Alliance Defending Freedom | Media Matters for America

Alliance Defending Freedom

Tags ››› Alliance Defending Freedom
  • Alliance Defending Freedom has lost its latest effort in a decade-long battle to prohibit marriage equality in Romania’s constitution

    The massive anti-LGBTQ organization has been working to push its goals internationally, including in Romania, where same-sex partners already cannot marry

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Romanian referendum that would have amended the country’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman” failed this past weekend after it did not receive the 30 percent turnout required to be valid. Influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) worked extensively in favor of the referendum and has been actively working against marriage equality in Romania for more than a decade.

    Though the referendum failed to draw more than roughly 20 percent of voters, the BBC reported that polls taken before the vote “indicated support for the change was as high as 90%.” Romanian LGBTQ advocates successfully urged their supporters to boycott the polls to invalidate the vote, even though the government took the “unusual step” of extending the referendum to two days at a cost of $46 million.

    This was not the first campaign against marriage equality in Romania. The Los Angeles Times reported that Peter Costea of Coalition for Family, the Romanian organization “leading the charge on the referendum,” first pushed to change the country’s constitution 13 years ago by working with “local Christian groups.” The Times continued, “This time, he’s backed by far more firepower. Costea turned to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based association that has emerged as an influential legal force for the American religious right — part of a larger pattern of conservative evangelical and other Christian groups finding fertile new ground for pressing an agenda against marriage between same-sex partners.”

    But Costea has actually worked with ADF for more than a decade. He is listed as one of its 3,200 allied attorneys, and Costea and ADF “provided instrumental legal counsel to Romanian Parliament” regarding a civil code enacted in 2009 that defined marriage as between “man and woman.” It does appear, however, that Trump’s election was a catalyst for their latest push, as the Times wrote:

    Within days of Trump’s election victory, the Coalition for Families was “contacted by higher-ups in the Romanian government to say that things had changed in Romania because things had changed in the White House,” Costea said. They promised to help jump-start the referendum campaign, he said.

    To that end, the Alliance Defending Freedom has held conferences and run an informational campaign backing the Coalition of Families to promote the Romanian measure. Along with Liberty Counsel, it also submitted friend-of-the-court memos to Romania’s Constitutional Court.

    Alliance Defending Freedom has worked on anti-LGBTQ measures in Romania for more than a decade

    Over the last two years, ADF worked extensively to boost Romania’s anti-LGBTQ referendum from its initial petition to the final vote. In July 2016, ADF International filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Romanian Constitutional Court in support of the referendum, and ADF co-hosted a conference with the Coalition for Family at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest in 2017. ADF continued advocating for the constitutional amendment through social media posts, news releases, videos, official reports, and analysis. In a related event, ADF also submitted an intervention in 2017 to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a gay Romanian and American married couple who were fighting for their right to live together in Romania. The ECJ ultimately backed the legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse,” which was the language the 2018 referendum attempted to amend. According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. groups including ADF have aligned with Eastern European conservatives because their ideology “meshes perfectly with the goals of Christian conservatives in the U.S.”

    Additionally, a 2012 book by Duquesne University political science professor Clifford Bob detailed work by ADF and Costea in Romania a decade ago that has striking similarities to their most recent work together, demonstrating that the alliance between ADF and Eastern European conservatives is not new. According to the book, ADF became involved in the Romanian marriage debate a decade ago after Costea contacted the extreme anti-LGBTQ group for legal help with his first campaign to amend Romania’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman.” Bob wrote that Romanian religious groups “had gathered the necessary signatures for validation by the Romanian Constitutional Court” by December 2006, and Costea “engineered the filing of amicus curiae briefs, a tactic unprecedented in Romanian jurisprudence,” to bolster the petition. According to the book, ADF “reviewed Costea’s brief and filed its own.”

    After the petition “failed to meet the Constitution's geographic distribution requirement for citizen initiatives” and thus did not make it to a referendum, Costea set up a formal organization, the Alliance of Romania’s Families (ARF), which he said was “absolutely” modeled on anti-LGBTQ groups “Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, [and] ADF.” ADF helped launch ARF, and former ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull said ADF worked to “shape and define the organization.” ADF also sponsored Costea’s attendance “at one of its multiday, all-expenses-paid National Litigation Academies.”

    According to Bob’s book, ADF offered “to assist any government in defending its marriage laws” when ARF began its first campaign, in 2008, to amend Romania’s family code “with a defense of marriage provision similar to those in the United States.” That year, ADF provided legal arguments defending the amendment, and its ally the World Congress of Families (WCF) sent a petition signed by anti-LGBTQ leaders from across the world, including ADF’s Glen Lavy, to the Romanian Parliament. In 2009, “ARF worked with ADF and Romanian legislators to draft defense of marriage language even broader than the recent amendment,” resulting in a bill that prohibited same-sex adoption and refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries. When the bill passed, ADF hailed Parliament’s decision and noted that it had provided “legal counsel to several prominent Romanian parliamentarians” who introduced and helped pass the policies.

    Other anti-LGBTQ groups in the U.S. have worked against marriage equality in Romania

    Other U.S.-based extreme anti-LGBTQ groups also assisted with Romania’s referendum, including Liberty Counsel and the World Congress of Families (WCF). Liberty Counsel lawyer Harry Mihet and client Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who made national headlines after refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, traveled around Romania for nine days to support the referendum. They held conferences in Romania’s largest cities; met with archbishops of the Romanian Orthodox Church and members of Parliament; and appeared together in TV and radio interviews. The day before the 2018 vote, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver discussed the impact the trip had on the referendum in a podcast. Prior to the group’s campaigning trip, Liberty Counsel also provided legal support in an amicus brief to the Romanian Constitutional Court.

    WCF, which sent the 2008 petition against marriage equality in Romania, invited a member of the Coalition for Family to speak about the importance of the referendum at its 2017 conference in Budapest. WCF also used social media to encourage Romanians to vote in support of the referendum, with WCF President Brian Brown actively posting his support on Twitter. Additionally, CitizenGo, a campaign linked to WCF, posted a video in April in support of amending the Romanian constitution.

    Though anti-LGBTQ groups failed in their latest effort to further marginalize LGBTQ Romanians, the country’s LGBTQ residents still do not have the right to marry, while LGBTQ people across Eastern Europe are regularly detained, prevented from peacefully organizing, tortured, and even killed. Yet anti-LGBTQ groups in American ignore these human rights atrocities and continue to target the community, helping contribute to the culture of fear that LGBTQ Eastern Europeans face every day.

  • Why is the White House briefing the president of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom about the Kavanaugh investigation?

    ADF President Michael Farris deleted a post about the White House calling him with “information about the Kavanaugh-FBI investigation”

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a since-deleted Facebook post, Michael Farris, president of the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote today that the White House had called him “with information about the Kavanaugh-FBI investigation” not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report on the matter. Farris and his organization argued twice before the Supreme Court over the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases at the high court.

    The FBI investigated Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh after professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he sexually assaulted her and after two other women reported incidents of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. It is not clear who at the White House contacted Farris or why they would be giving such information to him, particularly as he and his group are likely to argue in the future before the Supreme Court, which could include a Justice Kavanaugh.

    One reason for alarm about Farris receiving private information from the White House about the Supreme Court confirmation process is that he and his group have argued before the high court several times before and are very likely to do so again, meaning they will be particularly affected by the nomination decision. ADF says it has played “a role in 54 victories” at the Supreme Court, and it won both cases that it argued there in the most recent session. In one case, Farris argued on behalf of ADF’s client in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of ADF’s client, NIFLA, a network of fake health clinics. The court also ruled in favor of another ADF client during the past session in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, determining that the commission had shown “hostility” to a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The ruling was considered narrow and did not indicate how the court should rule on other cases regarding religious discrimination. The Department of Justice issued an unusual brief in favor of ADF’s client.

    ADF will likely be before the Supreme Court again, potentially even this year. It is spearheading at least a half-dozen other cases regarding religious exemptions through the courts, and the group -- along with attorneys general from 16 states -- have asked the Supreme Court to take up its R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case. The case involves a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired after she came out as trans to her employer, a funeral home. According to CNN.com, “If the court takes up the case, it could have broader implications for the definition of sex-based discrimination” and “could impact case law that precludes firing anyone -- gay, straight or cisgender -- for not adhering to sex-based stereotypes.” With ADF’s record, it is extremely likely that Harris or one of its dozens of other cases will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.

    The Trump White House has long been cozy with ADF and other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, and ADF has directly impacted anti-LGBTQ administration policies, actions, and guidelines including at the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Bureau of Prisons. Trump has also nominated several attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.

    ADF has not publicly endorsed Kavanaugh and claims publicly that it does not “take a position on the merits of supreme court nominees,” but several anti-LGBTQ groups that it works closely with have vehemently advocated for him to be confirmed. These groups have claimed he “will be strong on [their] issues” and that he is “the right kind of judge.” They have even launched attacks on Ford and her story to defend their man. Other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including Liberty Counsel, are trying to push discriminatory policies through the courts, such as cases attempting to overturn protections for LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. They have been encouraged by the court’s decisions in NIFLA and Masterpiece Cakeshop and by the potential of a Justice Kavanaugh.

    While it is not surprising that Farris and ADF are in contact with the White House about sensitive matters, it raises ethical questions for the White House to contact them with private information that will directly affect ADF’s work as the group continues to push for discriminatory policies through the courts. Farris’ deletion of the post only adds to those questions.

    Research support provided by Carrie Resnick, part of the NARAL research team.

    To learn more about the anti-LGBTQ positions of ADF, check out Media Matters’ interactive research book, “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.”

  • Anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families kicked off this weekend with Moldova's president in attendance

    National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown is exporting his bigoted agenda abroad with help from pro-Russian leaders

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The 2018 anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families (WCF) began today in Moldova, led by former National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown and attended by several pro-Russian leaders, including Moldovan President Igor Dodon. Although Brown has lost much of his influence domestically in the time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his anti-marriage equality effort in California, he has cozied up with pro-Russian foreign leaders and worked to export his anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad.

    Brown serves as president of both WCF and NOM, which he also co-founded and which was instrumental in banning marriage equality in California in 2008 through the Proposition 8 ballot initiative. Proposition 8 defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the state’s constitution, but same-sex marriage was reinstated in California in 2013 after a lawsuit over the proposition made it to the Supreme Court. In the years since, NOM has lost much of its domestic influence and funding (though it still works with prominent anti-LGBTQ groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom), but Brown has focused his efforts abroad and particularly worked to increase his profile in Eastern Europe.

    Brown was named president of WCF in 2016, although he had worked with the group for years before then. Brown and WCF worked closely with Russian lawmakers, activists, and officials as the country shaped its so-called “gay propaganda” law, including Brown directly meeting with the law’s architect, Yelena Mizulina, a regular attendee of WCF conferences. That law “has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships,” according to Mother Jones, and it has led to both activist arrests and increased violence against LGBTQ people in Russia.

    In 2014, Mother Jones mapped out many of the relationships between WCF and anti-LGBTQ Russians, noting that they “were already deeply connected before they kicked off their planning this fall through ties forged while advancing anti-gay sentiment and legislation in Russia.” In the years since, Brown and WCF have cozied up to even more high-profile leaders in the region. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at last year’s WCF conference, held in his county, and this year’s event includes Moldovan President Igor Dodon (who spoke at the 2016 conference just months before his election) and several other influential politicians and individuals. Dodon’s wife’s foundation, Din Suflet, is supporting the event.

    Brown seems to have cultivated a close working relationship with Dodon over the last few years, posting about several meetings with him on Twitter this year. Dodon is a supporter of anti-LGBTQ Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has tolerated the execution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. Dodon has called him a “patriot” and campaigned on running “Moldova just the same way Putin runs Russia.”

    This year’s WCF schedule features several anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice sessions: “Against the Family - The International Networks Undermining Family and Faith,” “Human Life - The Challenges Facing the Sanctity of Life, and the Strategies to Confront Them,” “New Media - Promoting Life, Marriage and Family in the Age of Hashtag Activism,” “Motherhood - Where the Sanctity of Life, the Meaning of Marriage, and the Ideology of Gender Intersect,” and “Gender Ideology - The Latest Attack on the Family and the Legal Challenges It Poses.” In past conferences, speakers have made extreme and hateful remarks, such as Pastor Rafael Cruz, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, who said in 2015 that LGBTQ people are working to legalize pedophilia. Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has been listed as a WCF partner as recently as 2017 and has been active in supporting the conference for years.

    In addition to Dodon, the conference includes other notable attendees: Mizulina, a Russian politician and the architect of the country’s “gay propaganda” law; Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state; Russian politicians Olga Epifanova and Tamara Pletneva; Moldovan politician Irina Vlah; Slovakian politician and member of the European Parliament Anna Zaborska; and several religious leaders, including Russian Orthodox Church Archpriest Dmitriy Smirnov.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • As Kavanaugh faces first hearings, anti-LGBTQ groups are trying to overturn protections from conversion therapy in courts

    The same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court are clamouring at the possibility of overturning protections for LGBTQ people from conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    As Judge Brett Kavanaugh faces confirmation hearings to become the next Supreme Court justice, the same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed him are also pushing cases through the courts to overturn measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These groups have seized on a June Supreme Court decision that may signal a shift in how the court handles communications in professional settings -- such as in therapists’ offices or clinics offering even limited health care services -- that have otherwise been regulated, claiming that those communications would be protected under the First Amendment. They argue that the decision suggests that regulating mental health professionals from subjecting LGBTQ people to a harmful practice like conversion therapy would be ruled unconstitutional because it would be imposing limits on “professional speech.” Media should consider these cases and a lack of transparency on Kavanaugh’s record on LGBTQ issues as he faces his hearing.

    Senate hearings begin for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court

    Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings began on September 4 after LGBTQ advocates raised numerous concerns about how the court would rule on future LGBTQ cases if he is confirmed. There are many open questions about his record on LGBTQ issues, including his involvement with debates around “same-sex marriage, non-discrimination protections, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his time as President George W. Bush’s White House staff secretary. Senate Republicans had long blocked access to records from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary, and LGBTQ legal organization Lambda Legal filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents from that time to determine what role he played in anti-LGBTQ initiatives that the Bush White House supported. Just hours before hearings began, Bush's former lawyer "turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee's service in the Bush White House," and Senate Democrats in turn asked to adjourn the hearing.

    Kavanaugh has also highly praised late anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and called him a “role model” and “judicial hero.” Kavanaugh said that Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which he decried the ruling that brought marriage equality to the entire country, demonstrated a judicial philosophy that the courts had “no legitimate role … in creating new rights not spelled out in the Constitution.” Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have united behind Kavanaugh’s nomination and are calling for him to be confirmed. These groups have called him an "outstanding pick" and said he would "be strong on [their] issues."

    2018 has been a historic year for efforts protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy

    Advocates working to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy have made history this year by “recalling” the dangerous and discredited practice and working to pass protections at the state and municipal levels at a record-breaking pace. This year alone, five states -- Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Washington -- have signed protections from conversion therapy into law. That means 14 states, Washington, D.C., and dozens of municipalities across the country now have laws and policies protecting LGBTQ youth from the practice. What’s more, these protections have bipartisan support, and governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills.

    But according to the Williams Institute, conversion therapy still remains prevalent throughout the country. In a groundbreaking January report, it estimated that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the 41 states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Furthermore, the report estimated that approximately 698,000 adults in the United States have undergone conversion therapy, including around 350,000 who underwent the practice before turning 18 years old.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups who support conversion therapy are encouraged by recent Supreme Court ruling in case regarding anti-abortion pregnancy centers

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, a case involving a California law called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. The law requires anti-abortion fake health centers to post a certain type of notice, depending on whether the center is licensed by the state. Licensed clinics are required to post a notice informing clients that California provides low-cost or free reproductive health care. Unlicensed clinics are required to post a notice informing people that they were not a licensed medical facility. As BuzzFeed News reported, “The court held in a 5–4 majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas that the notice required of licensed clinics under the law ‘likely violates’ the First Amendment, but the notice required of unlicensed clinics ‘unduly burdens speech’ and is unconstitutional.”

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group working to undermine LGBTQ equality in all aspects of life, represented clients in NIFLA. The group also represented a Christian baker who refused service to a gay couple in another Supreme Court case this year, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; the case saw a narrow ruling in favor of the baker and “left open the larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

    ADF and other anti-LGBTQ groups welcomed the NIFLA ruling, and some claimed that it signaled a shift in how the courts would treat “professional speech” under the First Amendment, including how it would treat protections from conversion therapy. The Atlantic’s Emma Green described “professional speech” as “a somewhat fuzzy legal category that allows states to require doctors and lawyers to disclose medical or ethical facts, for example.” In other words, in NIFLA and potentially other cases involving communications in medical and other regulated fields, the courts are weighing whether those communications are protected under the First Amendment even though these fields are typically regulated and patients and other people seeking medical advice could be put at risk if they receive inaccurate information.

    According to Christian conservative outlet CBN News, Mat Staver, chairman of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel, declared the ruling a "prize" for his and other anti-LGBTQ groups’ advocacy against a shelved bill in California (AB 2934) that would have categorized conversion therapy as fraud. Staver said that the bill, if passed, would have been dead on arrival because of the NIFLA ruling and that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) “cases are going to be a thing of the past." Liberty Counsel had been preparing to file a lawsuit againt the bill had it passed. ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp came to a similar conclusion and predicted that the ruling would “strongly call into question the foundation of AB2943.” Pro-conversion therapy group Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI) responded to the NIFLA ruling in an email blast, saying it and other recent decisions “have opened the door for overturning the therapy ban laws that have been passed over the past five years” and that it was “seeking to reopen” two of its previous challenges to conversion therapy laws alongside Liberty Counsel. Additionally, Family Research Council’s (FRC) Peter Sprigg wrote:

    Like NIFLA in the pregnancy center context, defenders of the right to seek counseling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions (and of the right to offer such counseling) have argued that free speech also protects their activities. In challenges to laws banning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) with minors by licensed mental health providers in California and New Jersey, they argued that such laws in effect limit what a counselor or therapist may say to a client in the privacy of his or her office, and thus infringe upon the free speech of the caregiver.

    By affirming that “professional speech” is protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has cast serious doubt on the constitutionality of bans on sexual orientation change efforts.

    Conservative state-level advocacy groups affiliated with extreme national anti-LGBTQ groups are also enthusiastic for the NIFLA ruling’s potential impact on conversion therapy cases. For instance, the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) -- both affiliates of the Family Policy Alliance -- claimed the ruling could indicate that the high court could find protections from conversion therapy unconstitutional. (Family Policy Alliance is a partner of anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family that also works with ADF and FRC.) Similarly, the Illinois Family Institute announced that it is considering challenging the state’s protections against conversion therapy in light of the Supreme Court’s NIFLA’ ruling.

    These groups are already challenging protections from conversion therapy in the courts

    National anti-LGBTQ groups like ADF and Liberty Counsel have a long history of supporting and advocating for conversion therapy, and they are actively working to undermine protections from conversion therapy in courts and state legislatures across the country.

    In June, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of conversion therapy practitioners Dr. Robert Otto and Dr. Julie Hamilton against Boca Raton and Palm Beach County in Florida for their measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. In a press release about the suit, the group framed the issue as a matter of protecting “the speech of licensed professionals in the city and county who offer change counseling” and as a First Amendment violation, similar to the messaging around NIFLA’s impact on protections from conversion therapy. Liberty Counsel is also representing out-of-state conversion therapy practitioner Dr. David Pickup, among others, in a separate lawsuit against conversion therapy protections in Tampa, FL. Local news outlets have given platforms to Hamilton and Pickup to spread misinformation about conversion therapy. And before the Massachusetts legislature failed to get its bill on the governor's desk this year, MFI President Andrew Beckwith said that his group was "already working with attorneys at Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge this bill should it become law" before asserting that the NIFLA decision "undermines the legal basis upon which" protections from conversion therapy rely.

    These challenges aren’t new or unique for the group; Liberty Counsel has worked to overturn efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy for years, including failed attempts to challenge measures in New Jersey and California. According to ATCSI, the group is “seeking to reopen” those cases “and to challenge the laws passed in every state where ‘therapy ban’ legislation has be (sic) enacted.” Liberty Counsel's Staver even went on an anti-LGBTQ rant before a House subcommittee in which he called California and New Jersey laws prohibiting the practice “religious discrimination” and “one of the greatest assaults on children and families that has arisen in recent times.”

    The Supreme Court has previously turned away multiple challenges to laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, but it could take up a case in the future given the recent ruling in NIFLA and new justices sitting or potentially sitting on the court. Following the NIFLA ruling, journalists have already speculated that the Supreme Court could take up a conversion therapy case in the future. While it is unclear how Justice Kavanaugh would side on a case about protections from conversion therapy, it is clear that the same extreme anti-LGBTQ groups challenging those measures in court are clamouring for his confirmation. These groups have claimed that Kavanaugh will defend their issues as a Supreme Court justice, and conversion therapy very much could be one of those issues that Kavanaugh has a chance to defend.

  • Politico published an article saying a man’s death from AIDS was the result of a "decadent homosexual lifestyle"

    The language has since been removed after being "deemed insensitive"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a piece about disgraced late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse made a since-removed anti-gay remark about McCarthy-ally Roy Cohn, saying that Cohn’s death from AIDS was “the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end.” The piece has since been edited to remove that language, saying it was "deemed insensitive."

    Kruse wrote his report in response to a August 19 tweet by President Donald Trump, which read, in part, “Study the late Joseph McCarthy.” The piece detailed the rise and fall of McCarthy, who “earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists,” as well as the impact his adviser Cohn had on the senator. The report also noted that Cohn represented “Trump and his father when the Department of Justice sued them in 1973 for racial bias in the rentals of their outer-borough apartments.” Remarking on Cohn’s death, however, Kruse included an unnecessary and homophobic comment, writing, “He died from AIDS, the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end”:

    The piece has since been edited to read that Cohn “died from AIDS as a man who denied to the end that he was gay,” and an editor's note has been added indicating that "an earlier version of this story contained language about Roy Cohn that was deemed insensitive and has been removed." Initially after receiving criticism on Twitter, Kruse did not apologize but said that he “should have thought harder about these echoes and connotations” and suggested that “a simple ‘promiscuity’ probably would’ve sufficed.” But suggesting that HIV/AIDS is a consequence of being gay, or even promiscuous, is disparaging and damaging to the LGBTQ community. For years, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have employed similar messaging, and the Public Religion Research Institute found that in 2013, “14 percent of Americans believed AIDS might be punishment from God” for “immoral sexual behavior.”

    In fact, much of the Reagan administration’s chilling lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be attributed to its designation as a “gay plague,” something senior Reagan staff and members of the media laughed about in 1982 after “nearly 1,000 people had died from AIDS,” according to Vox’s German Lopez. The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson noted similar responses in subsequent years:

    At subsequent press conferences in 1983 and 1984, [Reagan administration press secretary Larry] Speakes — and the White House press corps — continue to respond to [reporter Lester] Kinsolving’s increasingly urgent questions about AIDS with a mix of laughter, homophobic jokes and general indifference.

    Gibson wrote that the first time Reagan “addressed the epidemic in earnest” was in 1987, after “nearly 23,000 people had died of the disease,” and even as his administration began to confront the crisis, he continued to suggest “that its spread might be slowed by ethical behavior.”

    The LGBTQ community, and in particular queer and trans black communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, which is treatable and preventable (though many barriers remain to access and patient retention). To glibly suggest that a man’s death from AIDS in 1986 was his fault, or the result of a “decadent homosexual lifestyle,” is to demean the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people. And as we saw in the Reagan administration’s response to the epidemic, that sentiment quite literally killed people. Comments such as Kruse’s necessitate more than just an edit; they demand an apology.

    Click here to find free HIV testing near you.

  • Justice Department’s new “Religious Liberty Task Force” highlights the agency's troubling ties to Alliance Defending Freedom

    Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the most powerful and extreme anti-LGBTQ groups in the country

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Department of Justice (DOJ) task force to enforce “religious liberty” rules that make it easier to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others under the guise of “religious freedom." Such discrimination is a major part of the mission of anti-LGBTQ legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and the announcement was followed by a panel that included a major ADF client and was moderated by an ADF staff alumna. Coupled with ADF's involvement in the announcement, the new task force demonstrates the influence of the group's extreme anti-LGBTQ views on the administration.

    On July 30, Sessions launched a new “Religious Liberty Task Force” that would enforce discriminatory religious exemptions guidance that the DOJ released in October 2017. (Sessions had worked with ADF on the guidance before its release.) Religious exemptions policies, such as those the DOJ released, allow people and businesses to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws and policies by citing a burden on their religious beliefs. People have frequently used the exemptions to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others.

    ADF was one of the first to break the news of the July 30 “Religious Liberty Summit” in which the task force was announced, noting that the event would feature a panel including the group’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who took his case to the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. ADF’s news release, however, did not mention that the panel’s moderator, DOJ media affairs specialist Kerri Kupec, worked at ADF for four years before joining DOJ in January. During his remarks, Sessions said that the DOJ had “been holding listening sessions” with “religious groups across America,” which ADF has acknowledged it has been involved with in the past. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has already praised the announcement of the task force.

    The Trump-Pence administration has shown a coziness with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and with ADF, in particular. Sessions’ DOJ issued an unusual brief on behalf of Phillips before oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and ADF alumni and allies have been hired by various agencies and nominated for federal judgeships. As Media Matters’ recently released research book details, ADF holds dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions on nearly every every aspect of life, including supporting laws that would punish sodomy by imprisonment, writing in favor of Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, and advocating against efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The group is in many ways the most influential group working to roll back LGBTQ equality in the country, frequently targeting basic protections for transgender students and pushing religious exemptions policies.

    The “Religious Liberty Task Force” is yet another example of a cabinet-level agency devoting significant resources to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. In January, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new division to enforce laws protecting “health care workers who express religious objections to performing abortions and certain other procedures,” including providing medical services to transgender and other LGBTQ people. ADF had previously called on HHS to rescind several LGBTQ-inclusive protections it categorized as infringing on the “religious freedom” of religious organizations and other medical providers, and it praised the division’s creation. When groups like ADF have a seat at the table with the upper echelons of our federal government, discriminatory policies such as these come as no surprise.

    To learn more about the anti-LGBTQ positions of ADF, check out Media Matters’ interactive research book, “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.”

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups are uniting behind Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Family Research Council and Liberty Counsel are unifying behind President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the court on July 9, and soon after, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups started pouring in praise. As a result, LGBTQ advocates and groups have sounded the alarm. The highly influential Family Research Council (FRC), whose president, Tony Perkins, reportedly was “involved in discussions with the White House” on the nomination, promoted Kavanaugh “heavily” when he was initially nominated to the D.C. Circuit in 2005, and Perkins quickly responded to his Supreme Court nomination by pledging “to help move the grassroots to gain the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.” He also praised Kavanaugh for previous rulings on “religious freedom and free speech” issues and for his “long and praiseworthy history of judging as an originalist.” FRC’s position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural,” and the organization promotes the idea that “every effort should be made to assist such persons to overcome those attractions,” including by actively working against efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy.

    Other extreme anti-LGBTQ organizations mirrored FRC’s messaging. Liberty Counsel praised Kavanaugh for a “pragmatic approach to judging” and compared his originalist judicial philosophy to that of notoriously anti-LGBTQ Justice Antonin Scalia. The group’s founder and chairman, Mat Staver, said, “I support the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” and called him “the right kind of judge we need on the bench.” Staver is known for using extreme rhetoric against LGBTQ people, including comparing them to pedophiles and saying that LGBTQ History Month is a “sexual assault on our children.”

    The National Organization for Marriage, a group that was instrumental in rolling back marriage equality in California in 2008, called Kavanaugh an “outstanding pick” who “will be strong on our issues” and a “constitutionalist.” The group noted that it “intends to do everything [it] can to secure the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh,” including launching a “Marriage Hero campaign” to organize anti-LGBTQ people at a grass-roots level in favor of his nomination. A July 10 blog post outlined several reasons NOM supports Kavanaugh.

    The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which in 2013 led a smear campaign against a transgender teenager who was harassed and received death threats after her name was leaked to the public, issued a statement calling Kavanaugh “fair and faithful to the Constitution” and noting that he had ruled in favor of PJI’s clients in a case about prayer at the presidential inauguration. PJI’s statement, however, was less enthusiastic than that of other groups and asserted that there are “important unanswered questions about his jurisprudence” and characterized his record on abortion issues as “mixed.” The American Family Association (AFA) showed a similar hesitation and initially called on its supporters to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. The following day, however, AFA issued another statement walking back its opposition and lining up more closely with other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups:

    [A]fter hearing the concerns of some of our supporters, and after hearing the passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement, we are willing to let this process play out. We eagerly await the confirmation hearings when we hope to get clarification from Judge Kavanaugh on aspects related to our concerns.

    Though extreme group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) claims to not “take a position on the merits of Supreme Court nominees,” its Twitter account posted a New York Times op-ed by a liberal law professor making the case to confirm Kavanaugh. Several ADF staff and board members have also tweeted in support of the nomination or shared articles backing the choice. ADF is one of the most influential anti-LGBTQ groups in the country and is leading the fight against LGBTQ equality at nearly every level, including working to combat transgender student equality, codifying discrimination against the community via religious exemptions, and exporting its anti-LGBTQ agenda abroad.

    It’s clear that though a few anti-LGBTQ groups showed some initial hesitation toward Kavanaugh’s nomination, they have quickly coalesced behind him. These groups are highly coordinated and would not support a nominee who they did not think shared their extreme anti-LGBTQ values. AFA’s statement reversing its opposition to Kavanaugh due to “the passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement” is telling on its own; these groups know what they would be getting with a Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, and it won’t be good for LGBTQ people.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.

  • The trans military ban is yet another example of the White House's cozy relationships with anti-LGBTQ hate groups

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    There’s new reporting about anti-LGBTQ hate group leader Tony Perkins’ role in crafting the latest White House policy banning transgender troops from serving in the military -- and that’s only the most recent reminder that we should be very, very worried about the Trump administration’s coziness with anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists.

    Hours after the White House released an updated policy banning transgender service members from serving in the military, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported that “behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’” crafted a report justifying the ban. The so-called experts included Perkins, president of anti-LGBTQ hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), and the virulently anti-trans Ryan Anderson from the Heritage Foundation, who wrote an entire book dedicated to discrediting the transgender experience. Stern also reported that Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ animosity and is a longtime friend of Perkins’, “played a leading role in the creation of this report.” This is yet another disturbing example of anti-LGBTQ extremists’ influence on White House policy and close relationships with the administration.

    Just one day before Trump announced the new policy, Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke at an official youth outreach event at the White House. During the event, Justice Department Office of Public Affairs Director Sarah Isgur Flores praised ADF as a “great organization” and thanked Langhofer for its work.

    Here are just some of the ways ADF and other anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists are directly influencing White House policy beyond the newly released ban:

    • After consulting with ADF, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions released religious exemptions guidance making it easier for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • The Justice Department issued an unusual brief on behalf of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court court case.

    • ADF is reportedly in “negotiations” with the Trump administration to undo protections for incarcerated transgender people.

    • Perkins has bragged about how many times he has visited the White House.

    • Trump is nominating attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.

    • Former ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman works in the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which has been employing more right-wing religious activists and has started a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that makes it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others.

    • Roger Severino, who wrote an anti-trans report with Ryan Anderson at the Heritage Foundation, runs the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

    • Former Family Research Council Chief of Staff Shannon Royce has emerged “as a pivotal player” at HHS as director of its Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    • Former ADF Communications Director Kerri Kupec is a Department of Justice spokesperson.

    • ADF client Sara Hellwege spoke at the HHS announcement of its anti-LGBTQ rule granting religious exemptions for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people.

    • At least four people who have worked for the Family Research Council were on Trump’s transition team.

    These groups spent years under the Obama administration pushing anti-LGBTQ policies through municipalities and states and fighting equality in court while also strategizing over how to undo the progress that has happened over the past decade at the national level. Now the current administration is welcoming them to the table and fulfilling their wish lists. Trump made a clear play for these groups and their supporters' votes when he chose Pence as his running mate, and so-called “values voters” like Perkins have repeatedly abandoned their morals to defend Trump -- and reaped the rewards in policy.

    We are witnessing a massive effort to roll back LGBTQ equality at all levels of government and on nearly every issue affecting the lives and rights of community members, and these groups are at the forefront of it. And there are repercussions outside of the policy realm: Their attacks are creating a more hostile, anti-LGBTQ environment in society at large. For the first time in four years, acceptance of LGBTQ people has decreased, and violence against the community is surging without many Americans even being aware of it.

    The trans military ban was just the latest win for anti-LGBTQ hate groups. There will certainly be more. If you haven’t been alarmed by this yet, it’s time to be now.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom is working to keep LGBTQ people from adopting children

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & REBECCA DAMANTE

    Lawyers and allied attorneys from influential anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have been working to pass and defend legislation in at least five states that allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, among others, in adoption and foster care. In 2017, three states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws, and a sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law in Mississippi also included provisions about adoption and foster care. Georgia’s state Senate passed a similar bill in February, to be considered by its House, and at least three other states are considering similar bills this year.

  • 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.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • 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.