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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 2017's worst anti-trans lies and smears 

    Media Matters looks back at some of the worst smears, lies, and liars attacking the transgender community in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing media figures and anti-LGBTQ hate group representatives have a long history of spreading anti-trans hatred and lies, and 2017 was no different. From hate groups attacks on trans children and students to Alex Jones’ anti-LGBTQ extremism, Media Matters rounded up some of 2017’s most transphobic misinformers and their lies.

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Right-wing conspiracy theorist and ally to President Donald Trump Alex Jones has cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist this year as he repeatedly used the slur “tranny,” dehumanized trans people's existence, and spread vile rhetoric about them. Though Jones has repeatedly said he is “not against gay people,” Media Matters has documented a pattern of extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that proves otherwise. 

    In one segment on his show, for example, Jones said that transgender women may be gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting “breast implants” and trying to “doll [their] hair up.” On another episode, Jones compared a transgender man who had a baby to Jones deciding that he is a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that “give[s] birth to leprechauns.” In other segments, Jones has said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips” and suggested that former first lady Michelle Obama has a penis and may have killed late comedian Joan Rivers, saying that he was “not putting trannies down” with the comments.

    Jones accused transgender women of being gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting breast implants and dolling up their hair.

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 7/10/17]

    Jones compared a pregnant transgender man to a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that gives “birth to leprechauns.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/3/17]

    Jones said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/7/17

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    In 2017, hate group leaders and right-wing media personalities continued their fight against LGBTQ equality in schools, attacking transgender students and children, their parents, and teachers who teach trans-inclusive lessons. These attacks are also happening on a policy level, with hate group Alliance Defending Freedom spending much of the year trying to block transgender student equality by inserting itself in debates at local school districts and in state legislatures about transgender students’ access to restroom facilities that align with their gender identity.

    In July, anti-LGBTQ hate group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Dr. Michelle Cretella asserted that parents accepting their transgender children's’ gender identity is “child abuse” and spread myths and junk science about transgender people during an episode of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. ACPeds is a small, deceptively named hate group with only a few hundred members that is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics. In another example, right-wing media figures attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Right-wing website PJ Media suggested that parents “move out of [their] community” if they feel it is necessary to protect their children from being turned into “mind-numbed robots who nod affirmatively in the face of lies,” and anti-LGBTQ FoxNews.com contributor Todd Starnes called the events “an example of how schools have been indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda” and “activist bullies.”

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group ACPeds’ Cretella called accepting transgender children “child abuse.”

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/24/17]

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Right-wing figures and anti-LGBTQ hate groups continued to reinforce the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, which asserts that policies allowing trans people to use restrooms that align with their gender identity will create an opening for sexual predators to assault women. That myth has been long debunked by experts and government officials in more than a dozen states, school administrators, and sexual assault and domestic violence prevention experts, but pundits and anti-LGBTQ figures continued to push the lie in 2017.

    On February 15, Tony Perkins, the president of anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), dubiously claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive bathroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms.” Similarly, on an episode of a special panel show on Houston’s Fox 26, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRTx) Jared Woodfill said that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be.” In yet another example, Charmaine Yoest, a right-wing political commentator who is now in a top communications post at the Department of Health and Human Services, asserted that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.

    FRC’s Perkins claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive restroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms”

    [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 2/15/17]

    CRTx’s Woodfill claimed that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be” with trans-inclusive restroom policies.

    [Fox 26, What’s Your Point, 5/22/17]

    Former right-wing pundit Yoest said that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.”

    [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 2/23/17]

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    When Trump announced he would ban transgender people from the military, right-wing media and hate groups pushed misinformation about transgender service members and called them “mentally ill.” (The ban has so far been paused by the courts.) Other right-wing lies about the ban included the claim that the cost of medically necessary health care for transgender service members would be in the billions, that allowing transgender members to serve would interfere with military readiness and cohesion, and that a majority of transgender people are unable to be deployed due to their health care needs. Analysts have found minimal additional costs involved in providing health care to transgender service members and no negative impacts on military cohesion or readiness.

    Right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro responded to the ban by saying that “the military should not accept mentally ill soldiers.” Shapiro tweeted that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military,” and again implied that transgender people have a “mental illness.” Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who is the vice president of anti-LGBTQ hate group FRC, similarly pushed the myth that transgender people have some “kind of physical or mental illness” and claimed that their inclusion in the military was part of “a test bed for nothing but social experiments.” According to the American Psychological Association, “Identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.” Other leading medical organizations agree.

    FRC’s Boykin pushed the lie that transgender people are mentally ill, saying, "We shouldn't recruit people with any kind of physical or mental illness."

    [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/24/17]

    Shapiro claimed that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military. People are 4F [unfit to serve] for a variety of reasons. Mental illness can be such a reason.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Shapiro said that “The military should not accept mentally ill soldiers,” but Trump’s announcement “should not have been done by tweet.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Over the past year, right-wing media figures attacked transgender people with offensive language, anti-trans slurs, and even the denial of trans existence. In addition to the steadfast slandering of transgender people by Alex Jones, other right-wing media figures employed transphobic rhetoric that can have severe consequences on transgender people and youth. Calls from transgender youth to the Trevor Project’s suicide hotline increased this year, and the project cited “anti-transgender rhetoric” coming from elected officials and others as “putting lives at risk.”

    In a November rant lamenting the surge of LGBTQ victories in 2017 elections, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh used the anti-trans slur “tranny” and insisted that LGBTQ people be referred to only as “homosexual,” saying, “the word is homosexual.” On Fox, Carlson hosted a transgender guest and insulted her by accusing transgender people of “faking” and repeatedly pushing the myth that people can just “decide” to be transgender on a whim. This kind of rhetoric places doubt on transgender existence.

    After trans candidates won 2017 elections, Limbaugh insisted that all LGBTQ people be referred to as “homosexual” and used the anti-trans slur “tranny.”

    [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/9/17]

    Carlson insulted a transgender guest and accused transgender people of "faking."

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/24/17]      

  • A compliant press helped bring Alliance Defending Freedom's anti-LGBTQ hate back into the mainstream in 2017

    The hate group led the fight against queer and trans equality this year, but many in the press fell for its "free speech" narrative

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) began 2017 by being designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and finished the year arguing before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. Throughout that time, ADF fervently opposed LGBTQ equality at every step while also moving its hardline extremism more and more into the mainstream. The media, in turn, aided the group’s efforts by largely failing to contextualize its unrelenting campaign against queer and trans people.

    In the landmark Masterpiece Cakeshop case, ADF is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips, who was sued after he refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple. ADF argued before the Supreme Court on December 5, and the court will decide the case next year. But Masterpiece Cakeshop is just the tip of the iceberg of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ work this year, all of which has one thing in common: seeking to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens.

    ADF spent the year attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality at the school, local, state, and federal level

    ADF’s representation of the plaintiff in Masterpiece Cakeshop case did not occur in a vacuum. The group and its allied lawyers have worked on at least eight other legal cases involving religious exemptions this year. Religious exemptions are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups and people to justify discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” ADF helped write, promote, and justify Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemption law and fought for it in court, and it worked with Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he issued religious exemptions guidance in October. In addition, ADF has been leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the United States, including by influencing anti-trans “bathroom bills” in at least eight states.

    SPLC labeled ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group in February due to a history of the group’s leaders and affiliated lawyers “regularly demoniz[ing] LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” The hate group designation was also conferred in part for ADF’s history of supporting anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality. In 2003, the group filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas that defended state sodomy laws and called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF also supports attempts to turn LGBTQ people straight through dangerous conversion therapy, which every mainstream medical group has discredited for decades and which has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims.

    ADF has worked hard to mainstream its image, but the media has a responsibility to start contextualizing the group

    One hallmark of ADF’s year -- as it headed to the Supreme Court for one of its most consequential cases -- has been its work alongside its allies and a sympathetic right-wing media to mainstream its image and move the goalposts on what is considered hate. In a report for The Nation, Sarah Posner summarized the group’s strategy: “Increasingly wary of being called discriminatory in the wake of a decision last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center to label it a hate group, ADF has redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream.” Posner quoted First Amendment attorney Greg Lipper saying that ADF has been able to “‘take an extreme position’ and mainstream it so thoroughly that it has become ‘a viable theory at the Supreme Court.’”

    Media Matters has found that major newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times tend to avoid using SPLC’s “hate group” label when it comes to anti-LGBTQ groups but frequently identify other hate groups designated by SPLC, particularly white nationalist groups. ADF and its allies have taken advantage of media’s hesitancy to use the label and actively worked to discredit SPLC’s designation, especially when media outlets do use it. In September, ADF and a number of other groups wrote a letter to “members of the media” asking them to stop using the designation. The same groups signed a similar letter in June attacking a nonprofit database for using the designation; the database eventually succumbed to the pressure and announced its decision to stop using the label partly because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” The groups involved in these campaigns comprise a sort of “who’s who” of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and are highly influential.

    When ABC News and NBC News used the “hate group” designation to describe ADF in June reports, ADF demanded a retraction from ABC and began an aggressive media strategy to attack SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC’s and NBC’s reports. Right-wing media figures joined the chorus and echoed ADF's and others’ attacks on the designation, and ADF representatives soon made the rounds on Fox News, appearing on Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. The network has proven to be a safe space for the group to push this narrative. In July, Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Later in the segment, Carlson interviewed ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner about ABC’s and NBC’s reports. In another segment, Carlson lamented that SPLC’s list of hate groups “lump[ed]” anti-LGBTQ groups with “Nazis and crazy people.” This flawed argument has been recycled thoroughly by hate groups and right-wing media.

    But it’s not just right-wing media that has been sympathetic to this campaign to discredit the “hate group” label. CNN changed a headline from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups” after pressure from right-wing figures and media. News outlets are more than just hesitant to use the “hate group” label, though, and often fail to give any context to ADF’s work at all. Media outlets owe it to their audiences to, at the very least, contextualize ADF and groups like it. Yet a lot of coverage has been lacking in that context.

    Much of the reporting around the Masterpiece Cakeshop case fell into this trap. Time and time again, media outlets failed to contextualize ADF, instead simply noting that it was arguing the case or sometimes calling it “conservative.” In their reports on the case, The Washington Post, NPR, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times all mentioned ADF’s role in the case but failed to mention its years-long campaign against LGBTQ equality, and those compose just a small sampling of a larger problem. A report by Time explicitly said that ADF “is making the argument that [the case] is fundamentally not about LGBTQ discrimination but about free speech” but also failed to note any of ADF’s other work combating LGBTQ equality. The piece did appropriately address the ramifications of the case for queer and trans rights, but it failed to counter ADF’s narrative or give background to its work, which would’ve shown the readers that ADF’s argument about the case “not [being] about LGBTQ discrimination” is without any merit in the context of its other work.

    Leaving out important context about ADF can give readers an impression that the case, or even ADF’s work as a whole, may truly be about “free speech” rather than discrimination against LGBTQ people. ADF’s history proves that, for the group, the Masterpiece case is not about so-called “artistic freedom” or the First Amendment; it’s about preventing LGBTQ people from being fully recognized citizens in public and even private life. If news outlets won’t call it hate in 2018, they can at least give enough information for their readers to see it for themselves.

  • It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.