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  • Virginia TV news failed to explain why it was wrong for a fired teacher to repeatedly misgender a trans student

    Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.

    On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.

    Coverage failed to note the harms of misgendering trans people

    Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.

    For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”

    GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”

    School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.

    Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:

    As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.

    Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.

    Virginia TV news coverage featured considerably more statements in support of the anti-trans teacher

    In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.

    From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:

    Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.

    WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.

    Similar cases have emerged that are being supported by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom

    While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.

    As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).

    Additional research by Brennan Suen.

  • These are the LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could take up this term

    The Trump-Pence administration asked the Supreme Court to review trans military ban cases. There are several other LGBTQ-related cases it could decide to take up this session.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration has once again asked the Supreme Court to take up one of its policy priorities and bypass lower courts in what has been called an “unusual” move -- this time, to expedite a ruling on its proposed policy banning openly transgender service members from serving in the military. And that’s just one of several LGBTQ-related cases the Supreme Court could hear this session, with other topics including employment discrimination, trans-inclusive school facilities, and religious exemptions for businesses. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has connections to several of those cases.

    Though there has been media coverage of the trans military ban cases, several other important cases that may reach the high court fly under the media’s radar. Here's a look at LGBTQ-related cases that may be heard by the Supreme Court this term:

    Trans military ban

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    Trans military ban

    In July 2017, Trump announced on Twitter that he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a 2016 policy change by the Obama administration that allowed trans people to serve openly. In March, the Trump-Pence administration released its official policy. In developing the plan, the administration reportedly relied on a panel of “experts” that included the vehemently anti-trans activist Ryan T. Anderson and Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. There have been four lawsuits filed against the ban, and according to CNN, “District courts across the country have so far blocked the policy from going into effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in one challenge earlier this fall and the DC Circuit will hear arguments in early December.”

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the Supreme Court to review three of the cases, bypassing lower courts: Doe v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Karnoski v. Trump. According to The Advocate, Doe “is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," and the other two are pending before the 9th Circuit. Neither appeals court has ruled on any of these cases, but the 9th Circuit has heard arguments in one challenge already.

    The Guardian reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s request “is the fourth time in recent months the administration has sought to bypass lower courts that have blocked some of its more controversial proposals and push the high court, which has a conservative majority, to weigh in quickly on a divisive issue.” The New York Times noted that the DOJ’s request for the Supreme Court to review the issue is unusual, as it “does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket.” According to the Supreme Court’s rules, it should take up an issue “only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this court.”

    Speaking to The Washington Post, several lawyers challenging the ban have “said there is no reason for the court to abandon its usual policy,” and according to The Daily Beast, if the Supreme Court does review the issue, it “would theoretically only be considering whether or not to lift the injunctions that have been placed on the rollout of the transgender troop ban” while the lower courts continue to debate the legality of the ban itself. However, there is also a chance that the high court could find a way to rule directly on the ban’s constitutionality.

    Employment discrimination under Title VII

    There are three cases that the Supreme Court could take up involving interpretations of workplace protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

    The primary debate around Title VII involves whether protections from sex discrimination also encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly as the Supreme Court has already ruled that employers cannot discriminate based on gender stereotypes. In May 2017, Congress introduced the Equality Act, a bill that would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act.

    In October 2017, the DOJ issued a memo that said (emphasis original), "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status." Of the three Title VII cases that the Supreme Court might take up, one involves a trans woman who was fired for her gender identity, and the other two involve men who were fired for their sexual orientation.

    The first case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who was fired after coming out to her longtime employer. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor based on Title VII protections, saying, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex” and that “discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

    The influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing the funeral home at the center of the case, and ADF’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to take up the case in July.

    In October, the DOJ filed a brief in support of the funeral home. It issued a similar brief in favor of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case decided last session. Solicitor General Noel Francisco signed the Harris Funeral Homes brief and argued in support of ADF’s client in Masterpiece Cakeshop. ADF had identified Francisco as one of its more than 3,200 allied attorneys in several press releases in 2016, but the group later claimed that this had been “our mistake” and that he was not in fact an allied attorney. ADF shows a distinct lack of transparency about who its allied attorneys are, and another group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine Francisco’s exact relationship with ADF.

    In a second case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his employer Altitude Express for firing him in 2010 after he “told a female student that he was gay.” (Zarda died four years after he filed the suit.) The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in February of this year, deciding that Title VII “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Altitude Express and its lawyers petitioned the case to the Supreme Court in May.

    In a third case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock sued after “he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for a Georgia county’s juvenile court system when his employer found out he is gay.” The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Bostock, saying that Title VII does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. In May, Bostock and his lawyer asked the Supreme Court to weigh in given a split in circuit courts’ rulings on the matter.

    The high court was originally expected to consider petitions to review the three Title VII cases on November 30, but it has since “delayed its timeline for considering whether to grant review.” According to Bloomberg Law, “The court’s next scheduled conference is Dec. 7, and it has no more conferences scheduled for December. The first conference of the new year is scheduled for Jan. 4.” If it does not grant review by mid-January, the court would not be able to hold oral arguments for any of the cases during the current term, which began in October.

    Religious exemptions for businesses

    In June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The decision did not indicate how the high court should rule on other similar cases or on the larger question of whether businesses can deny services to LGBTQ people but rather ruled that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown “hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Phillips’] objection.” This next session, however, the Supreme Court could make a broader ruling on a similar case.

    In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the owners of the now-shuttered Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, a violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. According to The Oregonian, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against the bakery owners and “upheld the order, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year.” Their lawyers -- from the anti-LGBTQ legal group First Liberty Institute (previously known as Liberty Institute) -- filed a petition for Supreme Court review in September. At least four of those lawyers have connections to ADF: Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, and Hiram Sasser have both been identified as ADF allied attorneys, and Michael Berry and Stephanie Taub both participated in ADF’s legal fellowship program.

    Trans-inclusive school facilities

    ADF has filed another petition asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on an LGBTQ-related issue in the Joel Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case. In that case, cisgender students represented by ADF sued their school district after Boyertown Area High School passed an inclusive policy that allows transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. This differs from the high-profile Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case, in which a trans student sued his school district for passing a discriminatory policy.

    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Boyertown’s trans-inclusive policy and against ADF’s client in July, citing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which “prohibits discrimination ‘based on sex’ in federally funded educational programs.” ADF has also attempted to leverage Title IX in its arguments, saying that the school’s trans-inclusive policy would create a “hostile environment” in violation of Title IX because its cisgender clients would have to interact with trans students in school restrooms and locker rooms. ADF thus contended that cisgender students who feel “embarrassed and harassed” by being in the same restrooms as trans students would be discriminated against “on the basis of sex.”

    There are several potential outcomes if the Supreme Court does take up the case. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that if the court ruled against the plaintiffs, it would likely decide “that local school districts like Boyertown cannot be barred from establishing transgender protections” rather than making a more sweeping decision “to affirm that all transgender students nationwide are protected under Title IX.” However, Allen noted the increasingly conservative makeup of the court and contemplated what could happen if it ruled in favor of ADF’s clients:

    There’s another outcome that has the potential to be catastrophic for a generation of transgender students: The Supreme Court—now with a conservative majority and two Trump picks—hears the case and agrees that transgender students cannot be protected by school policies. In the worst case, they agree that Title IX not only doesn’t protect transgender students, but actually requires schools to discriminate against them.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups are emboldened by the new Supreme Court make up

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including ADF, have united around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court, assuming he would champion their issues and cement the conservative majority on the court. Like the Trump-Pence administration, these groups have been emboldened to push for discriminatory policies in the courts, such as overturning protections against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. ADF and others like it also have unprecedented influence over the administration; the White House even briefed ADF President Michael Farris about the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report. Farris and ADF argued twice before the Supreme Court during the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases before the high court.

    Additional research by Kayla Gogarty and Brianna January.

  • Fox News marks Transgender Day of Remembrance by airing two anti-trans segments

    Laura Ingraham and Shannon Bream give platforms to transphobia

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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.

  • Anti-LGBTQ forces warn that Colorado's first openly gay governor is a threat to Christians

    As Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis makes history, an anti-LGBTQ group and right-wing media outlet have dubiously attempted to pit religion against the LGBTQ community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire have used the successful campaign of Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, to push a false narrative pitting religion against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, they have leveraged the story of anti-gay Colorado baker Jack Phillips -- who went all the way to the Supreme Court in a case involving his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple -- to say that the state is persecuting Christians and that Polis’ election would result in religious people losing their rights.

    Extreme and influential anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor based on the particulars of the case, citing “inappropriate and dismissive comments” from one of the Colorado civil rights commissioners as “hostility” toward Phillips’ religion. Polis called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope,” adding that Congress should pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would amend civil rights protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other areas of life to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

    After Polis’ historic win, The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois published an article headlined “Colorado Elects First Openly Gay Governor In U.S. History As The State Persecutes Christians.” Bois highlighted Polis’ “commitment to LGBTQ principles” and wrote, “The ascension of Polis in Colorado comes at a time when the state has increasingly positioned itself as an enemy of religious liberty, most notably in its persecution of baker Jack Phillips.”

    Before Election Day, anti-LGBTQ group Family Policy Alliance also featured Phillips in a campaign ad against Polis. According to LGBTQ news outlet INTO, the ad said, “Assaults on Jack’s faith – and yours – could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” and a statement released alongside the ad asserted that “the decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come.” Family Policy Alliance sent an email promoting the ad on October 24, which claimed that Polis’ election “means that things could get even worse for Jack and other people of faith in Colorado.”

    The group deleted the ad within days and scrubbed references to the video from its website. A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told Baptist Press on November 2 that the group “was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was ‘pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.’" That second ad, titled “Jared Polis vs. Freedom,” asserted that if elected, Polis would threaten “the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.” (During the 2018 election, Family Policy Alliance and its member group Massachusetts Family Institute worked extensively to undo a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Massachusetts. The repeal effort failed.)

    The Family Policy Alliance ads and The Daily Wire’s story rest on the false premise that the LGBTQ community and people of faith are at odds, or that equal rights for LGBTQ people somehow result in the loss of rights for people of faith. Anti-LGBTQ figures often set up this “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to gin up sympathy for individuals and groups who wish to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing their faith. But these figures, often right-wing evangelical Christians, do not represent all people of faith or even speak for all of Christians. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality should be accepted -- including majorities of most religious groups. Almost 1,300 faith leaders filed an amicus brief defending the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and condemning the use of “religious freedom” arguments to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to the brief’s press release, the faith leaders represented 500,000 congregants “from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S.” And though the Supreme Court ruled against the couple, the decision did not indicate how similar court cases should play out. But Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the baker in the case, is litigating several other cases that may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious exemptions.”

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • These national anti-LGBTQ groups are working to make anti-trans discrimination legal in Massachusetts

    ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY

    National anti-LGBTQ groups are aligned with and have worked alongside a campaign in Massachusetts that would repeal the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, which protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace and give them equal access to public facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The anti-trans Keep MA Safe campaign was started by Massachusetts Family Institute, a state anti-LGBTQ group with direct ties to major national groups Family Policy Alliance, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Research Council.

  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

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

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

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Additional research by Brianna January.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.

  • Maine newspaper editorial boards call on Gov. Paul LePage to protect LGBTQ youth from dangerous conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The editorial boards of major newspapers in Maine are urging the state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, to sign a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, a discredited and harmful practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

    In late June, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. If LePage signs the bill into law, the state will become the 14th (in addition to Washington, D.C.) in the country to ban the practice; dozens of municipalities across the country have also enacted similar policies. Governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills, but according to the Williams Institute, the practice remains prevalent throughout the country: The organization estimated in January that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Conversion therapy is supported by national anti-LGBTQ groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, and its advocates frequently appear in local news to spread dangerous lies about it.

    As LePage considers signing his state’s recently passed bill, two of the largest newspapers in the state are urging him to to protect LGBTQ Mainers.

    The Portland Press Herald’s editorial board urged LePage to protect LGBTQ youth in the state from conversion therapy in a July 2 editorial, noting that should he refuse to sign the bill, he would be the first governor to veto such a measure. The editorial highlighted the major medical and psychological associations that have denounced the practice and cleared up some common misconceptions associated with efforts to protect LGBTQ youth:

    The bill does not interfere with any religious tradition. Preachers can still talk about sin and redemption as they see it. Parents remain free to communicate their values to their children.

    The only thing that would change is that a practitioner in Maine could no longer hang a shingle and charge money for pseudo-scientific treatment with the state’s approval.

    Same-sex attraction is not something that needs to be cured. The government also should have no role in telling people that their gender expression is right or wrong. Ethical psychotherapists have long ago stopped attempting this treatment because it doesn’t help their patients – it harms them.

    Thirteen other states have passed a bill like this, and no governor has vetoed one. It’s time Maine joined them by taking this humane step.

    The Bangor Daily News’ editorial board drew similar conclusions in an editorial also published on July 2. In it, the paper noted that conversion therapy has been condemned by major medical associations and that the practice “doesn’t work.” It also noted its harmful mental and physical health outcomes, which can include “shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide among those its practitioners seek to ‘convert.’” The paper further wrote that “LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers” and urged LePage to sign the legislation into law.