Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been surprisingly successful in pushing the myth that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) bases its hate group designations on conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. But SPLC has clearly stated multiple times that it designates organizations as “hate groups” when they engage in inflammatory, hateful name-calling, spread malicious lies and misinformation, or support the criminalization of LGBTQ people -- not because of biblical or conservative beliefs. Journalists have a responsibility to be armed with the facts and accurately cover SPLC’s recent report on extremism and designated hate groups.
On February 15, SPLC released its annual census of hate and extremism in the United States for 2016, which includes 52 active anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Over the six years that it has tracked anti-LGBTQ extremism, SPLC has clearly and repeatedly explained that it designates anti-LGBTQ organizations as hate groups when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize LGBTQ people.
As SPLC stated in 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.” But despite SPLC’s clear explanations of its criteria, mainstream media outlets have long allowed anti-LGBTQ hate groups to defend themselves with that very myth. For example, a 2016 Media Matters study found that from June 2014 through June 2016, the only instance in which The New York Times referenced SPLC’s “hate group” label when reporting on an anti-LGBTQ organization was in an article that questioned the validity of the designation and SPLC’s expertise. The article improperly characterized the designation criteria, alleging that SPLC has been “criticized for including groups that fall within the conservative mainstream, like the Family Research Council, based on their stances on gay issues.”
For years, media coverage of LGBTQ equality has followed a “God vs. gays” narrative that pits LGBTQ people against religious -- and specifically Christian -- communities. But in recent years, a growing number -- now a majority -- of Christians believe that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” And current public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans from all religious denominations support same-sex marriages and broad-based LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections without religious exemptions. Now more than ever, it’s bad journalism to equate mainstream Christian organizations with hate groups that actively fund and manufacture junk science to serve as “evidence” to harass and attack LGBTQ people.
The newest anti-LGBTQ hate group on SPLC’s list is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a media-savvy legal giant with a $48 million-plus annual budget that has actively worked to criminalize gay people. Despite this background, journalists typically identify the group merely as a “Christian legal organization.” Given ADF’s staggeringly high number of active lawsuits and its successful track record with the United States Supreme Court, it’s a hate group that will remain in the media spotlight. Journalists need to be aware of ADF’s -- and other hate group’s -- extremism and history of spreading malicious disinformation and be ready to fact-check anti-LGBTQ lies.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko.