency about who its allied attorneys are, and another group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine Francisco’s exact relationship with ADF.
In a second case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his employer Altitude Express for firing him in 2010 after he “told a female student that he was gay.” (Zarda died four years after he filed the suit.) The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in February of this year, deciding that Title VII “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Altitude Express and its lawyers petitioned the case to the Supreme Court in May.
In a third case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock sued after “he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for a Georgia county’s juvenile court system when his employer found out he is gay.” The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Bostock, saying that Title VII does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. In May, Bostock and his lawyer asked the Supreme Court to weigh in given a split in circuit courts’ rulings on the matter.
The high court was originally expected to consider petitions to review the three Title VII cases on November 30, but it has since “delayed its timeline for considering whether to grant review.” According to Bloomberg Law, “The court’s next scheduled conference is Dec. 7, and it has no more conferences scheduled for December. The first conference of the new year is scheduled for Jan. 4.” If it does not grant review by mid-January, the court would not be able to hold oral arguments for any of the cases during the current term, which began in October.
In June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The decision did not indicate how the high court should rule on other similar cases or on the larger question of whether businesses can deny services to LGBTQ people but rather ruled that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown “hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Phillips’] objection.” This next session, however, the Supreme Court could make a broader ruling on a similar case.
In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the owners of the now-shuttered Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, a violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. According to The Oregonian, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against the bakery owners and “upheld the order, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year.” Their lawyers -- from the anti-LGBTQ legal group First Liberty Institute (previously known as Liberty Institute) -- filed a petition for Supreme Court review in September. At least four of those lawyers have connections to ADF: Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, and Hiram Sasser have both been identified as ADF allied attorneys, and Michael Berry and Stephanie Taub both participated in ADF’s legal fellowship program.
ADF has filed another petition asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on an LGBTQ-related issue in the Joel Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case. In that case, cisgender students represented by ADF sued their school district after Boyertown Area High School passed an inclusive policy that allows transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. This differs from the high-profile Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case, in which a trans student sued his school district for passing a discriminatory policy.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Boyertown’s trans-inclusive policy and against ADF’s client in July, citing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination ‘based on sex’ in federally funded educational programs.” ADF has also attempted to leverage Title IX in its arguments, saying that the school’s trans-inclusive policy would create a “hostile environment” in violation of Title IX because its cisgender clients would have to interact with trans students in school restrooms and locker rooms. ADF thus contended that cisgender students who feel “embarrassed and harassed” by being in the same restrooms as trans students would be discriminated against “on the basis of sex.”
There are several potential outcomes if the Supreme Court does take up the case. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that if the court ruled against the plaintiffs, it would likely decide “that local school districts like Boyertown cannot be barred from establishing transgender protections” rather than making a more sweeping decision “to affirm that all transgender students nationwide are protected under Title IX.” However, Allen noted the increasingly conservative makeup of the court and contemplated what could happen if it ruled in favor of ADF’s clients:
There’s another outcome that has the potential to be catastrophic for a generation of transgender students: The Supreme Court—now with a conservative majority and two Trump picks—hears the case and agrees that transgender students cannot be protected by school policies. In the worst case, they agree that Title IX not only doesn’t protect transgender students, but actually requires schools to discriminate against them.
Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including ADF, have united around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court, assuming he would champion their issues and cement the conservative majority on the court. Like the Trump-Pence administration, these groups have been emboldened to push for discriminatory policies in the courts, such as overturning protections against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. ADF and others like it also have unprecedented influence over the administration; the White House even briefed ADF President Michael Farris about the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report. Farris and ADF argued twice before the Supreme Court during the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases before the high court.
Additional research by Kayla Gogarty and Brianna January.
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Laura Ingraham and Shannon Bream give platforms to transphobia
November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, an observation held in memory of trans people who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence over the past year. It’s a solemn occasion, where trans people and allies hold vigil for those lost and hope for a better future -- a stark contrast to events like Pride.
But Fox News marked the occasion this year by airing two segments sympathetic to anti-trans causes. Fox host Laura Ingraham interviewed Isabella Chow, a student senator at the University of California, Berkeley, about backlash she received after speaking out against a resolution in support of LGBTQ students. Chow is linked to extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and has appeared on its leader Tony Perkins’ radio program.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Take us through these past few weeks. We first want to establish what happens. This is a student government kind of proclamation stating what exactly?
ISABELLA CHOW (BERKELEY STUDENT): Yes, so, the main bill that I abstained from opposed Trump’s proposed reform to Title IX and specifically one clause where a person's gender is defined as a person's biological sex. Now the bill that I abstained from, not only did it say, you know, we support freedom from discrimination and harassment for all individuals and especially LGBTQ individuals, but at the end there clauses that asked me to promote and LGBTQ identity and lifestyle and to promote organizations whose primary purpose is to promote the LGBTQ identity and lifestyle. And I said because of my Christian views and because I represent the Christian community on campus, I cannot fully support this bill.
INGRAHAM: OK, so and for that, being a Christian and being unapologetic, you were labeled some pretty terrible things. The Daily Californian said the following: “Isabella Chow made transphobic and homophobic statements during an ASUC meeting, publicly dismissing the identities of individuals on campus. Chow’s language erased and dehumanized individuals,” et cetera, et cetera. How do you respond to that? Did you dehumanize people because of your faith?
CHOW: Yes, I’d like to go back to my original statement on the senate floor on October 31. And what I said was, one, I think that discrimination and harassment is never ever OK. But where I cross a line between, you know, where I can protect you as an individual and where I can promote your identity is a very fine line for me to walk, right?. And so my response is, I don't see a conflict between being able to accept, love and validate you as an individual and yet not fully agreeing with how you choose to identify yourself sexually.
While Chow framed the issue as simply about her decision not to vote on the measure, The Daily Californian’s editorial board wrote:
She chose to abstain from voting on the resolution — and then went beyond simply removing herself from the conversation. Chow, a former member of the Student Action party, also chose to voice her personal — and highly problematic — interpretation of Christian scripture, stating that any “lifestyle” outside of male and female and heterosexual identities was not “right or safe.”
The rest of the segment involved Ingraham lamenting the fact that people will call you a “hater” for saying that you disagree with who they are.
“I think where they are coming from,” Chow told Ingraham, trying to reflect on what her critics think, “is because we can't understand how you can love us and not accept our sexual identity, therefore, we’re going to say your words about love and acceptance are completely worthless. And we are just to take your words about not accepting us and twist that to mean you are a hater and a bigot.”
It’s odd that the most watched news station in the country devotes time and energy to things like student government, as there’s certainly no shortage of newsworthy stuff happening in the world. It’s moments like these when Fox shows itself for what it really is: a conservative advocacy organization.
Later that evening, Fox host Shannon Bream interviewed Robert Oppedisano, a Florida gym teacher who claims that he’s being mistreated for opposing his school’s policy to allow a trans boy to use the boys’ locker room, and his lawyer, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. Liberty Counsel is another extreme anti-LGBTQ group, and Staver regularly traffics in extreme rhetoric such as comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles and saying that trans youth experience higher rates of suicide because they are defying God.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night:
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): We are talking about Pasco County, FL, and they actually had a school board meeting today where this came up. A lot of people, Robert, showed up on your behalf to speak out. So let’s clarify a little bit about what happened. There is a student who was born biologically female, now identifying as male, wants to use the boys locker rooms and restrooms in the school. What were you told about having to watch or supervise or be involved with this process in the locker room?
ROBERT OPPEDISANO (PASCO COUNTY PE TEACHER): I was told that this student was going to have full access to the locker room, that it was my job to supervise, and that it was her right to be able to use any part of the locker room, whether it be the locker room, the open showers, or the bathroom.
BREAM: The school departments are saying, “We don't know exactly what to do. We are trying to do our best. We have to think of the rights of these trans students.” But others have said, “What about the parents, what about the other students, the boys in this locker room, what about their privacy rights?” What position are you in now with regard to this case?
OPPEDISANO: I was told that the parents and the students had no rights, just this -- the female student. She was the only one to have rights in there. I had mentioned something that they could get sued, and they said, “We are the largest employer in Pasco county. If we get sued, it's no big deal.”
BREAM: OK. Mat, I want to give you a chance to respond to something, that is in Pascocounty’s best practices guide for working with LGBTQ individuals. This one has to do with questions about whether students come to a teacher or someone to say, “I'm uncomfortable, I don't feel safe because a transgender student is in my bathroom or locker room area.” They are told this, quote: “A student's discomfort does not trump a transgender students right to use the school facility that is consistent with their identified gender identity. If it’s a comfort issue, you may offer an alternative facility to the students experiencing discomfort.” So, here they are saying if a student doesn't want the trans individual in their locker room area, they are the ones who need to leave. Is that a solution that works?
MAT STAVER (CHAIRMAN LIBERTY COUNSEL AND OPPEDISANO’S ATTORNEY): That is not a solution that works and in fact in this particular case, you’d have to have all the boys go to some other place because this girl undressed in front of these boys and the boys came running out. They were disturbed that a girl was in their locker room undressing. So apparently, only that girl can use the boys facility and now all of these boys that ran out have to go someplace else. That’s not workable. That same guideline that they have also says that you should not, in fact you are not authorized to let the parents know what’s happening with their son or daughter in these situations.
In recent days, far-right websites like Lifesite News, The Daily Caller, and The Federalist have been pushing this issue hard, citing information almost exclusively from Liberty Counsel’s complaint, which claimed that the teacher was being persecuted for his refusal to monitor the locker room. Their headlines, which include language like “School Punishes Male Teacher For Refusing To Watch A Naked Girl In The Boys’ Locker Room” and “Male Gym Teacher Allegedly Punished by School for Refusing to Watch Girl Shower,” are more than just misleading: They’re lies and outright propaganda.
As with so many of the too-shocking-to-be-true stories about trans people you’ll find in far-right media, local reporting rebuts the motivated smearing by conservative groups. In Oppedisano’s case, the Tampa Bay Times tells a different story, quoting the district’s superintendent:
Superintendent Kurt Browning told the board Tuesday that the internet is "burning up" with misinformation.
"I want the board and the public to be clear. The teacher coach has not been disciplined at all, in any way shape or form," Browning said, noting the Chasco Middle administrators have monitored the locker room for Oppedisano, whom he called an excellent teacher.
Students "do not undress in the locker room," Browning continued. "There are showers but no one takes showers. … There have not been any issues on this at Chasco Middle."
He said the district provides services to all students who need them, as do districts throughout the nation. He called upon School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso to explain the legal framework for the district's procedures and rules relating to transgender students.
These conservative groups fought hard against the Obama administration’s attempt to clarify what Title IX meant when it came to the treatment of transgender students. The Obama guidance would have put an end to many drawn-out lawsuits brought against schools or students. The argument against it has been that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is almost never the right way to dissuade discrimination (ignoring that the country has “one-size-fits-all” rules when it comes to discrimination on the basis of religion, race, disability, and so on).
A February 2017 piece at The Federalist argued the case for schools to make their own policies when it comes to trans students. And in the letter announcing that the administration had rescinded the Obama-era guidance, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (née Prince) wrote, “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level.” Yet, when states and districts do try to provide solutions to accommodate trans students, groups like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) swoop in to mount a public pressure campaign and file lawsuits against districts that won’t change their rules to be anti-trans. The heavily funded groups bank on the fact that most school districts won’t want the bad press or have the funds to spend defending their policies. Both the DeVos and Prince families have donated substantial amounts of money to ADF, in particular.
It’s reasonable to be sick of hearing about bathrooms. I am a transgender person. Believe me when I say that I am sick of hearing about bathrooms and locker rooms. But the reason these stories are still in the news, that this continues to be talked about at all, is because the groups that claimed they wanted these issues to be handled at a local level don’t seem to actually believe the argument themselves.
But for Fox News to air both of those segments on the one day in a year set aside to mourn people killed by those who believe the negative stereotypes about trans people they hear on networks like this, that’s just shameful.
As Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis makes history, an anti-LGBTQ group and right-wing media outlet have dubiously attempted to pit religion against the LGBTQ community
Anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire have used the successful campaign of Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, to push a false narrative pitting religion against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, they have leveraged the story of anti-gay Colorado baker Jack Phillips -- who went all the way to the Supreme Court in a case involving his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple -- to say that the state is persecuting Christians and that Polis’ election would result in religious people losing their rights.
Extreme and influential anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor based on the particulars of the case, citing “inappropriate and dismissive comments” from one of the Colorado civil rights commissioners as “hostility” toward Phillips’ religion. Polis called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope,” adding that Congress should pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would amend civil rights protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other areas of life to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
After Polis’ historic win, The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois published an article headlined “Colorado Elects First Openly Gay Governor In U.S. History As The State Persecutes Christians.” Bois highlighted Polis’ “commitment to LGBTQ principles” and wrote, “The ascension of Polis in Colorado comes at a time when the state has increasingly positioned itself as an enemy of religious liberty, most notably in its persecution of baker Jack Phillips.”
Before Election Day, anti-LGBTQ group Family Policy Alliance also featured Phillips in a campaign ad against Polis. According to LGBTQ news outlet INTO, the ad said, “Assaults on Jack’s faith – and yours – could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” and a statement released alongside the ad asserted that “the decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come.” Family Policy Alliance sent an email promoting the ad on October 24, which claimed that Polis’ election “means that things could get even worse for Jack and other people of faith in Colorado.”
The group deleted the ad within days and scrubbed references to the video from its website. A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told Baptist Press on November 2 that the group “was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was ‘pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.’" That second ad, titled “Jared Polis vs. Freedom,” asserted that if elected, Polis would threaten “the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.” (During the 2018 election, Family Policy Alliance and its member group Massachusetts Family Institute worked extensively to undo a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Massachusetts. The repeal effort failed.)
The Family Policy Alliance ads and The Daily Wire’s story rest on the false premise that the LGBTQ community and people of faith are at odds, or that equal rights for LGBTQ people somehow result in the loss of rights for people of faith. Anti-LGBTQ figures often set up this “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to gin up sympathy for individuals and groups who wish to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing their faith. But these figures, often right-wing evangelical Christians, do not represent all people of faith or even speak for all of Christians. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality should be accepted -- including majorities of most religious groups. Almost 1,300 faith leaders filed an amicus brief defending the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and condemning the use of “religious freedom” arguments to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to the brief’s press release, the faith leaders represented 500,000 congregants “from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S.” And though the Supreme Court ruled against the couple, the decision did not indicate how similar court cases should play out. But Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the baker in the case, is litigating several other cases that may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious exemptions.”
Additional research by Brianna January.
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National anti-LGBTQ groups are aligned with and have worked alongside a campaign in Massachusetts that would repeal the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, which protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace and give them equal access to public facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The anti-trans Keep MA Safe campaign was started by Massachusetts Family Institute, a state anti-LGBTQ group with direct ties to major national groups Family Policy Alliance, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Research Council.
On October 28, far-right Brazilian Congress member Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Bolsonaro has repeatedly embraced authoritarianism, and he has a history of espousing misogynistic, racist, anti-LGBTQ, and other extremist rhetoric. Right-wing media are celebrating his victory and high poll numbers by cheering on his proposed policies and highlighting the similarities between Bolsonaro and President Donald Trump:
Bolsonaro’s rise followed years of anti-democratic statements from him that can only be read as fascist. An October 28 article in The New York Times compiled some of the Brazilian president-elect’s most extreme comments. When asked in a 1999 interview whether he would shut down Brazil’s Congress, Bolsonaro replied:
There is no doubt. I would perform a coup on the same day. [Congress] doesn’t work. And I am sure that at least 90 percent of the population would celebrate and applaud because it doesn’t work. The Congress today is useless … lets do the coup already. Let’s go straight to the dictatorship.
He also appeared to advocate for a violent “civil war” to “do the job that the military regime didn’t do: killing 30,000.” Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated for torture and threatened earlier this month to jail his political opponents after taking office.
The Times also reported that Bolsarano once told a fellow lawmaker that he “would not rape [her] because you [she is] not worthy of it.” He has stated that he would not hire women equally, and he referred to having a daughter as a “weakness.” In 2011, he claimed he would “rather his son die in a car accident than be gay,” and two years later he claimed that he would “rather have a son who is an addict than a son who is gay.” Just last year, Bolsonaro implied that Afro-Brazilians are lazy, claiming, “They don’t do anything. They are not even good for procreation.” Bolsonaro has promised to roll back policies meant to protect the environment, and, according to the Times, he claimed the “Amazon is like a child with chickenpox, every dot you see is an indigenous reservation.”
While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women
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.
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.
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.
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