On Fox & Friends, Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. blatantly lies about his and Liberty’s record on LGBTQ rights
Video ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY
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Laura Ingraham and Shannon Bream give platforms to transphobia
November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, an observation held in memory of trans people who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence over the past year. It’s a solemn occasion, where trans people and allies hold vigil for those lost and hope for a better future -- a stark contrast to events like Pride.
But Fox News marked the occasion this year by airing two segments sympathetic to anti-trans causes. Fox host Laura Ingraham interviewed Isabella Chow, a student senator at the University of California, Berkeley, about backlash she received after speaking out against a resolution in support of LGBTQ students. Chow is linked to extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and has appeared on its leader Tony Perkins’ radio program.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Take us through these past few weeks. We first want to establish what happens. This is a student government kind of proclamation stating what exactly?
ISABELLA CHOW (BERKELEY STUDENT): Yes, so, the main bill that I abstained from opposed Trump’s proposed reform to Title IX and specifically one clause where a person's gender is defined as a person's biological sex. Now the bill that I abstained from, not only did it say, you know, we support freedom from discrimination and harassment for all individuals and especially LGBTQ individuals, but at the end there clauses that asked me to promote and LGBTQ identity and lifestyle and to promote organizations whose primary purpose is to promote the LGBTQ identity and lifestyle. And I said because of my Christian views and because I represent the Christian community on campus, I cannot fully support this bill.
INGRAHAM: OK, so and for that, being a Christian and being unapologetic, you were labeled some pretty terrible things. The Daily Californian said the following: “Isabella Chow made transphobic and homophobic statements during an ASUC meeting, publicly dismissing the identities of individuals on campus. Chow’s language erased and dehumanized individuals,” et cetera, et cetera. How do you respond to that? Did you dehumanize people because of your faith?
CHOW: Yes, I’d like to go back to my original statement on the senate floor on October 31. And what I said was, one, I think that discrimination and harassment is never ever OK. But where I cross a line between, you know, where I can protect you as an individual and where I can promote your identity is a very fine line for me to walk, right?. And so my response is, I don't see a conflict between being able to accept, love and validate you as an individual and yet not fully agreeing with how you choose to identify yourself sexually.
While Chow framed the issue as simply about her decision not to vote on the measure, The Daily Californian’s editorial board wrote:
She chose to abstain from voting on the resolution — and then went beyond simply removing herself from the conversation. Chow, a former member of the Student Action party, also chose to voice her personal — and highly problematic — interpretation of Christian scripture, stating that any “lifestyle” outside of male and female and heterosexual identities was not “right or safe.”
The rest of the segment involved Ingraham lamenting the fact that people will call you a “hater” for saying that you disagree with who they are.
“I think where they are coming from,” Chow told Ingraham, trying to reflect on what her critics think, “is because we can't understand how you can love us and not accept our sexual identity, therefore, we’re going to say your words about love and acceptance are completely worthless. And we are just to take your words about not accepting us and twist that to mean you are a hater and a bigot.”
It’s odd that the most watched news station in the country devotes time and energy to things like student government, as there’s certainly no shortage of newsworthy stuff happening in the world. It’s moments like these when Fox shows itself for what it really is: a conservative advocacy organization.
Later that evening, Fox host Shannon Bream interviewed Robert Oppedisano, a Florida gym teacher who claims that he’s being mistreated for opposing his school’s policy to allow a trans boy to use the boys’ locker room, and his lawyer, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. Liberty Counsel is another extreme anti-LGBTQ group, and Staver regularly traffics in extreme rhetoric such as comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles and saying that trans youth experience higher rates of suicide because they are defying God.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night:
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): We are talking about Pasco County, FL, and they actually had a school board meeting today where this came up. A lot of people, Robert, showed up on your behalf to speak out. So let’s clarify a little bit about what happened. There is a student who was born biologically female, now identifying as male, wants to use the boys locker rooms and restrooms in the school. What were you told about having to watch or supervise or be involved with this process in the locker room?
ROBERT OPPEDISANO (PASCO COUNTY PE TEACHER): I was told that this student was going to have full access to the locker room, that it was my job to supervise, and that it was her right to be able to use any part of the locker room, whether it be the locker room, the open showers, or the bathroom.
BREAM: The school departments are saying, “We don't know exactly what to do. We are trying to do our best. We have to think of the rights of these trans students.” But others have said, “What about the parents, what about the other students, the boys in this locker room, what about their privacy rights?” What position are you in now with regard to this case?
OPPEDISANO: I was told that the parents and the students had no rights, just this -- the female student. She was the only one to have rights in there. I had mentioned something that they could get sued, and they said, “We are the largest employer in Pasco county. If we get sued, it's no big deal.”
BREAM: OK. Mat, I want to give you a chance to respond to something, that is in Pascocounty’s best practices guide for working with LGBTQ individuals. This one has to do with questions about whether students come to a teacher or someone to say, “I'm uncomfortable, I don't feel safe because a transgender student is in my bathroom or locker room area.” They are told this, quote: “A student's discomfort does not trump a transgender students right to use the school facility that is consistent with their identified gender identity. If it’s a comfort issue, you may offer an alternative facility to the students experiencing discomfort.” So, here they are saying if a student doesn't want the trans individual in their locker room area, they are the ones who need to leave. Is that a solution that works?
MAT STAVER (CHAIRMAN LIBERTY COUNSEL AND OPPEDISANO’S ATTORNEY): That is not a solution that works and in fact in this particular case, you’d have to have all the boys go to some other place because this girl undressed in front of these boys and the boys came running out. They were disturbed that a girl was in their locker room undressing. So apparently, only that girl can use the boys facility and now all of these boys that ran out have to go someplace else. That’s not workable. That same guideline that they have also says that you should not, in fact you are not authorized to let the parents know what’s happening with their son or daughter in these situations.
In recent days, far-right websites like Lifesite News, The Daily Caller, and The Federalist have been pushing this issue hard, citing information almost exclusively from Liberty Counsel’s complaint, which claimed that the teacher was being persecuted for his refusal to monitor the locker room. Their headlines, which include language like “School Punishes Male Teacher For Refusing To Watch A Naked Girl In The Boys’ Locker Room” and “Male Gym Teacher Allegedly Punished by School for Refusing to Watch Girl Shower,” are more than just misleading: They’re lies and outright propaganda.
As with so many of the too-shocking-to-be-true stories about trans people you’ll find in far-right media, local reporting rebuts the motivated smearing by conservative groups. In Oppedisano’s case, the Tampa Bay Times tells a different story, quoting the district’s superintendent:
Superintendent Kurt Browning told the board Tuesday that the internet is "burning up" with misinformation.
"I want the board and the public to be clear. The teacher coach has not been disciplined at all, in any way shape or form," Browning said, noting the Chasco Middle administrators have monitored the locker room for Oppedisano, whom he called an excellent teacher.
Students "do not undress in the locker room," Browning continued. "There are showers but no one takes showers. … There have not been any issues on this at Chasco Middle."
He said the district provides services to all students who need them, as do districts throughout the nation. He called upon School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso to explain the legal framework for the district's procedures and rules relating to transgender students.
These conservative groups fought hard against the Obama administration’s attempt to clarify what Title IX meant when it came to the treatment of transgender students. The Obama guidance would have put an end to many drawn-out lawsuits brought against schools or students. The argument against it has been that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is almost never the right way to dissuade discrimination (ignoring that the country has “one-size-fits-all” rules when it comes to discrimination on the basis of religion, race, disability, and so on).
A February 2017 piece at The Federalist argued the case for schools to make their own policies when it comes to trans students. And in the letter announcing that the administration had rescinded the Obama-era guidance, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (née Prince) wrote, “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level.” Yet, when states and districts do try to provide solutions to accommodate trans students, groups like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) swoop in to mount a public pressure campaign and file lawsuits against districts that won’t change their rules to be anti-trans. The heavily funded groups bank on the fact that most school districts won’t want the bad press or have the funds to spend defending their policies. Both the DeVos and Prince families have donated substantial amounts of money to ADF, in particular.
It’s reasonable to be sick of hearing about bathrooms. I am a transgender person. Believe me when I say that I am sick of hearing about bathrooms and locker rooms. But the reason these stories are still in the news, that this continues to be talked about at all, is because the groups that claimed they wanted these issues to be handled at a local level don’t seem to actually believe the argument themselves.
But for Fox News to air both of those segments on the one day in a year set aside to mourn people killed by those who believe the negative stereotypes about trans people they hear on networks like this, that’s just shameful.
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The massive anti-LGBTQ organization has been working to push its goals internationally, including in Romania, where same-sex partners already cannot marry
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.
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 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.
URGENT: Looks like the voter turnout is low in Romania. They may not reach the 30 percent threshold. If you have friends and family urge them to get and and vote NOW. There are still a few hours left. #1manand1woman #tcot #profamily https://t.co/OfNiChGEUE
— Brian S. Brown (@briansbrown) October 7, 2018
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.
American Family Association: “Unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible”
Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and American Family Association have attacked Christine Blasey Ford and worked to discredit her after she reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school.
Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups united behind his nomination, offering praise for Kavanaugh’s candidacy and saying he would be “strong” on their issues. Many of those same groups have doubled down on their support by attacking Christine Blasey Ford and questioning her motivations after she reported that Kavanaugh groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and rape her in high school.
Tony Perkins, president of the highly influential Family Research Council (FRC) who was reportedly “involved in discussions with the White House” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, attacked Ford’s credibility on the September 21 edition of Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. During his appearance, Perkins called Ford’s story “very, very suspect,” questioned why she hadn’t come forward sooner, and asked whether or not drinking alcohol may have affected her story. Perkins also questioned whether Ford and potential witnesses “really remember the facts” and whether her attempted rapist was even Kavanaugh at all, in line with a recent conspiracy theory created by conservative media figure Ed Whelan.
Speaking at FRC’s anti-LGBTQ Values Voter Summit, Perkins urged Republican lawmakers in attendance to “move much more aggressively” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and former FRC President Gary Bauer, declared the “political process” surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination to be “political waterboarding” and a “travesty.” According to The Associated Press, Bauer mockingly re-enacted what a conversation with Ford and law enforcement may have sounded like and was reportedly met with laughter.
Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has also attacked Ford, including by writing a six point list of so-called “disturbing facts that undermine her story.” Several of those points suggest she came forward for political reasons. The post attempted to discredit Ford by highlighting her political affiliations and those of her lawyer, Debra Katz, claiming the two “have a history of Democratic activism” and anti-Trump advocacy. Liberty Counsel also launched a “fax barrage” directly linking its supporters to the offices of elected officials to send messages of support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The “fax barrage” served as a fundraiser for Liberty Counsel and claimed that Ford’s story does “not align with the moral integrity” of Kavanaugh. Additionally, Liberty Counsel sent an email blast to supporters in which its Chairman Mat Staver called Ford’s story “a shameful, desperate attempt to destroy a person in order to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court” and characterized her as “someone who has an ever-changing story with plenty of political motivation.”
In a separate email to supporters on September 22, Staver continued attacks against Ford, saying she was “being used to create an excuse to delay the hearing” and listing statements from various supporters of Kavanaugh in an attempt to undermine her credibility. On September 24, Mat Staver’s wife Anita Staver, who serves as president of Liberty Counsel, suggested that Ford was a liar in a tweet: “I believe survivors but not liars!”
Additionally, former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber, who still co-hosts one of its radio programs, attacked Ford on Twitter, where he likened her to a “suicide bomber” and compared her story’s effect on the Kavanaugh confirmation to a “political witch burning.” Barber also said Ford “would be fully exposed & further discredited,” and that “true victims” will be “distrusted because political vultures cried wolf one too many times.” In a separate post, he claimed, “We have entered the age of #MeToo McCarthyism. Pure evil.”
Said it before, I’ll say it again. There’s ZERO chance #Ford testifies Thurs or any day. She would be fully exposed & further discredited (to the extent that’s possible). They never intended her to testify.
She was the first suicide bomber. #ConfirmKavanaugh
— Matt Barber (@jmattbarber) September 24, 2018
Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association (AFA) has also launched attacks against Ford. Bryan Fischer, host of AFA’s American Family Radio show Focal Point, attempted to use Ford’s political affiliations and her lawyer’s legal career to discredit her story in a September 17 blog post. Fischer claimed that Katz “has made a career out of dismissing sexual assault allegations against liberal politicians.” In the same blog post, Fischer wrote, “The Bible is very clear that no serious allegation should ever be accepted against someone on the basis of one lone allegation.” In a September 18 email to supporters, AFA President Tim Wildmon reiterated that claim and wrote that “unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible.” AFA initially did not support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court but quickly reversed course after hearing the “passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement."
Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 27, about Kavanaugh’s attempted rape.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hate group Alliance Defending Freedom has publicly spoken out against a California bill that would classify the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy as fraud
Major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom has joined an effort that includes several other major national hate groups to try to stop a bill in California that would classify conversion therapy as fraud. The term “conversion therapy” covers a range of discredited practices that attempt to change sexual orientation or gender identity and that have severe mental and medical health consequences. The organizations fighting the California bill -- which include hate groups the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Pacific Justice Institute, as well as two pro-conversion-therapy groups -- have a demonstrated history of supporting the dangerous practice.
States and municipalities across the country are increasingly considering measures to protect youth from the dangerous practice
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Groups including Family Research Council have largely stayed silent, defended Moore after Washington Post report
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their representatives who endorsed anti-LGBTQ extremist and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore have largely rushed to defend him or remained silent in the day following reports in The Washington Post that he engaged in sexual misconduct in his 30s with a 14-year old.
On November 9, The Washington Post reported on a woman’s story that Moore molested her when she was 14 years old and he was 32. The Post interviewed three other women who also went on the record saying that he pursued them when they were teenagers “and he was in his early 30s.” Moore is a known anti-LGBTQ extremist, who has said that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” and that being queer is “a criminal lifestyle,” and as such has received the endorsements of a number of anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders. These figures include Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, Brian Brown (who endorsed Moore representing his extremist organization National Organization for Marriage (NOM) but also runs hate group World Congress of Families), Tim Wildmon of American Family Association (AFA), Peter Labarbera of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH), and Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin of Family Research Council (FRC).
Between 12:30 p.m. EST on November 9, shortly before the Post published the piece, and 12:30 p.m. EST on November 10, only AFA and AFTAH commented on the report. AFA repeatedly defended Moore across social platforms. On Facebook, AFA Action refused to withdraw its endorsement, writing: “AFA Action believes Justice Roy Moore to be a truthful man and a solid Christian. Based on his statement of denial we are proud to stand by our endorsement of Justice Roy Moore.” The group also retweeted four of Moore’s tweets defending himself, including one saying, “Our children and grandchildren’s futures are on the line.” AFTAH's Labarbera, however, tweeted a CNN article about a White House statement that Moore should "step aside" if the stories are true.
FRC Action leaders Perkins and Boykin endorsed Moore in September but have not commented on the report. The group’s Twitter account tweeted about Moore’s lead in the race shortly before the Post broke the news but has made no statements about Moore afterward. Liberty Counsel and NOM have failed to release any statement regarding Moore in the wake of the story.
Media Matters reviewed the available Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of Liberty Counsel, NOM, AFA, AFTAH, and FRC, as well as the accounts of individual figures Mat Staver, Brian Brown, Peter Labarbera, Tony Perkins, and Jerry Boykin between 12:30 p.m. EST on November 9, shortly before the Post story was published, and 12:30 p.m. EST on November 10. We also reviewed the groups’ websites and press releases, and Google News searches for each figure and group within the same time frame.
Rebecca Damanate contributed research to this report.
Update: After this post's publication, FRC's Perkins tweeted, "The allegations reported by the media against Roy Moore are beyond disturbing and, if true, would disqualify him or anyone else engaged in such behavior from holding a position of public trust." In addition, Liberty Counsel's Staver was quoted defending Moore as "a man of integrity who respects women."
Major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has teamed up with a cohort of similar groups to whitewash their images and mainstream hate, and nearly every one of them supports harmful reparative therapy for LGBTQ people. Reparative therapy, which attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity, has been discredited by every mainstream medical group for decades and has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims. ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the country and a legal powerhouse; it’s currently preparing oral arguments for a Supreme Court case about LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “religious” or “artistic” freedom.
ADF has coordinated with more than a dozen hate and right-wing groups to whitewash anti-LGBTQ hate as the group heads to the Supreme Court this fall
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation and is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” ADF is also currently part of a joint effort, alongside a number of other anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups, to undermine the “hate group” designation made by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As such it has co-signed two letters opposing the designation and formally joined an “SPLCexposed” campaign.
The group has supported a number of extreme, anti-LGBTQ positions, including criminalizing homosexuality. ADF (then called the Alliance Defense Fund) formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws in which it called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” When the court struck down anti-sodomy laws, ADF called the ruling “devastating” and continued its work supporting the criminalization of gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India.
According to SPLC, ADF representatives regularly slander and demonize LGBTQ people, including by pushing the myth that pedophilia and “homosexual behavior” are “often intrinsically linked.” An affiliated lawyer has also called marriage equality a sign of the “degradation of our human dignity” that has “led to a deification of deviant sexual practices.” The group is also leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth.
The legal powerhouse raked in more than $50 million in revenue in 2015 and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases, including regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues; it has special consultative status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has attempted to sway local school policy across the country, often successfully.
ADF has worked relentlessly to whitewash its image, joining a number of other anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups to attack the “hate group” designation. Here is a list of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ allies in their coordinated effort to mainstream hate:
FRC is one of ADF’s official “allied organizations” that co-signed both letters attacking the “hate group” designation, and is part of the “SPLCexposed” campaign with ADF.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is another anti-LGBTQ hate group that has partnered with ADF and others to whitewash their extremism and cast doubt on their hate group status. FRC joined ADF in the “SPLCexposed” campaign as an official supporting partner. It also co-signed two letters with ADF, one attacking nonprofit database Guidestar for labeling them as hate groups and another asking the media to drop the “hate group” label. ADF also promotes FRC as an allied organization on its website, and FRC submitted an amicus brief in support of legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people in the Masterpiece case.
FRC’s official 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 people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.”
According to SPLC, former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that “there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior,” a statement not out of step from FRC’s 2003 filing of an amicus brief supporting anti-sodomy laws. In 2011, FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example.
FRC has a budget of tens of millions of dollars and wields significant influence in the current administration. Its senior fellow, Ken Blackwell, was officially appointed to President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which critics have described as a voter suppression effort. FRC President Tony Perkins embraced and endorsed Trump as a presidential candidate (and met with him at the White House in June). And at least four people who are affiliated with FRC, including Blackwell, were a part of Trump’s transition team.
Liberty Counsel co-signed both letters with ADF and joined it in the “SPLCexposed” campaign.
Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University.” Liberty Counsel partnered with ADF in the “SPLCexposed” campaign and co-signed both letters with the group.
Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in support of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece case, and it has expressed support for criminalizing homosexuality, filing a 2003 amicus brief in support of anti-sodomy laws. In 2012, the organization signed on to defend an anti-LGBTQ extremist who “allegedly played an instrumental part in the Ugandan parliament’s adoption of a draconian anti-LGBT bill that originally included the death penalty in some instances.”
Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children," repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and could lead to civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the "death of some individuals." Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.”
Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” In a column for WorldNetDaily, Barber called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.
In 2014, Liberty Counsel brought in more than $5.5 million in revenue. The organization famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview.
PJI is one of ADF’s official “allied organizations” and co-signed a letter with ADF asking the media to drop the “hate group” designation.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group that also filed an amicus brief in the Masterpiece case. ADF lists PJI as an allied organization on its website, and PJI co-signed the letter along with ADF asking media outlets to drop the “hate group” designation. Notably, PJI has a history of fabricating stories to advance anti-LGBTQ narratives. The group led a smear campaign against a transgender teenager that led to her getting harassed and receiving death threats after her name was leaked to the public; as a result, the teenager was put on suicide watch. PJI relied on debunked claims to defame the student and accuse her of harassing other students, and a few news outlets retracted their stories about the matter after PJI’s claims were determined false. PJI also pushed a bogus story about a California mom who claimed that an REI sporting goods store kicked her out for complaining about a man frightening her daughter in the women’s restroom. It has also pushed fabricated stories about anti-LGBTQ students being bullied in California
PJI’s president, Brad Dacus, has compared stopping marriage equality with stopping Nazis. In 1993, Dacus represented a baptist minister in court after he was removed from the city’s Human Rights Commission for suggesting that he agreed with the biblical punishment of stoning gay men to death; Dacus defended his client’s statement under the guise of so-called “freedom of religion.” Dacus claimed in 2012 that overturning the Defense of Marriage Act could create an “open heydey” for “polygamy” and “perhaps adult incest.” In 2015, PJI brought in $2 million in revenue, and the group conducts outreach on multiple international fronts, including to Slavic countries, China, and Korea.
NOM is one of ADF’s official “allied organizations” and is an official supporting partner of the “SPLCexposed” campaign.
National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was founded in 2007 to fight same-sex marriage. ADF touts NOM as an allied organization on its website, and NOM is an official supporting partner of the “SPLCexposed” campaign.
NOM ran its first anti-LGBTQ campaign in 2008 as one of the leading groups pushing Proposition 8 in California, a successful ballot initiative that invalidated marriage equality in the state before it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013. Early this month, NOM submitted an amicus brief in support of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece case.
Though NOM’s influence and finances have decreased significantly in the years since marriage equality spread throughout the country, the group has significant ties to other prominent anti-LGBTQ groups. The Ruth Institute, a hate group, began as an arm of NOM, and NOM President Brian Brown also runs the World Congress of Families, an anti-LGBTQ hate group that worked closely with Russian lawmakers, activists, and officials as the country shaped its “gay propaganda” law. That law “has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships,” according to Mother Jones, and it has led to the arrests of activists and increased violence against LGBTQ people in Russia.
In 2012, NOM became the subject of controversy in the U.S. when secret documents by the group were discovered attempting to pit minority groups against LGBTQ people. The documents outlined a strategy to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” by “fanning the hostility” between the two groups. They also said it aimed to “interrupt this process of assimilation” for Latino people “by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity - a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.” According to SPLC, the group has repeatedly pushed the work of anti-LGBTQ extremists attempting to connect LGBTQ people to pedophilia, and Brown has said that marriage equality could lead to “normalizing pedophilia.” According to the Human Rights Campaign, Brown has been actively involved in anti-LGBTQ activism in Russia, including by advocating against gay adoption, telling Russians to “defend your values” and “protect our children.” Additionally, NOM was fined more than $50,000 in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws.
The late D. James Kennedy was a key founder of ADF, and he also founded D. James Kennedy Ministries, one of ADF’s official “allied organizations.” The group also co-signed the letter to media asking outlets to drop the “hate group” label.
D. James Kennedy Ministries, formerly known as Truth in Action, is an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The group is an official allied organization of ADF and co-signed the letter to media asking outlets to drop the “hate group” label in their coverage. The late D. James Kennedy, who founded the Ministries, was one of the key founders of ADF in 1993.
The group has produced a series of anti-LGBTQ films, including one opposing allowing gay kids to join the Boy Scouts and saying that they would put “boys at serious risk.” It has a weekly radio program that regularly hosts anti-LGBTQ figures, giving them a platform to spread vitriol.
According to Right Wing Watch, the group has repeatedly suggested that America is becoming Nazi Germany because of advancements in LGBTQ rights, once linking the Day of Silence -- a “student-led national event organized in thousands of schools, bringing awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools” -- with “Adolf Hitler’s birthday.” As Truth in Action, D. James Kennedy Ministries also released a film that displayed “images of the September 11 attacks, bombings, drug abuse, Adolf Hitler…and a married lesbian couple and the kiss between characters Kurt and Blaine on Glee” as a narrator discussed “everything that is evil in this world.” One of the group’s representatives asserted that “about 75 percent of those who struggle with homosexual or lesbian feelings were molested as children.” The group also said in 2012 that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would “jeopardize the military’s health and blood supply, since homosexual men are far more likely to be promiscuous and to have STDs, including HIV/AIDS.” In 2013, the group pushed a made-up story that a high school athlete was disqualified from competing at state level because he made a religious gesture, eventually scrubbing it from its website.
In 2015, D. James Kennedy Ministries brought in nearly $5 million in revenue.
ACPeds co-signed both letters with ADF attacking the “hate group” designation, and ADF attorneys have filed multiple briefs in court alongside and on behalf of ACPeds.
The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a small anti-LGBTQ hate group of a few hundred members whose name is meant to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- a 60,000-member group comprising “leaders in the professional field.” ACPeds President Dr. Michelle Cretella co-signed both letters along with ADF attacking the hate designation. ADF attorneys have filed multiple briefs in court on behalf of ACPeds. The latter group has also filed an amicus brief in support of ADF’s clients in the Masterpiece case.
According to SPLC, ACPeds hides “under the veneer of its professional-sounding name and claims” in order to “defame and discredit LGBT people, often by distorting legitimate research.” ACPeds began when a “small group of anti-LGBT physicians and other healthcare professionals broke away” from AAP after it began supporting the right of same-sex couples to adopt and foster-parent children. ACPeds has been relentless in its claim that it’s dangerous for children to identify as LGBTQ; its blog has suggested that “P for pedophile” should be a part of the LGBT acronym, and, in 2010, the group’s then-president sent a letter to more than 14,000 school district superintendents advocating for conversion therapy and outlining the so-called “health risks” of “claim[ing] a ‘gay’ identity.” Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that has been “rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades.”
Former AFA President Donald Wildmon was a key founder of ADF. AFA is one of ADF’s official “allied organizations” and co-signed both letters attacking the “hate group” designation.
American Family Association (AFA) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group that filed an amicus brief in support of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece case. AFA is an official allied organization of ADF and co-signed both letters with ADF attacking the hate group designation. Former AFA President Donald Wildmon was a key founder of ADF, which was formed in 1993 when “a coalition of 35 Christian Right groups” joined together to found it. Wildmon’s son, Tim Wildmon, now runs the organization, which according to SPLC consists of a “200-station radio network, about 100 employees and a monthly AFA Journal sent to 180,000 people — largely on the basis of anti-gay appeals.”
SPLC reported that, in early 2000s, AFA sent a mailer saying that it “must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery," adding that LGBTQ people “RECRUIT” children. The group ran a multi-year “ex-gay” campaign called “Truth In Love” that advocated for curing LGBTQ people. The campaign included an AFA film that claimed that “80% of homosexual men have a sexually transmitted disease.” The film also featured a man who had been a prominent “ex-gay” activist and who was later found to be “hosting orgies, taking drugs and having unprotected sex with other men without disclosing his HIV status” while he traveled around the country condemning “the homosexual lifestyle.” The film is still listed on AFA’s website, which claims it has been shown in “thousands of churches.”
According to SPLC, AFA’s Bryan Fischer has repeatedly pushed a myth that the Nazi party was formed by LGBTQ people, saying that Nazism was “rooted in the homosexual movement” and “formed in a gay bar.” Fischer has said that Nazi Germany tried “homosexuality in the military” before asking, “How did that experiment work out?” He also claimed that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.” According to SPLC, these discredited assertions came from “the Holocaust revisionist work of Scott Lively,” who claimed that “because of the ‘savage nature’ of gay men, they were able to instigate and carry out the Holocaust.” As recently as September 23, Fischer expressed support for criminalizing homosexuality, tweeting, “If injection drug abuse is contrary to public policy, homosexual conduct should too. And for the same reasons.”
AFA brought in nearly $30 million in revenue in 2014, and the notorious “One Million Moms” campaign is an offshoot of the group. It urges campaigns against and boycotts of what its members call “filth” in the entertainment media.
C-Fam and ADF have worked together on multiple international initiatives. C-Fam has hired some of ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellows for summer positions, and the group co-signed the letter to the media attacking the “hate group” designation.
The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), formerly known as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, is an anti-LGBTQ hate group run by Austin Ruse. C-Fam and ADF have worked together and supported and promoted each other’s work on a number of causes. Ruse spoke before more than 100 of ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellows and C-Fam hosted fellows for summer internships. Ruse co-signed the letter to media with ADF that asked media outlets to drop the “hate group” designation in their coverage. According to its website, C-Fam was founded “in order to monitor and affect the social policy debate at the United Nations and other international institutions” and focuses its work internationally.
Ruse was the subject of controversy in 2014 when he said that “the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.” He later had to apologize for the statement. Ruse also mocked a 15-year-old transgender activist, using the word “trannies” and employing her image in a post about HIV rates in the transgender community. He also denies that the 1998 anti-gay hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard was a hate crime, publishing multiple pieces on Breitbart saying that “homosexuality had little or nothing to do with his murder” and that Shepard “was not killed by gay bias, gay hatred.” Ruse has said that all countries should pass laws against homosexual behavior “even if unenforced,” in order to "help society to teach what is good" and “prevent such truly harmful practices as homosexual marriage and adoption.” According to GLAAD, Ruse has also claimed that, rather than bullying and social stigma, LGBTQ people and activism are the real cause of LGBTQ teen suicide and alcoholism. C-Fam brought in more than $1.8 million in revenue in 2015 and was granted special consultative status to the United Nations in 2014.
TVC co-signed both letters with ADF attacking the “hate group” designation.
Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Lou Sheldon and currently run by his daughter Andrea Lafferty. Lafferty co-signed both letters alongside ADF attacking the “hate group” designation.
Sheldon has pushed the myth that LGBTQ people are pedophiles, claiming, “As homosexuals continue to make inroads into public schools, more children will be molested and indoctrinated into the world of homosexuality.” According to SPLC, TVC has also asserted that “homosexuals molest children at a far greater rate than do their heterosexual counterparts.” Lafferty, too, has pushed the myth, telling Breitbart News Daily that trans-inclusive bathroom policies at Target and Hershey Park made them “pedophile magnets and pervert magnets.” Lafferty also called transgender kids “psychologically unhealthy and unstable” and said that it’s the “ultimate act of child abuse” to affirm a transgender child’s identity. Lafferty also believes that transgender people should be banned from teaching.
According to SPLC, Sheldon has also compared homosexuality “to smoking or drug use, not an immutable characteristic like race or ethnicity,” suggested forcibly placing AIDS victims into “cities of refuge,” and said in the 1990s that a newly passed hate crime law would “protect sex with animals and the rape of children as forms of political expression.” Similar to other anti-LGBTQ extremists, Sheldon has compared queer activists to Nazis, saying that attitudes about LGBTQ people “have been deliberately and deceitfully changed by a masterful propaganda/marketing campaign that rivals that of Adolph [sic] Hitler. In fact, many of the strategies used by homosexuals to bring about cultural change in America are taken from Hitler’s writings and propaganda welfare manuals.” In 2014, the group brought in more than $4.1 million in revenue, and it was granted remarkable access to the White House during President George W. Bush’s administration.
The Ruth Institute is one of ADF’s official “allied organizations” and co-signed the letter to media asking outlets to drop the “hate group” designation. Its founder has given a lecture to ADF Blackstone fellows.
The Ruth Institute is an anti-LGBTQ hate group that began as an arm of NOM and split off in 2013. The Ruth Institute is an official allied organization of ADF and co-signed the letter with ADF asking media outlets to drop the “hate group” designation in their coverage. The group's founder and president, Jennifer Morse, has given a lecture to ADF Blackstone fellows in which she compared resisting the “sexual revolution” to standing up against Nazis.
The group used to hold an annual student conference to prepare college students and recent graduates to defend “natural marriage.” According to SPLC, Morse “has mostly steered clear of the kind of vicious anti-LBGT rhetoric employed by some on the religious right,” but the group highlights a “Circle of Experts” on its website. These so-called “experts” spread vicious lies about LGBTQ people, including connecting LGBTQ activism to Nazism, pushing junk science that “children of same-sex couples fare worse,” and connecting them to pedophilia.
Morse has said that LGBTQ people should stay celibate and has said that being gay is a “completely shameless activity,” according to GLAAD. She has repeatedly pushed a debunked connection between Nazis and LGBTQ people, saying that “the parallels are really quite chilling because the Nazis were able to scare people into being silent, and they scared people by threatening their jobs, and they scared people by creating an atmosphere of intimidation. I hate to say it but it is happening to us.” In another speech, Morse said that same-sex marriage is part of a “pagan ideology” that Christians should avoid like Nazism.
NTFTE and Equality and Justice for All’s Christopher Doyle co-signed both letters with ADF lamenting the “hate group” designation and received legal representation from ADF.
“Ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle runs The National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and is a consultant for Equality and Justice for All. Doyle and his group advocate for harmful reparative therapy under the guise of “therapy equality.” Doyle signed both letters along with ADF lamenting the “hate group” label, and ADF has previously provided legal representation for Doyle. NTFTE filed a report in May to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attacking human rights organizations for what NTFTE called a “hate campaign” to ban reparative therapy. In the report, NTFTE described its purpose as to “secure therapy equality for clients that experience distress over unwanted same-sex attractions and gender identity conflicts.” According to The Washington Post, the complaint accused human rights groups “of committing ‘mass fraud’ and ‘actively distorting the scientific research by promoting the ‘Born Gay’ hoax.’” Doyle’s group Equality and Justice for All attempts to incorporate the harmful myth that LGBTQ people can change their orientation in the “formation of public policy.”
IFI’s website says it has a “working relationship” with ADF, as well as FRC and AFA, and it co-signed both letters attacking the “hate group” designation.
Illinois Family Institute (IFI) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group active in Illinois. It’s Executive Director David Smith co-signed both letters along with ADF lamenting the “hate group” label. At the bottom of its website, IFI notes that it has a “working relationship” with ADF, FRC, and AFA.
IFI has pressured school boards across Illinois to rescind policies that protect LGBTQ people and urged its supporters to get involved in school board elections. Additionally, according to SPLC, IFI has regularly pushed debunked data about LGBTQ people, including that “the median age of death of the homosexual man is 42. Only 9% live past age 65.”
According to GLAAD, Smith has called homosexuality “depraved” and “unnatural” and equated LGBTQ couples with “incestuous couples” and pedophiles. One of IFI’s most extreme figures is Laurie Higgins, who once wrote a blog post published on the website opposingviews.com called “Church Should Fight Homosexuality Like It Did Nazism.” The piece compared the “failure of the church to oppose the extermination of Jews and the government usurpation of control of the church in Nazi Germany” to the “American church’s failure to respond appropriately to the spread of radical, heretical, destructive views of homosexuality.” Higgins claimed that Opposing Views changed the title of her article, and the article has since been removed for the website. In 2014, she attacked gay media personality Dan Savage as “repugnant” and said that she needed to “expose the dark realities of this pernicious movement” just as we must “view photos from Auschwitz” and “of lynchings.” Higgins called it “illuminating the necessity of occasionally viewing the evil in our midst.” She has also said that “there was something profoundly good for society about the prior stigmatization of homosexual practice … when homosexuals were ‘in the closet.’” Higgins has also repeatedly expressed support for Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, saying it “protects minors from homosexuality-affirming propaganda” and suggesting that “perhaps we need an anti-propagandizing-to-minors law” in the United States.
American Values President Gary Bauer co-signed the letter with ADF asking media outlets to drop the “hate group” label.
American Values President Gary Bauer served as FRC’s second president from 1988 through 1999. Bauer co-signed the letter along with ADF calling on media to drop the “hate group” label. According to SPLC, Bauer’s work “raised the FRC’s profile, increased its effectiveness, and built a national network of ‘concerned citizens’ during the Clinton Administration.” He also “brought in several anti-gay researchers who pumped out defamatory material about the LGBT community” during his time at FRC. In a 1998 appearance at Harvard Kennedy School, Bauer expressed support for anti-sodomy laws, saying that “states have a right to, in their laws and in their codes, to decide which sexual activity they want to discourage in a variety of ways.” During that appearance, he also said that “it would be a terrible mistake to add conduct to civil rights codes” in a question about legal discrimination against LGBTQ people at workplace. Bauer said, “It would be a disaster to take something like conduct, homosexual conduct, and attempt to fold it into the rubric of civil rights laws that we have.” He continued to say that he believes landlords should be able to refuse housing to LGBTQ people.
Bauer served in President Ronald Reagan’s White House, where he fought to prevent Reagan from appointing a “known homosexual” to his commission on AIDS, instead suggesting a “reformed” ex-gay who is “not currently living a gay life style.” In 2012, Bauer similarly called former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s decision to hire an openly gay staffer a “disappointment” and attacked the staffer for being “an outspoken advocate of redefining normal marriage.” Bauer has also attempted to link the Obama administration’s support for same-sex marriage and crime in Chicago, asking how “the radical idea of men marrying other men” is “going to help the black family?”
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are calling on the media to drop their hate designation because they're not "neo-Nazis and the KKK"
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been attacking the media and others for citing the hate group designation conferred by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and trying to distance themselves from what they characterize as the “true hate” of well-known hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazi groups.
On September 6, a number of anti-LGBTQ and other hate groups signed onto a letter asking for the media to stop using the “hate group” label when discussing them, saying, “To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism. All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”
But the line for what makes a hate group does not begin at violence, Nazism, or white supremacy; anti-LGBTQ hate groups and others are designated as such for spreading dangerous lies and hateful rhetoric about the queer community that do real harm. The designation is also conferred for attempting to criminalize the existence of LGBTQ people both in the United States and internationally by pushing legislation like anti-sodomy laws. These anti-LGBTQ groups have a pervasive history of attacking and slandering queer people and pushing for policies that negatively impact their mental and physical well-being -- and that’s enough to label them with the word “hate.”
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Liberty Counsel have launched a coordinated, ongoing campaign against media outlets for accurately citing their hate group designation in reports. Each of those groups signed a September 6 letter -- along with the conservative Media Research Center and numerous hate groups from other extremist ideologies such as the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy and the anti-immigrant Immigration Reform Law Institute -- asking media not to use the label and lamenting that their groups were associated “with neo-Nazis and the KKK.” These groups and their allies in right-wing media have previously made a concerted effort to raise the bar for what should be counted as a hate group, often relying on that same argument that they should not be lumped in with neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the KKK.
Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver recently posted a video on YouTube criticizing his group’s SPLC-conferred hate designation, noting that the SPLC also “lists some organizations like the KKK and other real, violent organizations as hate groups, and certainly they are hate groups.” Staver also noted that organizations including Liberty Counsel were lumped “right in with violent organizations,” citing that fact as a reason to discredit the designation. In a June post, ADF wrote that “true hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence” and called its own efforts to limit transgender people’s access to restrooms “really just a disagreement.” Additionally, ADF’s Casey Mattox wrote in a September 5 op-ed that “a list of KKK, Neo-Nazi, and other violent groups could be a non-partisan service to the public.” But he attacked SPLC’s inclusion of other types of hate groups, writing, “The Southern Poverty Law Center has no problem lumping Nazis together with ordinary pro-family Christian policy and legal organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom.”
Since it was named a hate group in 2010, FRC has criticized the SPLC for “lumping us together with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan” and attempted to set itself apart from what it calls “genuine” hate groups like the KKK. Hate group American Family Association (AFA) published a post in August decrying the fact that groups that believe “that homosexual practice is sinful or that gays can change or that Bruce Jenner is not a woman” are considered anti-LGBTQ and that such groups appear on SPLC’s “hate list side by side with the KKK, neo-Nazis,” and others.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups’ allies in the media have also pushed this line. Mark Kellner of the “conservative-leaning ‘Get Religion’ website” asserted, “One may or may not like the legal advocacy of the Alliance Defending Freedom, but they’re not a bunch of hooded-sheet Klanners burning crosses,” according to The Washington Post. While interviewing an ADF representative, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said there was a “pretty broad understanding of” the SPLC’s inclusion of groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church in its hate group list before casting doubt on the inclusion of ADF. She called SPLC “a group well-known for their partisan designation of so-called hate groups” and said that though SPLC “sort of had a credible background” in the past, “they have swayed and gotten a lot of negative attention in the recent years.” Right-wing newspaper The Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet LifeSite also echoed the talking point.
Unsurprisingly, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups also engage in anti-LGBTQ extremism and spread the same kind of myths and hateful rhetoric that the anti-LGBTQ groups do, including that gay people can be “cured” or that they are more likely to molest children. Though neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are often violent, SPLC does not consider violence the only measure of a hate group. According to SPLC, its hate group designation applies to white supremacist groups that “range from those that use racial slurs and issue calls for violence to others that present themselves as serious, non-violent organizations and employ the language of academia.”
SPLC has said that its designation of anti-LGBTQ groups is “based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.” These myths have real consequences for LGBTQ people, who are often at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, and mental illness.
SPLC designated ADF a hate group because its leaders and allied lawyers have “regularly demonized 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.’” Former ADF President Alan Sears called pedophilia and “homosexual behavior … often intrinsically linked.” Similarly, FRC’s Tony Perkins has pushed the myth that gay men are linked to pedophilia, and another FRC representative similarly accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes.” Liberty Counsel’s Staver called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children" and has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.”
The myth that LGBTQ people are linked to pedophilia has been repeatedly debunked, and according to SPLC, “depicting gay men as a threat to children may be the single most potent weapon for stoking public fears about homosexuality.” The American Psychological Association found that “fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults … have received no scientific support.” SPLC also called the myth “probably the leading defamatory charge leveled against gay people.”
Anti-LGBTQ groups’ extreme rhetoric expands well beyond pushing the dangerous myth that gay men are pedophiles. Liberty Counsel’s Staver has said that same-sex relationships are “destructive to individuals and … destructive to our very social fabric.” A Liberty Counsel attorney said that LGBTQ peoples’ lives are “controlled by this lust, this passion, that has kind of overwhelmed them, and so you have kind of the essence of a lack of self control.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also said that homosexuality is “always and forever, objectively and demonstrably wrong. It is never good, natural, right or praiseworthy.”
FRC’s Perkins said that it’s “disgusting” to tell queer youth that their lives will get better. Though Perkins criticizes the SPLC for using “hate group” label for his organization, he has used similar language against LGBTQ activists, calling them “hateful, vile, … spiteful” and saying that they are the “height of hatred” and engaged in “an agenda that will destroy them and our nation.” When talking about the “homosexual agenda,” ADF’s then-President Sears once said, “There is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good.’” One ADF allied-attorney said that same-sex marriage is a sign of the “degradation of our human dignity” and that it has “led to a deification of deviant sexual practices.” And ADF’s senior counsel said in 2014 that “the endgame of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent.”
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that demonizes LGBTQ people by, for example, comparing them to pedophiles, poses a danger to an already at-risk community. An August report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that anti-LGBTQ “hate-violence-related homicides” have increased from 2016, including a sharp increase in trans women of color being murdered in America. Suicide rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times higher than that of their straight peers, and 40 percent of transgender adults “reported having made a suicide attempt.” The Trevor Project noted that “each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.” Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that “compared with other students, negative attitudes toward LGB persons may put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence,” also noting the “greater risk for depression, suicide, [and] substance use.” The CDC added:
“For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.”
Despite the CDC calling for safe and supportive spaces to address the mental health crisis among LGBTQ people, Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that "the most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts [among LGBTQ youth] is not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." Liberty Counsel’s Barber has called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have advocated for anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these groups filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws as part of the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case before the Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional to outlaw sodomy. The groups also condemned the court’s decision after it was announced. ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. when it filed its amicus brief in Lawrence, which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” Liberty Counsel and FRC also filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws. In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, an FRC representative agreed that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior” and said, “The Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the sodomy laws in this country, was wrongly decided. I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.” Many states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, and gay men have been arrested as recently as 2015 for “crimes against nature.”
After they failed in their attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the United States, many anti-LGBTQ organizations turned to working to criminalize gay sex abroad. ADF called the Lawrence ruling “devastating” and has used the decision to raise money for its work abroad. In 2012, ADF officials spoke at a conference in Jamaica in support of its anti-sodomy law, which is still in effect and can punish LGBTQ people with “10 years of hard labor.” ADF has also provided “advice, legal assistance and strategy” to efforts to defend a law in Belize that criminalizes gay sex and has applauded a 2011 decision in India that restored a criminalization statute that could punish gay sex with up to 10 years in prison. There is still a pending court challenge to that case.
Liberty Counsel has also defended the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. In 2012, Liberty Counsel signed on to defend American anti-LGBTQ extremist Scott Lively, who “allegedly played an instrumental part in the Ugandan parliament’s adoption of a draconian anti-LGBT bill that originally included the death penalty in some instances.” Lively was being sued for his “involvement in anti-LGBT efforts in Uganda, which included his active participation in the development of anti-LGBT policies aimed at revoking rights of LGBT people, [and which] constituted persecution." The lawsuit against Lively was dismissed, but the judge in the case noted that “Lively proposed 20-year prison sentences for gay couples in Uganda ‘who simply lead open, law-abiding lives.’” LGBTQ rights activists in Uganda called the bill “essentially his creation.” In 2011, FRC, too, showed its support for criminalizing homosexuality abroad when it called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them. FRC suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans” and cited the AIDS crisis as an example.
ADF has pushed for other harmful anti-LGBTQ policies that have been ruled human rights violations abroad. In 2015, ADF International filed an intervention (like an amicus brief) in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding a case against “mandatory sterilization” for transgender people who are trying to change their names or gender on government IDs. According to SPLC, ADF attorneys “argued that European member states should have the right to determine what sorts of medical treatments and diagnoses they require of transgender citizens seeking new documentation, including sterilization.” ECtHR ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs and against sterilization requirements after activists “argued for years that the sterilization requirement was an institutionalized violation of human rights,” according to The New York Times.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups frequently push the myth that LGBTQ people can “change” and advocate for harmful “reparative therapy,” which the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calls “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” HRC noted that though those practices “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades,” the practice is legal and being used in many places across the United States. HRC compiled the positions of more than a dozen medical and counseling organizations against “reparative therapy.” For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the practice “can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that the so-called therapy’s potential risks “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Despite this universal condemnation, hate groups have explicitly endorsed “reparative therapy” and have even defended it in court. ADF represented a licensed psychotherapist who claimed he could help LGBTQ people get rid of “unwanted same-sex attractions” in Maryland, according to The Baltimore Sun. The therapist hired ADF to determine whether he could file a defamation case against a Maryland lawmaker who “introduced a bill … that would have banned licensed clinicians from providing [reparative] therapy to minors.” An ADF-allied attorney also represented a plaintiff in New Jersey who was challenging the state’s ban on ex-gay therapy. An FRC “Washington Update” post said that “gay-conversion therapy … has been hugely successful at steering young people toward their natural expression of sexuality.” FRC’s Sprigg has written a number of posts in support of reparative therapy on FRC’s website, and he has even accused medical groups like the APA of not being “immune to political and ideological bias, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.” Similarly, Liberty Counsel has also showed support for reparative therapy, with Staver submitting a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and testifying before Congress on what he called “the attacks on religious freedom of licensed mental health professionals, minors, and their parents.” Liberty Counsel also launched a “Change is Possible Campaign” in 2006, which encouraged students “to start Gay to Straight Clubs, and ask that the ex-gay viewpoint be included in all diversity day presentations that discuss homosexuality.”
The bar for what is considered hatred cannot be so high that only the KKK and neo-Nazis are considered hate groups, despite repeated attempts by anti-LGBTQ hate groups to set the standard there. These groups’ attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the U.S. and abroad and to demonize and slander LGBTQ people have had real, harmful effects on the community. Hatred has many forms and should be denounced on all levels, whether it is physical violence from neo-Nazis or attempts by anti-LGBTQ groups to criminalize the very existence of queer and transgender people.