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  • Lawsuit: A “women’s leadership forum” on Wall Street was headlined by a sexist right-wing pundit

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new lawsuit alleging toxic workplace culture for women at a prominent Wall Street firm includes a gross Fox News connection that pretty much sums up how easily misogyny transcends any single workplace or industry.

    On February 12, firm employee Lauren Bonner filed a federal lawsuit saying Wall Street billionaire Steven Cohen’s investment firm Point72 Asset Management is a “boys’ club” in which women are paid less than their peers and regularly demeaned. The lawsuit detailed numerous instances of alleged discriminatory workplace conduct and structural sexism -- including a 2016 women’s leadership event headlined by former Fox News contributor Keith Ablow.

    The lawsuit contends that several executives and employees regularly made comments about women employees’ appearances, kept women from being promoted or compensated as much as their male peers, referred to women as “girls” and “sweethearts,” and excluded women from meetings. According to the suit, one executive reportedly wrote the word “PUSSY” on a whiteboard and kept it up for several weeks for all to see; a consultant reportedly told a high-ranking employee that he could “fuck” an unidentified woman if he wanted to, because “she works for me.”

    The New York Times’s report on the lawsuit ended with a Fox News connection:

    In one example of the firm’s allegedly inhospitable culture, the lawsuit described a women’s leadership forum that Mr. Cohen hosted in October 2016 at his 35,000-square-foot mansion in Greenwich, Conn. One of the main speakers was a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor who, according to the lawsuit, described Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, as “an accomplished man’s wife.”

    A person who attended the event confirmed that account.

    A review of the full legal complaint reveals that the aforementioned “psychiatrist and Fox News contributor” is Keith Ablow. Until recently, Ablow was a member of Fox News’ so-called “Medical A Team” -- a contributor role the unethicalpop psychologist” utilized primarily to feed junk science and bigotry to gullible Fox viewers.

    Though he’s now largely disappeared from Fox airwaves, some of Ablow’s apparent qualifications for speaking at a women’s leadership forum include past on-air treasures like regularly bullying transgender people, claiming same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality, delivering racist rants about former President Barack Obama and ebola, and criticizing German Jews for not having “more actively resisted” Nazi occupation.

    Of course, Ablow also has highly nuanced, informed opinions about gender. He has:

    • proclaimed that gender equality means men can hit women;
    • claimed young girls “provoked” harassment by wearing leggings to school;
    • written that “every single man alive has been sexually harassed by being exposed to sexually suggestive clothing worn by women specifically to convey erotic messages in schools and at work”;
    • suggested model Kendall Jenner sexually harassed him by appearing “half-naked” in public;
    • wondered if any actresses had ever "victimized [Harvey] Weinstein by playing on his narcissism and need for sex, exacting from him incredibly valuable opportunities"; 
    • argued Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Louis C.K. -- all reported for sexual harassment -- should have been “protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act”;
    • defended former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, questioning the timing of numerous women who came forward with stories about Moore abusing them when they were teenagers;
    • blamed Victoria’s Secret and women who shop there for “creating more Harvey Weinsteins”;
    • called for men to have veto power over women’s abortions;
    • suggested former first lady Michelle Obama should “drop a few” pounds;  
    • asserted that women are inherently less charismatic political candidates (unless they’re pretty like Sarah Palin); and
    • frequently fearmongered about so-called attacks on traditional masculinity.

    Bonner’s legal team surely knows a few things about the sort of misogyny likely featured at Point72’s “women’s leadership forum” with Ablow -- it’s the same firm handling several legal actions tackling serial workplace sexual harassment at 21st Century Fox.

  • How journalists can avoid spreading misinformation about anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy

    States and municipalities across the country are increasingly considering measures to protect youth from the dangerous practice

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Across the country, legislatures and policy makers are increasingly considering measures to protect LGBTQ minors from harmful conversion therapy, the discredited practice that seeks to turn LGBTQ people straight. As the efforts gain increased media attention, journalists have a responsibility to accurately portray the practice, including by noting that it has been called dangerous and ineffective by major medical associations, highlighting survivor voices when appropriate, avoiding spreading misinformation about the practice, and otherwise following best practices in reporting on conversion therapy.

    A Media Matters study of coverage of a successful county-wide conversion therapy ban in Palm Beach County, FL, found that broadcast outlets there featured considerably more voices supportive of the harmful practice and largely failed to note that the practice has been thoroughly discredited and that sexuality cannot be forcibly changed. Here's what journalists can do to avoid similar traps in their own reporting on conversion therapy:

    Know there is a national upswing in efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, which remains a widespread problem and is deeply unpopular

    Avoid suggesting that the most extreme forms of conversion therapy are the only practices that are harmful

    Note that major medical associations have found no scientific validity for conversion therapy and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed

    Include that conversion therapy has a myriad of harmful side effects, including suicidal ideation

    Don't uncritically feature conversion therapy proponents, who often distort facts and spread misinformation

    Include personal narratives of LGBTQ people and conversion therapy survivors when possible to add important context and reinforce medical consensus on the practice's harm

    Contextualize the extremists and hate groups who are suing over conversion therapy bans if including them in coverage

    Know there is a national upswing in efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, which remains a widespread problem and is deeply unpopular

    According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), nine states, Washington, D.C., and dozens of municipalities have active laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, which is also sometimes called “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts.” Governors from both sides of the aisle have signed bills banning the dangerous practice, with four Republican governors and five Democratic governors passing bans in their states, but the Movement Advancement Project has estimated that current bans protect only about 27 percent of LGBTQ Americans. Had these bans not been in place, an additional 6,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13-17 would have undergone conversion therapy "from a licensed health care professional before age 18," according to a January 2018 report released by the Williams Institute.

    At least 17 states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington) are currently considering bills that would ban conversion therapy, and many municipalities have passed or are considering similar ordinances. The Trevor Project, the leading crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, is working to have legislation submitted in all 50 states to protect youth from the dangerous practice, and in 2017, senators reintroduced a bill, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, that would have banned it nationwide. The bill, which did not come to a vote, was first introduced in 2015, aimed to classify conversion therapy as fraud, ultimately allowing state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the rule.

    Many Americans are not aware of the prevalence of conversion therapy and may consider it mostly a problem of the past, but the groundbreaking January report by the Williams Institute estimated that approximately 20,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 13-17, will undergo conversion therapy in the United States before the age of 18 from a licensed professional in states that do not ban the practice. An additional 57,000 “will receive conversion therapy from religious or spiritual advisors before they reach the age of 18.” The report also estimated that approximately 698,000 LGBTQ adults have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including 350,000 who underwent it as adolescents.

    The Williams Institute report also cited polling which found that conversion therapy is deeply unpopular, with only 8 percent of Americans believing that conversion therapy could change someone’s sexual orientation. At the state level, support for protecting LGBTQ youth from the dangerous practice is high; 71 percent of respondents to a poll in Florida, 64 percent of respondents to a Virginia poll, and 60 percent of respondents in a New Mexico poll supported a legal ban on conversion therapy.

    Avoid suggesting that the most extreme forms of conversion therapy are the only practices that are harmful

    There are a range of practices that fall under the umbrella of conversion therapy, from talk therapy to shock and aversion treatments, all of which are considered harmful. In their coverage of conversion therapy, journalists must resist pushing misinformation such as saying that the practice is harmless when it does not involve shock treatment or other blatantly physically harmful practices.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), conversion therapy involves “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)’s #BornPerfect fact sheet described a few examples that would fall under the range of conversion therapy practices, noting, “while some counselors still use physical treatments like aversive conditioning, the techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction or alter a person’s gender identity.” NCLR continued, “While these contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients.” Furthermore, in a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association detailed some aversive conversion therapy techniques, including, “inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis; providing electric shocks; or having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts.”

    It is imperative that audiences understand that the entire range of such practices is dangerous and ineffective. For example, NBC News covered the report from the Williams Institute about conversion therapy, writing that the entire practice is “medically defunct” before noting that “currently, talk therapy is the most commonly used therapy technique,” though “some practitioners have also combined this with ‘aversion treatments,’ such as induced vomiting or electric shocks.”

    While highlighting the range of practices associated with conversion therapy, journalists should avoid providing a platform for practitioners who claim conversion therapy is harmless because their practice does not include shock therapy. For example, Miami’s Fox affiliate WSVN 7News featured the testimony of local therapist Robert Otto who claims to help children with so-called “unwanted attractions”:

    ROBERT OTTO: I don’t shock people. I don’t hook them up to a little buzzer and connect them to a wall socket and flip a switch if they have a wrong thought. I listen to them, and I help them understand how those thoughts happen and where they come from.

    Though WSVN 7News’ segment followed Otto’s clip by noting that medical associations “oppose conversion therapy,” its audience may still inaccurately believe that conversion therapy is not dangerous when it does not involve physical pain. Talk therapy seeking to change sexual orientation or gender identity is still a dangerous form of conversion therapy.

    Note that major medical associations have found no scientific validity for conversion therapy and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed

    Reporters covering efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy should always include that the practice has been debunked and rejected by all major medical associations as ineffective, harmful, and unscientific and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed.

    The American Psychiatric Association’s official 2000 position statement on conversion therapy reaffirmed its 1998 position that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.” In addition, the organization wrote that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, that is based on the assumption … that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association released a 2009 resolution saying, “The APA concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.” A division of the American Counseling Association known as the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling also found that attempts “to alter or change gender identities and/or the sexual orientation of transgender clients across the lifespan may be detrimental, life-threatening, and are not empirically supported.” International organizations also recognize the junk science behind conversion therapy; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Therapies aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation have been deemed outside the scope of ethical practice.”

    When discussing conversion therapy, journalists should highlight official statements and positions from major medical associations such as these. For example, FOX 4 News in Kansas City, MO, covered a recently introduced bill to ban conversion therapy statewide in Missouri, describing the practice as “widely seen as misguided, ineffective, and some say dangerous” and noting, “Medical experts say conversion therapy can inflict serious emotional harm, with direct links to depression, social isolation, and suicide risk.”

    But despite widely accessible information about conversion therapy’s ineffectiveness, not all coverage includes this crucial fact. A Media Matters analysis of coverage of a ban in Palm Beach County, FL, found that only about 12 percent of segments mentioned that the practice has been debunked and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed.

    Include that conversion therapy has a myriad of harmful side effects, including suicidal ideation

    Journalists have a responsibility to educate the public not just about the ineffectiveness of conversion therapy but also its harmful side effects and universal condemnation from major medical associations. According to HRC, “every major medical and mental health organization in the United States has issued a statement condemning the use of conversion therapy” because “there is significant anecdotal evidence of harm to LGBTQ people resulting from attempts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

    For example, in a review of studies on conversion therapy, the American Psychological Association wrote:

    The reported negative social and emotional consequences [of conversion therapy] include self-reports of anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, guilt, hopelessness, deteriorated relationships with family, loss of social support, loss of faith, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, intrusive imagery, suicidal ideation, self-hatred, and sexual dysfunction.

    Additionally, the National Association of Social Workers has asserted that conversion therapy, “can lead to severe emotional damage”; the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that “it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation”; and the Pan-American Health Organization, a regional office of WHO, has noted, “There are many testimonies about the severe harm to mental and physical health that such ‘services’ can cause. Repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.”

    Journalists should always note in their coverage that the practice has dangerous side effects. For instance, The Arizona Republic’s website AZCentral noted the American Psychiatric Association’s list of harmful effects associated with conversion therapy and highlighted the Trevor Project’s list of side effects, which includes "increased depression, increased suicidal ideation and increased substance abuse.” In a segment covering the recent ban in Broward County, FL, CBS4 News Miami highlighted that conversion therapy is “ineffective, dangerous, and harmful to kids.” In contrast, while covering Washington state’s efforts to ban conversion therapy, CBS affiliate KIRO 7 News failed to mention that the practice has been debunked and is harmful to recipients. Similar segments aired several times without providing appropriate context on the dangers of conversion therapy.

    Don't uncritically feature conversion therapy proponents, who often distort facts and spread misinformation

    Media sometimes fall into the trap of providing a platform for conversion therapy proponents to spread misinformation about the practice, and outlets often fail to contextualize those figures’ affiliations and backgrounds. Journalists should resist allowing these proponents to spew misinformation in an attempt to show “both sides” of the story, particularly as the practice has been opposed by all major medical organizations.

    When covering a proposed ban in Virginia, Fox 5 D.C. gave an extended platform to conversion therapy advocate and practitioner Christopher Doyle, who claims that he got rid of his “unwanted attractions.” The segment failed to mention that Doyle is a major so-called “ex-gay” advocate who runs a pro-conversion therapy group called The National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and is a consultant for another group called Equality and Justice for All. He also signed on to a “Dear Legislator 2018” letter urging legislators to oppose conversion therapy bans. Both groups have been involved with major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom and a number of other anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups. Fox 5 D.C.’s segment failed to give any information about the dangers or ineffectiveness of conversion therapy and only referred to Doyle as a “psychotherapist.” Introducing the segment, reporter Ronica Cleary echoed his false point that these bans “do not help minors and can actually make the situation worse,” and throughout the segment, Doyle misinformed about the nature of conversion therapy, including saying, “It’s not licensed professional counselors that are doing bad work, it’s religious fanatics.” Doyle’s remark is in stark contrast to the Williams Institute, which has estimated that 20,000 LGBT youth “will receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18.”

    Similarly, NBC 12News in Phoenix, AZ, featured “California- and Texas-based therapist” David Pickup without context, where he falsely claimed that “there is no proof of harm.” The segment explicitly said that it would show “both sides of the issue, before featuring his comments. Pickup is a board member of pro-conversion therapy group the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and works closely with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, in addition to being linked to Doyle’s group NTFTE. According to NCLR, NARTH encourages its members “to consider techniques that include hypnosis, behavior and cognitive therapies, sex therapies, and psychotropic medication, among others.”

    Media Matters previously studied how West Palm Beach broadcast media provided a platform for another therapist tied to NARTH, Julie Hamilton, who also spread misinformation about conversion therapy. When featuring Hamilton, outlets failed to contextualize Hamilton’s ties to pro-conversion therapy groups or her book on the so-called “treatment” of “unwanted homosexual attractions.” Local media there also disproportionately featured testimony from supporters of conversion therapy even though the practice is deeply unpopular and widely condemned.

    If outlets do insist on hosting figures with a history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry, they must contextualize their backgrounds and affiliations and at the very least debunk their misinformation. Outlets fail their audiences by giving uncritical platforms to misinformation, as multiple studies have found that audiences’ attitudes and opinions can be swayed even after myths are thoroughly debunked. Media coverage should also represent the communities affected by conversion therapy and not give heightened platforms to voices who support such a widely debunked practice.

    Include personal narratives of LGBTQ people and conversion therapy survivors when possible to add important context and reinforce medical consensus on the practice's harm

    Because proponents of conversion therapy frequently misrepresent the harms of the practice and claim they may be helping people, sharing stories of survivors of conversion therapy helps accurately depict the realities of such experiences and rebut the myth that conversion therapy is not harmful. Survivors should never be forced to relive their traumatic experiences with conversion therapy to a reporter or the public; however, outlets should make space for survivors who are ready and willing to share their experiences or for LGBTQ individuals who understand the risk it poses to their community.

    For example, AZCentral’s report on a recently introduced bill in Arizona featured comments by Sam Brinton, a survivor and advocate who works with the Trevor Project. The report noted that Brinton, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after undergoing conversion therapy and quoted them saying that “we need to be addressing this” problem in order “to stop LGBT youth from dying by suicide.” Brinton also published a New York Times op-ed about their experience surviving conversion therapy, where they wrote:

    For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions with a counselor. I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get H.I.V. and AIDS.

    But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.

    Similarly, Miami’s WSVN 7News interviewed Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Justin Flippen about the then-proposed ban in Broward County, FL, who described his personal experiences surviving conversion therapy: "I saw other young people in these sessions that struggled emotionally, mentally with who they felt they were and what they were being told by these professionals."

    Also in Miami, CBS4 reported on the successful passage of Broward County’s ban and featured a transgender child and her accepting mother, who, the report said, were “thrilled to learn that Broward County commissioners passed this new ordinance.” Highlighting the stories of those who have survived conversion therapy helps humanize the issue and illustrate the risk it poses to LGBTQ people, and lifting up LGBTQ voices who have not undergone the dangerous treatment shows that they thrive when society accepts them for who they are rather than try to change them.

    Contextualize the extremists and hate groups who are suing over conversion therapy bans if including them in coverage

    Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists have stepped into a number of efforts to protect youth from conversion therapy and are attempting to block policies that would ban the practice. Outlets should be careful to not use hate groups as sources for this topic and should contextualize these groups if they include them in their coverage.

    According to the Sun-Sentinel, a Broward County, FL, newspaper, anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel has already filed a lawsuit against a successful ban in Tampa, FL, and has threatened to sue in Palm Beach County, FL. Liberty Counsel regularly engages in demonizing, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles and claiming that marriage equality and inclusive nondiscrimination protections could lead to civil war and death. However, Sun-Sentinel’s coverage described it as a “legal group” or “nonprofit,” noting in an article only that it “has had other battles over religion and homosexuality.” By not exposing the bigotry of bad actors in this space, outlets fail to show the extremism that underlies support for conversion therapy.

    Liberty Counsel has been vocally involved with current debates over conversion therapy, but its position is common among other often less-vocal hate groups. Anti-LGBTQ hate group ADF has repeatedly demonstrated its support for conversion therapy, including in court. ADF has frequently put LGBTQ youth in its crosshairs and has been leading the national campaign against transgender student equality in schools. At least a dozen of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ allies also support the harmful practice. Journalists must be cognizant of these groups, particularly when quoting figures who may be associated with them or highlighting their involvement in these debates.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.

  • Fox News executive VP rails against diversity of US Olympians: "Darker, Gayer, Different"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    UPDATE: Fox News deleted Moody's op-ed on February 9, and released a statement saying it "does not reflect views or values of Fox News."

    Fox News’ John Moody, who serves as the network’s executive vice president and an executive editor, criticized the diversity of Team USA in an op-ed a day before the 2018 Winter Olympics were scheduled to open in PyeongChang, South Korea.

    Moody decried the strides Team USA has made toward diversity of its athletes in a February 7 op-ed published on FoxNews.com. Though this is Team USA’s most diverse delegation of athletes ever, as The Washington Post reported, the U.S. Olympic Committee still has a lot of progress to make: Out of 243 athletes, two men are openly gay, “10 are African American — 4 percent — and another 10 are Asian American. The rest, by and large, are white.” Moody suggested without basis that the focus on diversity may cost Team USA medals, and speculated that athletes were given spots on the team that they didn’t earn during their trials, because of their race. From Moody’s op-ed:

    Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to “Darker, Gayer, Different.” If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work.

    A USOC official was quoted this week expressing pride (what else?) about taking the most diverse U.S. squad ever to the Winter Olympics. That was followed by a, frankly, embarrassing laundry list of how many African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes are on this year’s U.S. team. No sport that we are aware of awards points – or medals – for skin color or sexual orientation.

    For the current USOC, a dream team should look more like the general population. So, while uncomfortable, the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?

  • The Daily Caller has been making light of child sexual abuse for years

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Tucker Carlson’s right-wing outlet The Daily Caller has long advanced conspiracy theories, recently promoted Pizzagaters and white nationalists, and routinely propped up GOP policies with shoddy online writing, including from notorious plagiarizers. But there is one uniquely horrifying editorial element of this website that it deserves to be tied to forever: The Daily Caller has had a years-long, unchecked fixation with mocking survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

    For years, The Daily Caller has routinely posted abhorrent stories making fun of reported sexual abuse of children and teenagers by adult women perpetrators. A whole category of posts beginning in 2013 are tagged as “Teacher sex” on the site -- more than 100 in total. Taken together, they suggest that boys and young men cannot be victims of sexual abuse if the reported abuser is an attractive young woman who uses gifts or special treatment as a form of sexual coercion. The "Teacher sex" posts largely follow the same formula:

    Another thing nearly all these posts have in common: They are written by Eric Owens, The Daily Caller’s education editor.

    Here are just a few examples that have been posted since last October, when the #MeToo movement began to dominate public conversation:

    [2/6/18]

    [12/6/17]

    [11/19/17]

    [11/10/17]

    [10/28/17]

    Owens also has a long history of mocking queer and trans students -- which seems to have kept his “education” writing isolated in the Daily Caller cesspool. (Owens was previously moonlighting at a niche education outlet but appeared to have stopped writing for it after Media Matters pointed out his predilection for bullying LGBTQ kids back in 2015.)

    It’s worth remembering that The Daily Caller was co-founded by professional misogynist and outrage-haver Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ far-right and neo-Nazi darling. Carlson uses his current Fox evening show to bully and yell about women -- often right in their faces -- and sometimes spur their online harassment. It’s no wonder his website seems to devote its entire “entertainment” section to objectifying women celebrities, or that its education editor is focused primarily on writing horrifying things about vulnerable kids.

    It’s toxic masculinity at its peak: The Daily Caller wants its young men readers to believe they have the right to objectify women’s bodies; and if someone tries to hurt them or take away any ownership of their own bodies, the correct reaction is to repress the trauma they experience and pretend the abuse was funny and cool.

  • A “pivotal player” at Trump's health department previously promoted harmful "ex-gay" conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Shannon Royce, who has reportedly emerged “as a pivotal player” at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), previously suggested that so-called conversion therapy was an antidote to marriage equality and worked for anti-LGBTQ hate groups that have promoted the dangerous and widely discredited practice.

    Politico reported on January 22 that Royce, the director of HHS’ Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has become "a pivotal player” at the department and has been part of a group that's “spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care.” The publication added that she has also helped spearhead “a vast outreach initiative to religious groups.”

    During a November appearance on a right-wing radio program, Royce suggested that she wanted to increase partnerships with groups that were "considered hateful” under President Barack Obama’s administration, including organizations that are against same-sex couples getting married and adopting children.

    Royce has a history of promoting anti-LGBTQ groups and causes, including the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The Human Rights Campaign has written that conversion therapy, sometimes known as reparative therapy, is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy.” The American Psychiatric Association has found that the potential risks of the so-called therapy “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

    Royce talked to The New York Times Magazine in 2005 about same-sex marriage and told reporter Russell Shorto that “the ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story”:

    The solution to the problem of the gay lifestyle in this view is, of course, Christ. The reparative therapy or "ex-gay" movement has been repudiated by major health and mental health organizations for its assumption that homosexuality is a defect to be repaired -- indeed, in May members of the American Psychiatric Association recommended that the organization support gay marriage in the interest of promoting mental health. But for both the national leaders on the anti-gay-marriage front and Christian community activists, "ex-gay" and "gay marriage" are closely connected, the first being the antidote to the second. Shannon Royce, the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, advised me explicitly: "The ex-gay movement is a very important part of the story." [Pastor Brian] Racer spelled it out clearly as well. "I've had quite a few opportunities to counsel people who were in a homosexual lifestyle," he said. "They have generally found themselves in a desperate place. They know that Christ promises an abundant life, but that promise was made with some restrictions. These people have tried to find fulfillment in ways that are against God's principles. So you don't want to further the error by allowing gay marriage. Most of these folks have had an abusive situation that goes back to childhood. You want to heal that. You want to hold back the tide and not let such a high impact issue harm the whole society."

    Royce has also held senior roles in organizations that promoted conversion therapy. 

    She worked as the chief of staff for the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council before landing her federal job. FRC’s official position states that it “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects." 

    The FRC explicitly supports conversion therapy as a practice. The Human Rights Campaign notes that FRC promotes the "idea that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation, and that even if you can’t stop 'involuntary attraction,' you can just not act on it." FRC has also fought against efforts to ban the practice in states.

    Royce was also the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, which first organized against same-sex marriage in 2004 and believed "marriage is the union of one man and one woman" (the group and its website are now defunct). The project's participants included numerous organizations that have supported conversion therapy, including the American Family Association, Exodus InternationalFocus on the Family, and FRC.

    Its “resources” page also included a link to advertisements from Exodus International touting the supposed effectiveness of the dangerous practice.

    Exodus International was explicitly dedicated to promoting conversion therapy. The group’s website in 2004 stated that it is “a worldwide interdenominational, Christian organization called to encourage, strengthen, unify and equip Christians to minister the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ to those affected by homosexuality.” The New York Times reported in 2012 that Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, “declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that ‘reparative therapy’ offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful.” The following year, the group issued an apology for its efforts and shut down its operations.  

    Royce was also the executive director of The Arlington Group, a coalition of numerous Christian conservatives that included Exodus International's Alan Chambers.

    The Marriage Amendment Project’s FAQ page also pushed anti-LGBTQ myths. The project claimed that “the most important reason to protect traditional marriage is for the well-being of children. Marriage still provides the most stable and nurturing environment for the raising and education of children. Numerous studies have indicated that family stability has more of an effect on children than the ‘happiness’ of the parents involved. … Children, no matter the age, innately desire a relationship with their mother and father. Same-sex marriage cannot provide that inherent need children carry with them throughout their lives.” An ACLU fact sheet states that “all of the research to date has reached the same unequivocal conclusion about gay parenting: the children of lesbian and gay parents grow up as successfully as the children of heterosexual parents.”

    Royce also brings anti-choice views to the department. Right Wing Watch reported that she attended a recent Evangelicals for Life conference and said that “we have such an amazing team at HHS, that is absolutely a pro-life team across the spectrum, and that is playing out in many ways.”

    FRC's "Washington Update" recently noted Royce's tenure at the department, among other things, and wrote: "For Trump voters, few things are as rewarding as the turnaround at HHS." 

    A request for comment to the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was not returned.

  • Video: Mainstream media ignored the Women's March. Here's what Women's March participants said about the media.

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    On January 20 and 21, over a million protesters marched all over the United States and the world for the 2018 Women’s March. Some estimates include: 200,000 marchers in New York City, 300,000 in Chicago, and 600,000 in Los Angeles. But despite the high turnout especially one year after the first Women’s March -- which not only broke records for attendance, but has since grown into a movement -- news outlets largely ignored these historic protests let alone actually interview anyone who organized or participated in them.

    We went to a sister march in Washington D.C. on Saturday, January 20 and spoke to a few of the estimated 10,000 protesters and activists who were there.

    Here’s what they had to say:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom spent big fighting against marriage equality in Latin America and Europe. It's losing.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, fought against marriage equality in Latin American and European courts, including by presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the Americas. Multinational courts in both countries recently ruled or advised in favor of same-sex marriage and spousal recognition. The international courts’ opinions show that attempting to export anti-LGBTQ bigotry abroad is not always a winning battle, even as ADF gains influence in our court system.

    The IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that “brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.” On May 17 of last year, ADF International presented oral arguments before the IACHR against legalizing marriage equality in its member states. The IACHR was reviewing a petition submitted in 2016 by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, "who had vowed to increase rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the majority Catholic country.” Talking about the case, ADF International legal counsel Neydy Casillas had said, “While the right for men and women to marry is recognized under international law, there is no corresponding right to same-sex marriage or a name change based on ‘gender identity.’” Casillas continued, “The American Convention on Human Rights does not obligate Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships.”

    On January 9, Reuters reported that the IACHR ruled “that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.” According to AFP and Costa Rica’s Tico Times, the ruling “said gay married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country’s laws.” The court also ruled that transgender people should be able to change their names on identification documents. In response, Costa Rica’s government said that it “would take steps to adopt the court’s criteria ‘in its totality.’” And on January 17, Panama’s government also “signaled it plans to comply” with the ruling, according to the Washington Blade.

    ADF International showcased this work in its Annual Report 2017, writing that its team argued “in defence of Costa Rica’s definition of marriage.” ADF and another anti-LGBTQ hate group, C-Fam, both participated in the 47th annual session of the OAS General Assembly.

    In a separate international case, ADF submitted an intervention in April to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a married Romanian and American gay couple who were fighting for their right to live together. The couple challenged Romanian authorities’ decision to refuse the American husband’s residence permit. On January 11, a senior adviser to the ECJ backed legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse.” According to the BBC, “ECJ Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the term ‘spouse’ included, under the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members, spouses of the same sex.” “Opinions given by ECJ advocate generals are non-binding on the court’s judges,” The Guardian noted, “but are normally followed by the full court.” The court decision, which is expected in a few months, “could have wider repercussions for the range of benefits and rights” same-sex married couples can claim.

    As expected, ADF saw the repercussions of the decision in a very different way. In April, ADF International legal counsel Adina Portaru, the “leading lawyer on the third party intervention,” released a statement saying, "Forcing a Member State to amend its national law to legally recognize same-sex relationships means deliberately ignoring a national democratic process." The statement also claimed that the ECJ "runs the risk of undermining the law" in many EU countries and "creating legal chaos as a result."

    ADF International also highlighted its work before the ECJ in its Annual Report 2017. Additionally, ADF gave legal assistance to a “Coalition for Family” in Romania that worked to collect 3 million signatures across the country in order to get a referendum “to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage” up for a vote. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also gave legal assistance and organized for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples in 2015, to visit the coalition. The United Nations has granted ADF a special consultative status, which allows its attorneys access to treaty and convention drafting meetings. C-Fam also has the same status.

    ADF is the largest designated anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and the group and its representatives have supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing gay sex both domestically and abroad. According to a major investigative report by The Nation’s Sarah Posner, ADF has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including its role in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF’s international arm has grown to “50 team members in 8 countries,” with a budget of more than 3.5 million euros, and engagement in “580 ongoing legal matters in 51 countries.” Its work in international courts proves that ADF is not simply interested in “free speech” and is in fact dedicated to eroding every aspect of LGBTQ equality both in the U.S. and abroad. It is to be seen whether ADF’s arguments prove successful in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before our own nation’s high court, but failures abroad illustrate that international courts aren’t falling for them.

  • Senior DHS adviser Frank Wuco claimed "societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly" for LGBTQ acceptance

    Wuco also said transgender people lead a "horrible existence" and remarked that it would be “great” to pretend to be transgender to “go into the women’s shower” at the gym

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Frank Wuco, a senior White House adviser to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), previously made repeated appearances on an anti-LGBTQ radio program and said that “societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly” for LGBTQ acceptance because those places have no "cultural" and "moral center." He also smeared transgender people as sick individuals who lead a “horrible existence” and claimed it would be “great” to pretend to be transgender to “go into the women’s shower” at the gym.

    Wuco’s remarks came during appearances with Charles Butler, a virulently anti-LGBTQ host who twice used the anti-gay slur “faggots” during one of Wuco’s segments.

    Wuco is a retired naval intelligence officer who worked as a conservative pundit and radio host before joining President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017. He has also headed the DHS’ Executive Order Task Force, which was organized to implement Trump’s orders to the agency, including his ban on travelers from some Muslim countries.

    Wuco has a long history of making anti-Muslim remarks, including claiming that Muslims “by-and-large” will “subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members” and enact Sharia law. He also suggested in 2014 that banning visas from “Muslim nations” is “one of these sort of great ideas that can never happen” more than a year before Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States.

    CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie and Nathan McDermott reviewed “more than 40 hours” of Wuco’s conservative talk radio show and other media appearances and found that Wuco had “mocked the LGBT community,” “criticized gay-straight alliances in high schools,” and said “that gay people hijacked the word ‘gay’ from happy people and that he was going to reclaim the word.”

    Media Matters recently found other instances of Wuco pushing anti-LGBTQ bigotry, particularly against transgender people, during his appearances on the right-wing radio program The Reality Check in 2016. The show is hosted by Charles Butler, who frequently smears LGBTQ individuals. According to its website, the show has been syndicated through outlets such as Genesis Communication Network (Alex Jones’ radio syndicator), Red State Talk Radio, and Talk Stream Live.

    Wuco’s anti-LGBTQ stance aligns seamlessly with that of the Trump administration, which spent its first year relentlessly attacking LGBTQ equality and fighting against transgender Americans.

    In February 2016, Butler recounted a story on his show in which he told a woman at his club: "I feel transgender today. I think I’ll come in the ladies’ restroom. ... I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding." 

    Wuco, who was a guest on the show, replied to Butler's story: “What a great thing this can be if transgender can just be, rename it just whimsical transgender and one day on a whimsy, you’re at the Y, or you’re at the gym, and you just, 'I feel like, I feel like being a woman today, I’m going to go into the women’s shower.’”

    While speaking with Wuco in May 2016, Butler linked then-President Barack Obama’s decision to allow transgender individuals to serve in the military -- which Trump has attempted to rescind -- to “paganism, hedonism, bestiality, Sodom and Gomorrah.” Wuco replied by claiming that the “patterns are clear. Societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly ... not from just from a biblical, spiritual standpoint, but just from a human engineering standpoint in their ability to sustain a order and a society with no cultural center and no moral center. So this is a pattern that will repeat itself.”

    In response to Butler’s comment that “transgenders are sick people,” Wuco said: “How often do you hear or see or encounter somebody who suffers from this malady -- and I have deep sympathy for people like this. I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes inside their heads,” adding that they lead a “horrible existence. How many of them made this transformation and all of a sudden they’re happy?”

    Before concluding the segment, Butler twice used an anti-gay slur, calling two people whom he allegedly encountered at a hotel “faggots.”

    Wuco did not directly respond to the slurs. After Butler said that Wuco had to go, Wuco stated before signing off: "Charles, you take it easy, my man." He appeared again on the show after Trump’s election in November, which was shortly before he got his senior job at DHS.

    DHS did not respond to a request for comment. 

    From the February 1, 2016, edition of The Reality Check:

    CHARLES BUTLER (HOST): I said to this woman in my club the other day. I said, I was coming out of the bathroom, she was going into the ladies’ restroom. I said, “I feel transgender today. I think I’ll come in the ladies’ restroom.” And she said, “Ah, ah, ah, ah, uh, ah!” I said, “I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.”

    CALLER: That’s a good one, I’ll remember that!

    BUTLER: I was sitting in the restaurant, she walked up to me and she said, “Sir, I was all for this transgender thing, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, why shouldn’t they have an opportunity if they feel like a woman,’” she said, “until you hit me in the face with it I’d really never -- I was just taken aback.” I said, “Well, get ready because I’m coming.” And she just cracked up. She cracked up. She said, “Oh, you are so funny.”  

    FRANK WUCO: Yeah, it’s -- what a great thing this can be if transgender can just be, rename it just whimsical transgender and one day on a whimsy, you’re at the Y, or you’re at the gym, and you just, “I feel like, I feel like being a woman today, I’m going to go into the women’s shower.”  

    BUTLER: That’s how I feel, baby. That’s how I feel, baby.

    WUCO: -- when you depart the plane of common sense insanity.

    From the May 10, 2016, edition of The Reality Check:      

    CHARLES BUTLER (HOST): Paganism, hedonism, bestiality, Sodom and Gomorrah. This is not new. This is nothing new. This is history, this is the Bible. We are allowing this immoral bastard sitting in the White House to destroy this country and it’s unconscionable that people won’t rise up and say something.

    FRANK WUCO: Well, Charles, [unintelligible] the patterns are clear. Societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly if this -- not from just from a biblical, spiritual standpoint, but just from a human engineering standpoint in their ability to sustain a order and a society with no cultural center and no moral center. So this is a pattern that will repeat itself.

    But here’s the thing. You and I grew up in a time where some of the list of things that you mentioned, and I’ll add to that list, things like socialism and communism, were considered dangerous, were considered damaging. These days one of the great challenges we face is that the overwhelming majority of young people in this country, and which comprise a large, large number of our population, when we say the word communism, or we say the word socialism, it’s not a red flag anymore. It’s a badge of honor. It’s considered a good thing to them. It’s considered a cool thing that their parents just didn’t understand, that failed in places like the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe only because it wasn’t executed properly. And many of these people are intent on seeing a socialist society prevail and evolution towards communism, only they’re going to be different from generations before that failed in its execution. It’s a very frightening thing. It’s no longer seen as a bad thing.

    BUTLER: Mhm, it’s true. That’s true. But this man is saying exactly what -- this doctor -- I’m repeating what this -- I said before I read this article, I said time and time again, yesterday I said that these transgenders need to see a doctor or psychiatrist instead of trying to cater to their B.S. These people are sick. I said that. Now, this is what a doctor said back in last year, in July last year. I missed this article. I didn’t see get this but just common sense tells me that transgenders are sick people.

    WUCO: Well listen, Charles, how often do you hear or see or encounter somebody who suffers from this malady -- and I have deep sympathy for people like this. I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes inside their heads, it’s got [unintelligible] horrible existence. How many of them made this transformation and all of a sudden they’re happy?

    BUTLER: They’re never happy.

    WUCO: Why does the military have to --

    BUTLER: I’ve never seen a homosexual that was happy. I’ve never seen a transsexual that was happy. I’ve never seen -- these are some angry, sad, devious, deceitful people. I’ll never forget going in a hotel, the Mondrian Hotel, and I was in -- my girlfriend and I were in an elevator with these faggots. And when I got out of the elevator, walked to my room, they held the elevator to see what room I was in, and then they brought some poop and put it in front of our room. These disgusting faggots. Anyway, hey man, I know you gotta go so I’m going to keep rolling here.

    WUCO: Charles, you take it easy, my man.

  • Alex Jones' mockery of Oprah's childhood rape is a harbinger of pro-Trump media in 2020

    Jones also called her a Nazi who is "as bad as Hitler" and hosted Gavin McInnes to repeatedly call her a "slut"

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones, a leading conspiracy theorist and top media ally of President Donald Trump, has reacted to reports that media mogul Oprah Winfrey might run for president by engaging in a defamatory smear campaign. Jones attacked Winfrey, saying she is a Hitlerian eugenicist, mocking her for being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, falsely claiming that she helped Harvey Weinstein rape women, and hosting a guest who repeatedly called her a slut. Jones’ racially charged and misogynistic vitriol is an indication of how he will react if he feels that Trump’s position as president is remotely threatened by another potential candidate.

    As rumors circulated that Winfrey may be considering running for president in 2020 following her Golden Globes awards speech, Jones first reacted by calling Winfrey the “black face” of various atrocities, including sterilization and eugenics. During his January 8 broadcast, Jones seized on philanthropic work Winfrey has done around the world to claim she is a “top eugenicist,” saying, “They want to call Trump a Nazi? Look out, lady, we know what you’re designed to do. You’re the black face to carry out the enslavement of black folks and everybody else.”

    Jones repeatedly riffed on this racially charged theme in the same show, calling Winfrey the “black face” of eugenics, population control, and “black abortion” -- saying to his listeners, “If you are a real white supremacist, you really should support her.” As he escalated his claims, Jones indicated his willingness to be an “attack dog” for Trump -- who did not criticize Winfrey when asked about her except for saying he’ll beat her if she runs -- calling Winfrey an “African depopulating witch” and a “hardcore Nazi” who is “as bad as Hitler.” On January 10, Jones responded to controversy that stemmed from these types of claims by falsely claiming that there were “plenty of black Nazis in World War II.”

    He also sought to tie Winfrey, who has discussed her own experience of repeated physical and sexual abuse during her childhood, to serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, seizing on a picture of the two from an awards show and misrepresenting the account of an actress who said she was initially impressed by Weinstein because he was with Winfrey and model Naomi Campbell when they met. There is no evidence Winfrey knew about Weinstein’s assaults before they were publicly reported, or helped enable them. And days after the initial reports on Weinstein were published, Winfrey spoke out, saying Weinstein had engaged in “hideous behavior.” Still, Jones falsely said on his show that “reportedly Oprah will not criticize Weinstein or say anything he has done is wrong, she has said nothing about Weinstein or Hollywood’s problem with women” and called Winfrey a “black face, a smiling, sweet face, to lure little flies and little bugs into” Weinstein’s “spider's web.”   

    Jones enlisted racist and anti-Semitic troll Gavin McInnes to aid him in smearing Winfrey during multiple segments of his January 9 broadcast. Jones and McInnes ridiculed Winfrey for being a survivor of sexual abuse. Referring to Oprah’s account of being raped by her cousin when she was 9 years old, McInnes said, “She gets raped by her black cousin, allegedly, and decides to pin the blame on white men and Trump. It’s like she uses her rape as a flamethrower and just directs it at anyone she doesn’t like. If her flight is late, it was my rape.” Jones responded by imitating Winfrey’s famous “you get a car” line, saying, “You get a rape, you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist.” Other derogatory comments made by Jones and McInnes during the segment include:  

    • McInnes called Winfrey a “lesbian” and said she uses her partner Stedman Graham as “a human dildo.”

    • Jones and McInnes talked about having sex with Winfrey. Jones said, “Can you imagine being a high-end escort in New York, or Chicago, or L.A. and you knock-knock, you go to the door and it’s Oprah Winfrey in a dominatrix outfit?” McInnes replied, “I would do it and I don’t care what my wife says. I would do it for the story. Can you imagine at the bar with your buddies and you just got back from having sex with a three billionaire lesbian mogul.”

    • McInnes said that Winfrey was “remarkably promiscuous in the day, to put it mildly, she was turning tricks, she was basically a prostitute” and she “still has that ghetto mentality of ‘You want to try this girl out for awhile, let’s try this girl, hey, mind if I come along?’”

    • He also said that “she was such a slut, her mother sent her to, what’s his name, Vernon Winfrey” and that she was “slutting around like a prostitute.”

    • Jones claimed that Winfrey is “well-known with Weinstein to enjoy tail together” and that “Hollywood contacts” tell him that both “go into a room with a couple hot young chicks and it’s party time.”

    • Jones said that Winfrey “is not going to disavow Weinstein” -- even though she already did -- “because she’s probably a bigger deviant than Weinstein.”

    • Jones falsely claimed that “literally Oprah Winfrey is known for luring women into Harvey Weinstein.”

    While it would be nice to be able to dismiss Jones as an unhinged hatemonger yelling into the void, he boasts close connections to Trump and his administration. During his January 9 show, Jones said that Trump regularly consumes clips of his show that are delivered to him and has told Jones, “I really like watching you in the clips. You know, you're going to be the next Rush Limbaugh. Boy, I wish they had more stuff like you covered on mainstream TV, but I like you in the clips.”

  • Recent reporting on violence against trans inmates illustrates the dangers of Trump administration rescinding protections

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is negotiating with the Trump administration to undo Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender inmates

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is considering undoing protections for incarcerated transgender people after reportedly being in “negotiations” with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Transgender inmates are frequently housed with members of the opposite gender and experience the highest reported incidence of sexual violence in prisons and jails. The dangers they face are illustrated by a number of recent media reports on lawsuits trans women have filed regarding their treatment while incarcerated.

    On January 4, The Dallas Morning News reported that ADF is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The suit demands that the bureau “remove all transgender inmates” from a female-only prison in Fort Worth, TX. In an effort to settle the lawsuit, ADF is “in negotiations with the federal government” over undoing policies that protect transgender inmates. The article predicted that the Trump administration was “likely to undo” those policies. ADF lawyer Gary McCaleb, who has also been active in ADF’s work against transgender student equality in schools, told The Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” that the BOP would change some of its transgender inmate protections, particularly on the issue of whether transgender women are housed with non-trans prisoners. ADF’s work here is just one piece of its relentless campaign against LGBTQ equality.

    In weighing whether to remove protections for incarcerated trans people, ADF and the Trump administration will likely be taking aim at two pieces of Obama-era guidance. One is a January 18, 2017, “Transgender Offender Manual,” which gave guidance on the treatment of transgender inmates and sought to “ensure the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) properly identifies, tracks, and provides services to the transgender population.” The other guidance likely to be affected is the Justice Department’s 2012 standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) that require detention facilities to “incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols.” Those rules say that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, … the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.”

    According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, transgender protections under PREA can work as “a mechanism through which trans inmates essentially sue prisons for violating their rights under federal law.” Thus, the attempts by ADF and the Trump administration to alter those policies could affect transgender inmates’ ability to sue for inhumane treatment.

    Recent coverage of a number of lawsuits filed by transgender women who reported sexual and physical violence and harassment in prisons and jails demonstrates the countless hardships transgender inmates encounter. In November, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the county and jail officials after she was “placed in a male holding cell” in Allegheny County, PA. The woman was “raped and physically assaulted by [an] inmate -- despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell’s emergency call button.” The woman also said she was “harassed physically and called derogatory names” and had men watch her shower and strip-search her.

    On January 5, the Associated Press reported that a transgender woman incarcerated in Illinois “is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison” after experiencing “sexual assault, taunting and beatings” in male prisons. Her lawsuit described “how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment,” saying “that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed.” The AP reported on another filing from her lawyers that said it had been “devastating psychologically” for her to be unable to present “herself as a female” while incarcerated. The article noted the “greater risk of abuse” for trans inmates, including that “nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards — compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.”

    On that same day, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts “asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman” who is housed in a men’s prison. In her lawsuit, the woman said that she has been subjected “to strip searches by male guards” who “routinely groped” her and forced her “to shower in the presence of male inmates.” In yet another January report, the New York Post wrote that a transgender woman who was incarcerated in the notoriously violent Rikers Island jail complex is suing New York City and correction officials after being “beaten so severely by several guards that they broke her jaw, knocked out teeth and left her with two black eyes.”

    In December, Aviva Stahl wrote a piece for The Village Voice, titled “New York City Jails Still Can’t Keep Trans Prisoners Safe,” analyzing the state of incarcerated transgender people in the city's jails. Stahl’s report noted that advocates say the city’s Department of Correction has failed to protect transgender prisoners and that “some trans women have been denied entry” into the city’s Transgender Housing Unit (THU) or “been transferred into male facilities after their external genitalia were observed in medical exams.” Stahl noted that these failures are violations “of national prison anti-rape standards,” the very standards that could be affected by the negotiations between the ADF and the Trump administration. The article added that transgender people have “the highest reported incidence of sexual violence of any demographic group studied, more than eight times the rate for prisoners overall,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 2007 study found an even higher rate for transgender women: “59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    These abuses are happening even with the Obama-era protections in place. If ADF is successful in getting the Trump administration to rescind these limited protections, trans lives and bodies will be at still further risk.

  • 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.