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  • Nearly all TV news networks failed to cover the Trump-Pence administration’s recent attacks on the LGBTQ community

    Recently proposed and finalized rules would codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and adoption and foster care

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the span of three days, new reports revealed several proposed or potential rules coming from the Trump-Pence administration that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people -- particularly trans folks -- in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care. But in the week that followed, from May 22 to May 31, nearly all cable and broadcast TV news channels failed to cover these attacks on the LGBTQ community. Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as cable network MSNBC, did not mention the discriminatory rules at all, while CNN and Fox News covered them for a total of less than 11 minutes across 8 segments.

    The Trump-Pence administration is releasing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ proposals in housing, health care, and adoption and foster care

    Between May 22 and 24, news outlets reported on several rules coming out of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) that would harm LGBTQ people, with a disproportionate impact on the trans community:

    • On May 22, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow “federally funded [homeless] shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men,” according to The Washington Post.
    • On May 24, HHS proposed a rule that would allow health care workers citing religious beliefs to discriminate against and deny care to LGBTQ patients.
    • Later on May 24, Axios reported that the Trump-Pence administration’s HHS plans to propose a new rule that would make it easier for federally funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents, among others, fulfilling a promise President Donald Trump made during this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

    Broadcast and cable news discussed the proposed rules for less than 11 minutes across 8 segments

    Between May 22 and May 31, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and cable news network MSNBC did not mention the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules at all. CNN spent 7.5 minutes covering the topics, and Fox News reported on them for roughly 3.5 minutes.

    CNN discussed the topics over the span of six segments, including during an interview with trans actor D’Lo about an advertisement featuring a father showing his transgender son how to shave. That segment was the only relevant coverage during the time period to feature an LGBTQ guest. Fox News covered the topics over two segments. One was an interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, in which he misleadingly framed the discriminatory rule as “being fair to everybody.”

    Print and digital media reported on all the three rules and contextualized the administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda

    The failure of several broadcast and cable TV networks to report on the discriminatory rules was not reflected in print and digital media.

    Trans writer Katelyn Burns wrote two op-eds contextualizing the recent anti-LGBTQ attacks as part of Trump’s all-out assault on the transgender community. In Teen Vogue, she outlined how these policies could trigger suicidal ideation in trans youth, encourage unsupportive parents, and prevent young people from accessing medically necessary care. In The Washington Post, Burns called HHS’ proposed rule “the cruelest thing the Trump administration has done to trans people,” writing:

    For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying. It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance.

    Digital outlets such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost also covered the rules, citing LGBTQ advocates and contextualizing the administration’s moves as part of a wider strategy to undermine LGBTQ equality across the country.

    These attacks have been championed by extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and will further marginalize already vulnerable people

    The Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies have been fueled by influential right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both of which have allies and alumni serving in positions across the federal government. For example, the right-wing HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is led by Roger Severino, is responsible for both the anti-LGBTQ health care rule and the reported upcoming adoption and foster care rule. Severino formerly served as the director of Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Heritage has a long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy and has increasingly targeted transgender people. Severino has made a career out of advocating against LGBTQ rights and was behind several other anti-LGBTQ actions from HHS. Severino’s newly announced principal advisor, Matt Bowman, is an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate who has worked in HHS positions since 2017. He formerly worked with ADF for more than a decade.

    Ultimately, these latest attacks affect transgender people in areas in which they are already more likely to experience discrimination and hardships. HUD’s proposed rule to give federally funded homeless shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people will only further marginalize an already vulnerable community that faces alarming rates of homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness,” and up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

    The reported HHS rule to allow agencies to deny children adoption and foster care placements with same-sex couples will only limit opportunities for the more than 400,000 children currently in foster care. Despite the planned HHS rule, there is a robust body of evidence that shows children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.

    Further, the HHS rule to gut nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the administration’s most damaging attacks on the transgender community. Transgender patients already face denial of health care and discrimination in health care settings, and National Geographic has reported that transgender “people have disproportionately high rates of illness and death—in part due to widespread reluctance to seek out emergency treatment and even routine checkups over concerns about the quality of care.” Additionally, NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that among respondents, “one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender” in the previous year.

    Media has a responsibility to report on these devastating attacks against the LGBTQ community

    The insufficient reporting on cable and broadcast TV news about the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community plays into the Trump-Pence administration’s strategy of minimizing press coverage of extreme policies coming from federal agencies. The administration released one of the rules ahead of a holiday weekend, which decreased public awareness of the issues -- an approach it has also taken to bury climate change research.

    Moreover, media’s obsession with Trump’s tweets allow extreme anti-LGBTQ figures to push discriminatory policies with little notice. Reporting on the new HHS rule, Reuters’ Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joseph Tanfani wrote:

    One of the benefits of Trump’s Twitter approach is it creates headlines, and that’s what it’s intended to do, and underneath those headlines, everyone else in the administration can go about peacefully doing their job,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a longtime Pence friend. HHS has “released several very important, significant regulations that changed the nature of Obamacare, of healthcare, with very little coverage in the press.

    Though cable and broadcast TV news spent little time covering the administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ rules, there is no mistaking that these decisions will have sweeping impacts on queer and trans people. Media outlets have a responsibility to properly cover the administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights and to educate their audiences on the detrimental impacts these proposed rules will have on an already vulnerable community. Unfortunately, TV news failed both the queer community and their audience by barely reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s latest anti-LGBTQ attacks.

    Methodology

    From May 24 to May 31, the week following the announcement of the proposed anti-LGBTQ rules, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast and cable TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and NBC News -- as well as the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. programming on Fox News and MSNBC -- for mentions of the words or variations of the words “LGBT,” “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “sexual orientation.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words appearing with the terms "child welfare," “reassignment,” “abortion,” “housing,” “shelter,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “Health and Human Services,” “Housing and Urban Development,” “HHS,” or “HUD” appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for the same timeframe, as daytime coverage for MSNBC and Fox News is not available on Nexis.

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • Arizona news station uncritically gives Alliance Defending Freedom a platform to promote its anti-LGBTQ arguments

    Arizona's 12 News KPNX has featured ADF in coverage and whitewashed its anti-LGBTQ record several times in the past

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Arizona TV outlet 12 News KPNX hosted a lawyer from extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and uncritically reiterated the group's talking points, such as referring to a trans boy as a “biological girl,” without providing context on the group's anti-LGBTQ history. The interview with ADF senior counsel John Bursch was part of the outlet’s reporting about the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear ADF’s case against a Pennsylvania school’s trans-inclusive accommodations policy, and it underscored the outlet’s history of sympathetic coverage of ADF.

    There are several other instances in which 12 News KPNX has failed to inform its audience of ADF's extremism. In coverage about ADF’s label as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the outlet described ADF only as “mostly against gay marriage” despite dozens of other extreme positions the group takes against LGBTQ rights. In one segment about ADF’s court case against Phoenix’s LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, 12 News KPNX gave significant airtime to ADF’s clients but did not host any pro-LGBTQ guests to push back; the segment did not even acknowledge ADF’s role in the case or other similar cases. Another segment on the case also featured no pro-LGBTQ guests, though the reporter said the outlet had reached out to the City of Phoenix and hadn’t received a response.

    During a May 28 segment about a Pennsylvania school’s trans-inclusive accommodations policy, reporter Michael Doudna dubiously said that both ADF and LGBTQ advocates “want to protect all students” despite the fact that ADF was arguing that trans students should not be able to access facilities that align with their gender identity. (ADF has packaged its work in this area as something that would help “all students” in the past.) Doudna’s language about trans people also mirrored ADF when he referred to a trans boy as a “biological girl.” He failed to note ADF’s extensive history against transgender student rights or the negative impact that non-inclusive bathroom policies have on transgender students.

    From the May 28 edition of KPNX’s 12 News at 6pm:

    MICHAEL DOUDNA (REPORTER): Both sides of the argument want to -- they want the same thing: They want to protect all students. But how they get there is really the clash.

    DOUDNA: There is no state law that tackles the debate between gender identity, biology, and facilities in school, which transgender rights advocates like Angela Hughey say can leave students out.

    [START CLIP]

    ANGELA HUGHEY (ONE COMMUNITY): You want to make sure that every student has the equal opportunity to thrive.

    [END CLIP]

    DOUDNA: But that’s just one side.

    [START CLIP]

    JOHN BURSCH (ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM): Anytime the Supreme Court declines to take your case, you’re disappointed.

    [END CLIP]

    DOUDNA: Attorney John Bursch from Alliance Defending Freedom also says the Supreme Court missed out on a chance to help students by not striking down the policy allowing a biological girl to be in the boy’s locker room.

    [START CLIP]

    BURSCH: So I think history will show that this was a misguided attempt to help someone at the expense of other people.

    [END CLIP]

    DOUDNA: The non-ruling is just the latest development in the battle over transgender bathrooms in schools, and with no statewide law, the issue here in Arizona is up for debate.

    [START CLIP]

    BURSCH: We can find compromises that work for everybody, but simply violating everyone’s privacy was not the way to do that.

    [END CLIP]

  • Anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom had more than 100 allies in influential government positions in 2018

    ADF allies had positions of influence in Congress, federal agencies, state and federal courts, city and state governments, and local school boards — and we only know a fraction of its network

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This is the second part of a two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government. Read the first part here and click here for Media Matters’ database of more than 100 ADF allied attorneys, Blackstone Legal Fellows, and current and former staff who held a government position in 2018.

    In 2018, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) had allies in more than 100 positions throughout local, state, and federal government, according to a Media Matters analysis of a fraction of its network of thousands of lawyers.

    ADF allies in government have positions in multiple federal agencies, the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, school boards, city councils, and even federal courts. For years, ADF said it would work to “reclaim our nation’s judicial system” and advance its right-wing, anti-LGBTQ legal agenda through its staff and allies, including a vast allied attorney network, its Blackstone Legal Fellowship, and other training programs for conservative Christians interested or working in the legal profession.

    ADF has a troubling lack of transparency about its network of attorneys, which is particularly concerning given that so many of its allies hold influential positions in the government. To shed some light on ADF’s government influence, Media Matters has identified over 100 former ADF employees, allied attorneys, or participants in its Blackstone Legal Fellowship who held government positions in 2018. They likely represent only a fraction of the total number, as ADF claims to have thousands of allies in its networks whose associations with the group are difficult or impossible to track down.

    Media Matters determined each individual’s ADF affiliation based on news reporting, ADF’s website and press releases, archived ADF newsletters, self-reporting on LinkedIn or in professional bios, university materials and pamphlets, and other publicly available sources. This research also benefited from the Rewire.News database of over 100 ADF Blackstone Legal Fellowship alumni. Media Matters has previously identified over 50 ADF alumni who served as government officials in 2017, and in February, we reported nearly 300 allied attorneys that ADF identified in dozens of press releases and other posts on its website.

    ADF has allies working in state or local government positions in more than 25 different states and across the federal government, including the judiciary. Below is a selection of notable ADF allies from our database who hold several types of positions in government.

    ADF allies in federal agencies

    The Trump-Pence administration has enacted many of its worst anti-LGBTQ policies through federal agencies. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services has implemented policies making it easier for health care workers to refuse care to LGBTQ people based on religious beliefs; the Department of Defense has barred transgender service members from serving; and the Department of Education has rolled back guidance protecting transgender students, just to name a few. All of these departments employ ADF allies who may be able to affect and interpret LGBTQ-related policy changes.

    Several ADF allies have notable positions in federal agencies:

    • Kerri Kupec, former ADF legal counsel and director of communications, serves as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she has defended the Trump-Pence administration’s policy of prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military. While at ADF, Kupec praised the current administration for rescinding the Obama administration’s guidance for trans-inclusive school facilities. Kupec held several positions in the DOJ Office of Public Affairs before becoming its director. She also served as a White House spokesperson helping with confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. During that time, the White House briefed ADF President Michael Farris with private information about the FBI investigation into reports that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted professor Christine Blasey Ford while they were in high school.

    • Former ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman currently works as deputy general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services, which has notably been employing prominent right-wing religious activists under the Trump-Pence administration. The department started a conscience and religious freedom division and recently finalized a “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” rule, both of which make it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others. In fact, Bowman reportedly helped craft HHS regulations rolling back the Obama administration’s mandate requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act. While at ADF, Bowman represented the anti-abortion group March for Life in a 2014 lawsuit against the Obama-era mandate. Also during that time, Bowman wrote an op-ed arguing that the Obama administration’s LGBTQ-inclusive HHS regulations posed an “urgent threat against the rights of many Christian and pro-life institutions and individuals regarding their beliefs about the sanctity of human life and sexuality.”

    ADF allies in federal and state courts

    The Trump-Pence administration has nominated at least seven ADF allies for federal judgeships, and several federal courts include ADF allies as law clerks. ADF-affiliated judges are part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to “reshape the American judicial system” by filling the courts with conservative judges.

    Five federal judicial nominees with ties to ADF have been confirmed under the Trump-Pence administration:

    • Allison Jones Rushing was confirmed to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in March 2019 even after LGBTQ and civil rights groups highlighted her previous internship with ADF. In her Senate Judiciary Committee nomination questionnaire, Rushing also noted her participation in speaking engagements for ADF as recently as 2017.

    • Allied attorney Kyle Duncan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Prior to his judicial appointment, Duncan was involved in several LGBTQ-related cases, including “defending Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage” and representing a Virginia school board in its case against a transgender high school student who wanted access to facilities that aligned with his gender identity.

    • Former Blackstone fellow Joseph Toth serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. His presence could impact LGBTQ veterans -- particularly transgender veterans who already face difficulty accessing necessary medical benefits -- now that the Trump-Pence administration has recently implemented its ban on transgender service members.

    • Allied attorney Michael Joseph Juneau serves on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana after being confirmed in 2018.

    • Jeremy Kernodle serves as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas after he was confirmed in 2018. Kernodle identified himself as an ADF allied attorney during the confirmation process but later asserted that he was not aware of his listing as an allied attorney until he began preparing for his nomination.

    The 2017 federal judicial nomination of ADF allied attorney Jeff Mateer was withdrawn after some of his extreme anti-LGBTQ comments were uncovered. He remains the first assistant attorney general in Texas. ADF allied attorney and former ADF senior counsel Thomas Marcelle is still awaiting Senate confirmation after his January re-nomination.

    Outside of federal courts, there are also at least two state Supreme Court justices with ADF connections:

    • Nels Peterson completed the Blackstone Legal Fellowship in 2002 and now serves as a Georgia Supreme Court justice after being appointed in 2017.

    • Blackstone Legal Fellow Brian Hagedorn was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April after previously serving on the state’s Court of Appeals. Hagedorn has an extensive history of anti-LGBTQ positions, such as arguing that “the idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable. There is no right in our Constitution to have sex with whoever or whatever you want in the privacy of your own home (or barn).”

    ADF allies are representatives in Congress and state legislatures

    According to Freedom for All Americans, more than 150 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2018. ADF has played a direct role in shaping anti-LGBTQ legislation at the state level, including creating and distributing anti-LGBTQ model policies such as its “Student Physical Privacy Policy.” In 2017, legislatures in at least eight states introduced policies resembling that model. ADF also helped write, promote, and justify a discriminatory law in Mississippi that gives religious organizations, businesses, and individuals broad license to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    There were at least seven ADF-affiliated lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures in 2018:

    • In Congress, allied attorney and former ADF lawyer Mike Johnson represents the 4th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson was previously a state representative and sponsored a religious exemptions bill that would have made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • Arizona's J.D. Mesnard is concurrently working as both a state senator and a regional director for ADF’s Church Alliance. As part of the Church Alliance, Mesnard has to agree to ADF’s statement of faith which includes rejecting transgender people, same-sex relations, and sex outside of marriage. Prior to becoming a state senator in 2019, Mesnard served as a state representative for eight years, including two years as speaker of the House. While speaker, Mesnard released a workplace harassment policy for the state House that did not include protections for LGBTQ representatives.

    • Former senior counsel and allied attorney Steve O’Ban serves as a Washington state senator, a position he has held since 2013. ADF’s website noted that his time on staff there overlapped for several years with his time as a legislator. As a state senator, O’Ban voted against a bill protecting LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. In 2016, while both serving as a state senator and working for ADF, O’Ban sued the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of a school district that did not want to implement trans-inclusive facilities. He also argued in favor of suspending the Iowa Civil Rights Act for including protections based on gender identity.

    • ADF allied attorney Matt Shea has served as Washington state representative for over a decade, and he touts his ties to ADF in both his campaign and government biographies. Shea is also a co-founder of the Washington Family Foundation, which is an anti-LGBTQ organization that later merged with the Family Policy Institute of Washington. The group is affiliated with the Family Policy Alliance and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. During his 2018 reelection campaign, Shea acknowledged that “he had distributed a four-page manifesto titled ‘Biblical Basis for War,’” which included violent language about people who flout “biblical law,” stating, “If they do not yield - kill all males.” It also condemned abortion and same-sex marriage. As a state representative, Shea has voted against multiple bills promoting LGBTQ equality, and he sponsored several anti-LGBTQ bills, including one defining marriage as between a man and a woman and another that would limit access for transgender people to facilities consistent with their gender identity. His extreme views expand beyond anti-LGBTQ rhetoric; Shea also has a history of working with anti-Muslim and militia groups.

    • Former Illinois state Rep. Peter Breen, Louisiana state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, and former Missouri state Rep. Kevin Corlew are some of the other state lawmakers connected to ADF.

    ADF allies are state attorneys general and solicitors general, and they are in state attorneys general offices

    The mandate of a state attorney general varies by state, but they are generally considered the state’s top legal official and “advise and represent their legislature and state agencies and act as the ‘People’s Lawyer’ for the citizens.”

    ADF has at least two allied attorneys serving as state attorneys general:

    • Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has been tied to ADF for more than two decades, attending its first training program in 1997 and ultimately providing ADF with more than 10,000 hours of pro bono service. Notably, Clarkson served as local counsel alongside ADF in an ongoing case in Alaska regarding a women’s homeless shelter that denied entry to a transgender woman. He withdrew from the case the day after being appointed to his current position. As attorney general, Clarkson has broad powers to advise the governor and represent the state in legal matters, “including the furnishing of written legal opinions to the governor, the legislature, and all state officers and departments,” which can include supporting and defending anti-LGBTQ bills. In a 2019 interview with Clarkson, ADF wrote that he "remains committed to ADF ideals" as attorney general.

    • Montana Attorney General Timothy Fox is also an ADF allied attorney. Fox worked alongside ADF as local counsel on behalf of a church that was accused of violating state election law after congregants signed petitions for an amendment to the state constitution limiting the definition of marriage between a man and woman. Fox has used his office to fight against LGBTQ rights such as same-sex marriage and trans-inclusive facilities.

    Many states appoint solicitors general to oversee “the appellate operation in state attorney general offices.” State solicitors general can oversee the “preparation of legal opinions and appellate litigation,” determine whether the state should write or join amicus briefs, and even argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of their state, as ADF ally and Montana Solicitor General Dale Schowengerdt has done.

    ADF affiliates served as solicitors general in Montana and Nevada in 2018:

    In addition to these positions, ADF affiliates also staff attorneys general offices in states across the country, including Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, and Texas. In fact, there are four ADF affiliates in both the Arizona and Texas attorneys general offices:

    • ADF allies Evan Daniels, Joseph La Rue, Angelina Nguyen, and Esther Winne all work in Arizona’s attorney general office. The office has submitted briefs in support of ADF clients Jack Phillips, Breanna Koski, and Joanna Duka in cases working to overturn LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

    • ADF allies David Hacker, Heather Hacker, Jeff Mateer, and Austin Nimocks all worked in Texas’ attorney general office in 2018, though Nimocks has since left. Additionally, ADF Blackstone Fellow Ryan Bangert moved from the Missouri attorney general office to the Texas attorney general office in January 2019. The office has supported Texas’ anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” which would have required transgender people in the state “to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities” that do not align with their gender identity. It also joined 10 other states in suing the Obama administration over guidelines protecting trans students, and it filed legal briefs in support of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory position against trans-inclusive bathroom policies. The office also submitted an amicus brief in support of ADF’s client Phillips alongside Arizona and several other states.

    Additional research by Brennan Suen and Rebecca Damante.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom has an extremely shady network of thousands of attorneys

    ADF’s network of allied attorneys and Blackstone Legal Fellows affects policy at all levels of government

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (5/20/19): On May 20, Media Matters published the second installment of this two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government. The additional report includes a database of more than 100 ADF allied attorneys, Blackstone Legal Fellows, and current and former staff who held government positions at the local, state, and federal levels in 2018. The full database can be found here

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is stunningly opaque about its large network of affiliated lawyers, what positions of influence they hold, and what beliefs they must agree to in order to be officially tied to the group.

    ADF's lack of transparency is multifaceted. For one, many members in its network do not publicize their relationship with the organization. Additionally, on several occasions, ADF has claimed affiliations with individual attorneys or officials who have disputed their ties, or removed references to affiliations with individual attorneys or officials following reports that exposed those connections.

    Through its Blackstone Legal Fellowship and allied attorney program, the number of ADF affiliated lawyers could be as high as 5,000 -- and many of those attorneys also have influential positions in government, ranging from local school boards to federal agencies. This legal network is one of the key tools in ADF’s arsenal that allows it to affect policies that impact LGBTQ people across the country, but journalists and the public have very little information about it.

    ADF is one of the most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the country

    ADF is one of the largest and most influential anti-LGBTQ groups in the world, and it takes extreme positions on nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality. The group has supported Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defended the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocated against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supported policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity, as well as dozens of other positions that are dangerous to LGBTQ people.

    ADF uses its revenue of more than $50 million per year to advance its mission of “advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family” through direct litigation, grant funding for other cases, and legal training programs. Since its founding in 1994, ADF has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including cases regarding abortion and LGBTQ issues.

    In the last few years, ADF has been involved in several high profile court cases in which it argued in favor of legal discrimination against LGBTQ people. Last June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to serve a gay couple, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court has taken on another ADF case for its upcoming term, R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which could determine whether civil rights protections in employment extend to LGBTQ employees.

    ADF has influence through the large network of lawyers who have completed its Blackstone Legal Fellowship

    Outside of its own staff and litigation, ADF seeks to influence the legal landscape by providing funding and training opportunities to create a large network of lawyers sympathetic to ADF’s mission. ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship has been around since 2000, and the group reports that it “has trained more than 2,100 law students from more than 225 law schools in 21 different countries.” ADF has written that the program seeks to train Christian law students “who will rise to positions of influence as legal scholars, litigators, judges, and perhaps even Supreme Court justices.”

    The Blackstone fellowship is a nine-week summer program that includes three weeks of training seminars and six weeks in legal internships, including in government entities. ADF says that “those selected to become ‘Fellows’” at the end of the program “receive ongoing training, resources, and support through an international community,” and the group boasts that its alumni “are serving on law reviews, securing clerkships, joining major firms, working in the government and nonprofit sectors, and accepting positions in academia and the judiciary.”

    ADF spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on its fellowship program; in 2019, expenses per person include $6,300 in scholarship funding, several flights, lodging, and weeks of meals for its interns. But as a result, the organization reaps the benefits of fostering a large network of potentially influential conservative lawyers at the onset of their careers. ADF has additional training programs for young legal professionals or students and recent graduates “on a path to future leadership in law, government, business, and public policy.”

    ADF also has a network of more than 3,300 allied attorneys

    In addition to its training programs for law students and new attorneys, ADF has created what it calls a “powerful global network” of over 3,300 “allied attorneys.” Attorneys in the network receive opportunities for funding, access to ADF’s legal resources, and additional training programs; in return, allied attorneys provide pro bono service to ADF, such as litigation, amicus briefs, media work, “legal services to churches & religious non-profits,” and “research assistance, legal advice, and drafting of bills for legislators, policy makers, administrative agencies, etc. relating to religious liberty, sanctity of life, and marriage & family.”

    ADF can activate these allied attorneys when it learns about LGBTQ-related events to quickly get involved in cases down to the local level. In turn, these attorneys can also alert ADF to LGBTQ-related matters in their localities and bring the force of a national group to their backyards. ADF has written that it “depends upon its network of attorneys and others to bring appropriate matters to our attention.”

    ADF notes that its allied attorneys must agree to a statement of faith as part of their application. In the past, ADF’s FAQ page about the program linked directly to an 11-point statement on its website that opposes trans identities and same-sex marriage and lumps in “homosexual behavior” and “acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex” with bestiality and incest as “forms of sexual immorality” that are “sinful and offensive to God.” However, after a detailed report on the program and its influence by Sarah Posner in The Nation, ADF said that allied attorneys “do not have to agree to the same statement of faith as employees” and removed links to the statement.

    ADF specifically encourages government attorneys to join the allied attorney program. On its FAQ, ADF notes that government attorneys who are “prohibited from doing private pro bono litigation” can instead provide ADF with “legal research, educational presentations, or other types of work related to Alliance Defending Freedom mission areas.”

    Between its allied attorneys and Blackstone fellows, ADF has a network of legal allies that reach across the globe and hold an unknown number of U.S. government positions.

    ADF operates with an extreme lack of transparency about its training programs and allied attorneys

    ADF is extremely opaque about its programs and has worked to keep details about them from the public, such as removing mentions of its allied attorneys’ statement of faith after The Nation’s investigation. It also does not release a comprehensive list of people who participate in its programs, and many of its participants and alumni do not publicly identify their relationship with ADF. A noncomprehensive Media Matters review of allied attorneys mentioned on ADF’s website found only 300 of its reported 3,300 members, many of whom were mentioned on pages that are now archived. Additionally, it is unclear whether allied attorneys remain counted in the network for life, or whether the 3,300 number includes former allied attorneys, some of whom could have cut their official ties with the group with no public record. The number of allied attorneys could thus be larger than the 3,300 claimed by ADF.

    Additionally, it seems that some participants in these programs are unaware of their status as allied attorneys or may have avoided publicizing it during judicial nomination processes. For example, confirmed federal Judge Jeremy Kernodle submitted answers to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary during his nomination stating that he served as an allied attorney with ADF on a 2017 case. But in a later questionnaire, he asserted that he “did not apply or request to be an ‘allied attorney’ with ADF” and first “discovered that ADF had listed [him] as an ‘allied attorney’” when he began preparing responses to the questionnaire for his nomination. Kernodle continued that he only worked with ADF on one case and was “not certain when” he first became an allied attorney.

    Another now-confirmed federal judge, Kyle Duncan, reported participating in several speaking engagements for ADF but did not report his status as an allied attorney in his nomination questionnaire or in follow-up questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee. ADF, however, previously documented his affiliation as an allied attorney while Duncan served in the Louisiana Department of Justice.

    Other reporting discrepancies further underscore the opacity surrounding ADF’s networks. Posner’s report in The Nation identified Noel Francisco, the Trump-Pence administration's solicitor general, as an ADF allied attorney, citing two different ADF press releases explicitly stating that Francisco is one of “more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF.” After publication, however, ADF “contacted The Nation, claiming that Francisco has never been an allied attorney.” According to the attached editor’s note, ADF called the press releases “our mistake” and claimed that its “media dept. got it wrong.” ADF promptly rewrote its press releases but did not issue corrections on either of them.

    In another instance, Media Matters identified an attorney at a major law firm as an allied attorney based on another ADF press release, but his law firm reached out to say that was incorrect and due to a typo in the ADF press release that named him as such.

    Though ADF makes it clear that government employees can join its allied attorney program, it does not publicly specify which positions might make participants ineligible to remain in the network. However, it does appear that judges may have to cut ties with the group. For example, after Jamie Anderson was appointed as a county judge in Minnesota, ADF wrote that she will “no longer participate as an Allied Attorney for obvious reasons.” Additionally, Steve Christopher’s LinkedIn profile says that he stopped being an ADF allied attorney in March 2013, the same month he became a judge in Hardin County, Ohio.

    Understanding ADF’s influential and opaque network is key to knowing how it shapes anti-LGBTQ policy

    Between its Blackstone Legal Fellowship and allied attorney program, ADF’s network could include more than 5,000 lawyers. A 2017 Media Matters review of just a few hundred of those attorneys found that at least 55 had government positions, and the number in 2018 was at least twice that.

    In addition to its role in promoting anti-LGBTQ policies through the courts, ADF also directly shapes legislation at the state level, such as anti-trans “bathroom bills” and sweeping religious exemptions laws that make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Its allies sit in federal agencies and on federal courts, among other influential places, and have countless ways to affect policy. Many journalists do not have the information they need to draw the connections between these decision makers and the national group driving much of the anti-LGBTQ policies in the country.

    In Wisconsin, journalists and advocates have published several articles about a state Supreme Court justice-elect who received thousands of dollars for speeches to ADF and was a Blackstone Legal Fellow. Journalists, policymakers, and the public need to know about ADF’s network of allies in government in order to ask them how these associations affect their decision making and whether they stand by the extreme anti-LGBTQ beliefs of the group. Understanding ADF’s programs and network is crucial to knowing the full scope of its influence on LGBTQ-related policies at every level of governance.

    This is the first part of a two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government.

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • Right-wing media and think tanks are aligning with fake feminists who dehumanize trans people

    TERFs use feminist vocabulary but are aligned with national anti-LGBTQ groups

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Tucker Carlson recently hosted Julia Beck, a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” or “TERF,” in a segment promoting the illusion that there is an important divide over the importance of transgender rights within the LGBTQ community.

    Beck and other TERFs claim to be feminists, but they hold vehemently anti-trans views and are widely rejected by LGBTQ advocates and organizations. In fact, TERF groups and activists have joined with right-wing, anti-LGBTQ organizations around the country in lawsuits against trans rights.

    Beck's appearance on Fox was just the latest example of right-wing figures and groups promoting TERFs, who use feminist vocabulary to disguise their anti-trans bigotry.

    TERFs have appeared on right-wing media and at right-wing events

    Beck appeared on the February 12 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss her recent removal from Baltimore’s LGBTQ commission for her anti-trans views. During the segment, Beck, who is a lesbian, said, “Women have been speaking out about this for decades, but we have been effectively silenced. Many women like myself have been pushed out … simply because we acknowledge biological reality.” She also claimed that transgender identities are “opposed to biological reality,” said she doesn’t “think it’s fair to lump us all into the same acronym,” and pushed the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies threaten the safety of women and girls.

    Beck has also appeared at the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation as part of a panel of people labeled as being “from the Left” who oppose the Equality Act, a bill that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination laws. The January event was moderated by Ryan T. Anderson, an anti-LGBTQ activist who has previously hosted other TERF activists at the Heritage Foundation to attack trans-inclusive legislation.

    On the panel, Beck said, “There are only three sexualities -- homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual; all the hip new identities in the alphabet soup like nonbinary, gender-fluid, [and] pansexual are not actually sexualities. Neither is transgender.” She added that the “T” in LGBTQ is “diametrically opposed to the first three letters” and claimed that transgender identities “undermine and erase homosexuals.” She also said the definition of a woman is limited to an “adult human female,” echoing a rallying cry of the U.K.-based TERF movement.

    Beck spoke on the panel alongside Kara Dansky, a leader of the TERF group Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) who has also appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight. During her 2017 interview, Dansky said, “We're called transphobic bigots because we ask questions about gender identity. We're asking questions and we're standing up for women and girls.”

    Another TERF activist has recently leveraged her anti-trans beliefs into a flood of sympathetic coverage from right-wing outlets.

    Meghan Murphy, who founded the pro-TERF blog Feminist Current, is suing Twitter after she was banned from the platform for intentionally misgendering and deadnaming a transgender person. Deadnaming is the act of calling a transgender person by the name given to them at birth that they no longer use and that does not align with their gender identity, and it is a violation of Twitter’s new hateful conduct policy. Right-wing media rushed to cover Murphy’s lawsuit after she posted a YouTube video about the ban, leading to favorable coverage from Quillette, The Federalist, National Review, The Daily Wire, Townhall, The Spectator, LifeSiteNews, the Washington Examiner, and The Daily Caller.

    Right-wing media suggest TERFs are liberals; in fact, they’re aligned with extreme right groups

    Right-wing outlets seized on Murphy’s self-identification as a “feminist” as evidence that anti-trans reactionaries do not solely come from the far-right. On his Fox show, Carlson similarly identified Beck as a feminist and claimed that WoLF leader Dansky is a “radical feminist” and “not on the right at all.” And during their appearance together on the Heritage Foundation panel, which was titled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the Left,” Beck expressed her surprise at participating in an event hosted by a conservative think tank.

    TERFs’ embrace of supposedly feminist aesthetics and rhetoric can make it more difficult for media consumers to identify what they really stand for, and right-wing media take advantage of this confusion to push the illusion that activists “on the Left” share their anti-trans agenda. But TERFs are distinctly on the side of right-wing groups, and they have even allied with the efforts of national anti-LGBTQ groups to oppose trans rights in the judicial system.

    In 2016, WoLF sued the Obama administration after it issued guidance to public schools regarding transgender students’ access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. In the suit, WoLF alleged that these accommodations would lead to “indecent exposure” and “voyeurism” -- a claim that has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. In reality, transgender people are more likely to be victims of harassment, assault, and discrimination in bathrooms than to be perpetrators of such crimes.

    In G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, WoLF submitted an amicus brief filed jointly with the Family Policy Alliance, a national anti-LGBTQ group with an alliance of state groups that work to deny LGBTQ people their civil rights. The brief argued against extending Title IX protections -- which “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance” -- to include gender identity. WoLF’s brief was submitted in support of a school district that refused to accommodate the needs of a transgender student.

    WoLF also filed a brief in the Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case in support of a client of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, who sued his school district for allowing transgender boys to use the same restrooms and locker rooms as him.

    Another coalition, called Hands Across the Aisle, which includes TERFs as well as conservative Christians, has also been actively supporting anti-LGBTQ groups in their legal actions against transgender civil rights. Like WoLF, the group filed an amicus brief in the Boyertown case supporting ADF’s efforts to roll back protections for transgender students.

    Hands Across the Aisle also wrote a 2017 letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson urging him to rescind protections implemented by the Obama administration in 2016 for transgender people seeking assistance in homeless shelters. The letter was signed by dozens of leaders of various anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Family Policy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, and the Texas Eagle Forum. (A prominent member of Hands Across the Aisle, Meg Kilgannon, was recently interviewed on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle about the group’s opposition to transgender athletes.)

    One prominent TERF has also connected with extremist movements overseas to support reactionary movements seemingly unrelated to her anti-trans agenda. Kellie-Jay Minshull, who goes by Posie Parker, recently traveled to Norway for a conference where she posed with far-right Hungarian politician, Holocaust denier, and Islamophobe Hans Lysglimt Johansen.

    Additionally, Parker has repeatedly expressed support for far-right anti-Muslim activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson. Robinson, another former Tucker Carlson Tonight guest, has also expressed anti-trans views in a video for far-right media outlet The Rebel.

    Right-wing media misleadingly suggest TERFs demonstrate a division within the LGBTQ community

    The idea that TERFs are liberal feminists -- bolstered by right-wing media -- helps create the illusion of a growing division within the LGBTQ community over transgender civil rights. In reality, mainstream LGBTQ rights organizations support and campaign for transgender civil rights, and lesbian institutions such as the Dyke March explicitly champion issues impacting transgender and gender-nonconforming people while also preserving pride events as a form of radical protest. Civil liberties advocates have also taken on the Trump administration’s anti-trans agenda and sued on behalf of transgender people for their right to access public accommodations. There is no such “divide” among mainstream feminists and LGBTQ advocates regarding the inclusion of transgender people in the queer community, as TERFs would like us to believe.

    In a piece about U.S. TERFs for Bitch Media,Tina Vasquez wrote that the debate over transgender rights “is not just feminist-theory inside baseball. Though outspoken, politically active trans-exclusionary radical feminists are relatively few in number, their influence on legislation and mainstream perceptions of transgender people is powerful and real.”

    Right-wing media figures like Carlson -- who has time and again demonstrated his intimate familiarity with extremist movements and a willingness to champion their causes -- are pushing a larger agenda that is anti-transgender, which includes denying trans people health care, expelling them from the military, and legally undermining their existence. And along the way, they’ll undoubtedly continue to uplift TERFs’ viewpoints under the guise of progressive feminism. But other media outlets and media consumers should be aware that nothing could be further from the truth; without transgender people leading the way, LGBTQ liberation cannot take place.

  • Here are 300 of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom's reported 3,300 allied attorneys

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) regularly touts its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who apparently agree with the organization’s anti-LGBTQ statement of faith and provide pro bono legal support on behalf of the group, but only a fraction of those allies are easily identifiable online. ADF has also removed mentions of U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco as an allied attorney from its website, adding to the program’s opacity. As ADF has no easily accessible record of its allied attorney network, Media Matters has compiled a list of nearly 300 of the attorneys by sifting through dozens of press releases and other posts on the group’s website.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation and has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including cases regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. To advance its mission, ADF uses its more than $50 million in revenue to provide attorneys with “the resources, training, and support they need to stand boldly for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”

    ADF has built a vast alliance of lawyers and supporters through its legal and religious training programs, and the group has what it calls a “powerful global network” of over 3,300 “allied attorneys.” These allied attorneys receive opportunities for funding, access to ADF’s legal resources, and additional training opportunities in exchange for a commitment to provide pro bono service, such as litigation support, media work, and aid to legislators and policymakers. ADF can activate these attorneys when it learns about LGBTQ-related events and, with their help, quickly involve itself in matters reaching down to the local level. In turn, these attorneys can also alert ADF to LGBTQ-related matters in their localities and bring the force of a national group to their backyards.

    ADF’s influence is widespread; the organization has dozens of alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country. But ADF operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify themselves as such. It has even previously retracted its affiliation with a high-profile figure who it had reported as an ally.

    A 2017 investigative report by Sarah Posner in The Nation identified Noel Francisco, the Trump-Pence administration's solicitor general, as an ADF allied attorney, citing two different ADF press releases explicitly stating that Francisco is one of “more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF.” After publication, however, an editor’s note was attached noting that ADF “contacted The Nation, claiming that Francisco has never been an allied attorney” and calling it “our mistake” because its “media dept. got it wrong.” ADF promptly rewrote its press releases but did not issue corrections on either of them.

    In the update, The Nation reported that ADF claimed in its email about Francisco that “its allied attorneys are not required to agree to the statement of faith [The Nation] found linked to within ADF’s FAQs about applying to the program.” The update continued:

    That statement of faith includes a commitment to believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, that God designed marriage for one man and one woman, and that homosexual behavior is “sinful and offensive to God.” Later in the day, that FAQ page, too, was changed. It had read, “The application requires affirmation of agreement with our statement of faith,” linking to the statement we quoted in the story [see screenshot here]. ADF’s website now omits that clause, reading only, “You become a part of the ADF Attorney Network by formally applying and being accepted as an Allied Attorney.” But the link on the web page, before it was changed yesterday, took one to the same statement of faith that employees must agree to.

    The actual application page, however, still states that you can become an allied attorney by “filling out an application online and agreeing to a statement of faith.”

    These discrepancies underscore the opacity surrounding both ADF’s network of allied attorneys and the process involved in becoming one. Testimony from a recent judicial nominee only adds to this confusion. In submitted answers to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, federal judge nominee Jeremy Kernodle stated that he was an allied attorney with ADF on a 2017 case. In response to follow-up questions, Kernodle clarified that he “did not apply or request to be an ‘allied attorney’ with ADF"; “discovered that ADF had listed [him] as an ‘allied attorney’” when he began preparing responses to the questionnaire; and was “not certain when that first occurred.”

    ADF’s lack of transparency around its allied attorney program is particularly troubling given the group’s widespread influence. Media Matters has compiled a list of nearly 300 allied attorneys identified in various places on ADF’s website -- but this is only a small fraction of the 3,300 allied attorneys whom ADF claims are in its network. It is unclear whether ADF’s allied attorneys remain as such for life or whether the 3,300 number includes former allied attorneys, some of whom could have cut their official ties with the group with no public record. It is imperative that media include this context when reporting about these attorneys or their involvement in LGBTQ issues and other human rights matters.

    There are several notable allied attorneys on this list, including multiple state attorneys general, lawyers at major firms, and legislators

    Allied attorneys are serving in positions across all three branches of the federal government and within state governments:

    • In Congress, allied attorney and former ADF lawyer Mike Johnson currently represents the 4th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson was previously a state representative and sponsored a religious exemptions bill that would have made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • Trump-appointed federal Judge Kyle Duncan, the former general counsel for Becket Law, has also been labeled an allied attorney and has a history of opposing LGBTQ equality. While at Becket, which has represented anti-LGBTQ clients in the past, Duncan authored an amicus brief for the Supreme Court opposing marriage equality and was counsel in a case almost heard by the Supreme Court supporting a school’s discriminatory anti-trans bathroom policy.

    • Kerri Kupec, former ADF legal counsel and director of communications, currently serves in the executive branch as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice and has defended the Trump administration’s policy of prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military.

    • ADF allied attorneys also serve as attorneys general -- or in their offices -- in states across the country, including Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, and Texas. In particular, allied attorneys Kevin Clarkson and Timothy Fox serve as the attorneys general of Alaska and Montana, respectively. ADF has also labeled Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke an allied attorney.

    ADF’s allied attorney network also extends to influential private law firms:

    • Allied attorney Tim Swickard is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig. Greenberg Traurig “placed 14th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 19th highest grossing law firm in the world” on the 2018 Global 200 Survey, bringing in $1,477,180,000 in gross revenue. According to the firm's website, it also “received the most overall first-tier rankings in the U.S. News – Best Lawyers ‘Best Law Firms’ report” for eight years in a row. In 2011, Swickard worked with ADF in a case against University of California-Davis, with ADF claiming the university’s religious nondiscrimination policy explicitly discriminated against Christian students because it focused on “institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian” and “to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion.”

    • Allied attorney Jay T. Thompson is a partner at Nelson Mullins, which “placed 87th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 110th highest grossing law firm in the world” with $405,426,000 in gross revenue. According to Nelson Mullins, Thompson “devotes time in his legal practice to the protection of religious liberties” which is consistent with Thompson sending letters on behalf of ADF supporting prayer before public meetings in South Carolina after some organizations complained that the prayers violated the rights of non-religious attendees and others.

    • Allied attorney Rob McCully is a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, which “placed 99th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” and “ranked as the 130th highest grossing law firm in the world” with $350,700,000 in gross revenue. McCully has experience with litigation involving “government enforcement matters,” and he co-wrote an amicus brief for ADF arguing that the Federal Communications Commission should have been able to censure “indecent language broadcast during Fox’s televised Billboard Music Awards” after an appellate court overturned the censure.

    Editor's note (3/26/19): An earlier version of the post identified Nathan Adams IV, partner at law firm Holland & Knight, as an ADF allied attorney. After publication, Holland & Knight reached out to tell Media Matters that that was not the case. The firm noted that there is a typo in an ADF press release that identified Adams as an allied attorney. The press release is still live on at least one page of ADF’s website, while another link to it is now defunct (the archived version can be found here). This is not the first time that ADF has inaccurately labeled its allied attorneys in a press release.

  • Arizonans have unwittingly given anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom over $1 million

    As local and national media shine a spotlight on an Arizona law directing specialty license plate fees to ADF, the extreme anti-LGBTQ group went straight to a friendly right-wing media platform

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Update (5/30/19): After a campaign by Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists, the Arizona Department of Transportation now lists Alliance Defending Freedom as the “recipient” of sales of the state’s “In God We Trust” license plates.

    A recent open records request revealed that the state of Arizona has quietly given extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) more than $1 million over the last 6 years through sales of the state’s “In God We Trust” specialty license plates.

    The plates were created in 2008 to fund state highways and road maintenance, but state legislators amended the original law in 2011 to send donations to the then-unnamed nonprofit that paid to design the specialty plate -- which newly released public records revealed to be ADF. Two of the legislators who sponsored bills amending the law were previously represented by ADF in court.

    Local and national media have shined a spotlight on the funding after advocacy organizations uncovered the story, but ADF went to right-wing PJ Media to defend itself without explaining the lack of transparency around the practice.

    Open records request reveals that ADF has raised over $1 million dollars from the sale of “In God We Trust” license plates in Arizona

    According to a PinkNews report, a public records request found that ADF has received over $1 million from the sale of nearly 60,000 “In God We Trust” license plates “without being disclosed to people who buy the license plates.”

    The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) lists the specific recipient or cause for dozens of specialty license plates available to Arizona drivers, but it does not disclose ADF as the recipient for donations from the “In God We Trust” plates. Instead, ADOT’s ServiceArizona website states that donations from the sale of the specialty plates go “to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.” But data obtained through an open records request by the Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists indicate that ADF has been the recipient for the last six years. These groups have launched a campaign to raise awareness of ADF’s involvement and to give Arizonans the opportunity to report if they have inadvertently donated to ADF.

    Arizona is one of at least 20 states with the option to purchase a specialty license plate with the motto “In God We Trust,” and Mississippi included the motto on the state’s regular license plates beginning last month. This is part of a broader state-level strategy known as “Project Blitz” that seeks to advance anti-LGBTQ policies by introducing dozens of seemingly innocuous state-level bills, such as those that publicize the “In God We Trust” motto, alongside more extreme measures.

    Other states also donate a portion of the fees from sales of “In God We Trust” license plates to nonprofit organizations, but unlike Arizona, those states do note the specific beneficiaries. For example, Texas license plate donations go to the Texas Veterans Commission, and Florida plate sales benefit the In God We Trust Foundation. However, even these seemingly transparent donation policies can hide ties to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups -- the advisory council of the In God We Trust Foundation includes the Florida Family Policy Council, which is headed by ADF allied attorney John Stemberger.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. The group operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify their affiliation with ADF. ADF also has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including state attorneys general and their staffs.

    Two Arizona legislators who sponsored bills amending the law to benefit ADF were also previously represented in court by ADF

    When Arizona created “In God We Trust” plates in 2008, the legislation specified that $17 from sales of each plate that did not go to administrative fees “would go not to a particular group but to the state highway fund to build and maintain roads,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. In 2011, however, the state legislature passed three bills that included amendments to the law that allow the plate’s financial sponsor to receive those donations instead of the state highway fund. As the recently released documents revealed, that beneficiary is ADF.

    Arizona state Sen. Linda Gray sponsored two of the bills including language amending the previous law to direct funds to ADF, and Rep. Nancy Barto was listed as a sponsor of the third. Before sponsoring these bills, both Republican legislators were ADF clients in lawsuits involving a 2009 law that made it harder to receive an abortion in the state.

    ADF turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to claim it welcomes transparency despite accepting these hidden donations for over 6 years

    In response to media coverage of Arizonans unwittingly donating to ADF through license plate sales, the group turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to present its side of the controversy. PJ Media’s coverage has been friendly to ADF in the past, and ADF has given the outlet exclusive quotes on other issues as well.

    PJ Media claimed that “ADF may welcome the transparency” but is opposed to legislation that would prevent ADF from receiving donations from the plate. Additionally, ADF’s remarks to PJ Media seemed to focus on its designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center rather than addressing any of the group’s discriminatory anti-LGBTQ positions or why it was never publicly listed as the beneficiary of donations from the plates. ADF did not appear open to transparency during the six years it was secretly receiving money from the program.

    Right-wing evangelical outlet CBN News used the story to push the false premise that LGBTQ people and Christians are at odds with one another, calling it “the latest salvo of the culture wars pitting the LGBTQ community against Christians.” The post described ADF as “a group that advocates for religious freedom in the courts, and Christians are frequently the targets of LGBTQ activists in those cases.”

    Pitting religious people against LGBTQ folk is a false dichotomy, as a majority of religious groups believe that homosexuality “should be accepted.” Similarly, many religious Arizonans who have bought an “In God We Trust” license plate likely would not support ADF’s extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda. In fact, nearly 1,300 individual leaders from various faiths signed on to an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission against ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The brief argued that public accommodation laws should protect LGBTQ people and “be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.

    Some religious leaders in Arizona have already started speaking out after learning that ADF benefited from sales of the license plates, including David Felten, a pastor at Fountain Hill United Methodist Church:

    This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It’s a very real rejection of Arizona’s LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens.

    As part of the campaign by Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists, Arizonans can report if they inadvertently donated to ADF through the program but do not support its agenda. Additionally, Democratic state Sen. Juan Mendez has proposed one bill that would “require ADOT to more fully disclose where the money from specialty plates goes” and another bill that would “eliminate the ADF plate.”

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • New Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has been tied to anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom for decades

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an ADF case up until he was nominated for attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Alaska laws protect less than half of the state’s LGBTQ population from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in “private employment, housing, and public accommodations,” and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent appointment of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson puts LGBTQ Alaskans at even greater risk. Clarkson has a long history of advocating against LGBTQ rights and nondiscrimination policies in Alaska, and he has spent more than two decades working alongside extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

    Dunleavy appointed Clarkson as the state’s new attorney general on December 5. Clarkson was previously a senior attorney for the law firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, and he worked directly alongside ADF in a case representing a women’s homeless shelter in Anchorage, AK, that is suing to be exempt from the city’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy after it refused to house a homeless transgender woman. Clarkson withdrew from the case on December 6 after being appointed the state’s attorney general.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation and has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including on cases regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity.

    ADF has identified Clarkson as an allied attorney, and his history with the extreme anti-LGBTQ organization spans more than 20 years. ADF has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including in other state attorneys general offices. It is crucial for reporters to include this context when discussing the Anchorage shelter case, or reporting on any other LGBTQ-related matters Clarkson might be involved in as attorney general.

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an anti-trans ADF case up until he was appointed attorney general

    ADF is representing the Hope Center, also known as the Downtown Soup Kitchen, in its ongoing case, The Downtown Soup Kitchen d/b/a Downtown Hope Center v. Municipality of Anchorage. ADF sued the city of Anchorage in August “to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman” in 2018. The city’s trans-inclusive policy was put to a vote in April, but Anchorage voters upheld the protections and “soundly rejected” the ballot measure that sought to repeal them.

    Clarkson served as the Hope Center's local counsel, alongside ADF, from the start of the case in early 2018 until he withdrew on December 6, the day after he was appointed attorney general. The Hope Center’s case was heard by the U.S. District Court on January 11, and ADF is also pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Clarkson has a history with ADF dating back to 1997

    In 1997, Clarkson attended ADF’s National Litigation Academy (now known as ADF Academy), a program that trained “attorneys to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda, defend parental rights, uphold the sanctity of human life, and protect religious freedom.” ADF has described the program as “all-expense-paid classes” in exchange for lawyers providing “450 dedicated pro bono hours on matters related to ADF issues.” ADF has identified Clarkson as one of its more than 3,300 allied attorneys, who must agree to a "statement of faith" which claims that “homosexual behavior … and acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex” are “sinful and offensive to God.”

    Clarkson has also served as local counsel alongside or with the help of ADF on several other cases in Alaska since 1999. In addition to his role in the Hope Center case, Clarkson has served as co-counsel with ADF on a case defending a law that required abortion providers to notify the parents of minors; received training and funding from ADF for a 1998 case regarding a ballot measure attempting “to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman”; received funding and legal support from ADF in a 2005 case regarding benefits for government employees in same-sex relationships; and represented two churches in a 2008 case about a “property tax exemption for religious schools.”

    In fact, Clarkson has provided ADF with more than 10,000 hours of pro bono or dedicated service, which ADF calls “the equivalent of nearly five years of legal assistance, offered at no cost to clients.” Clarkson’s extensive work on behalf of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group has earned him ADF’s “Silent Watch” and “Gold Service” awards.

    As attorney general, Clarkson has broad powers and represents the state on all legal matters

    Many state attorneys general have gained power in the last decade as they used litigation to shape policymaking, which The Washington Post has noted “raises concerns because much of it occurs well outside of the public view.” Alaska’s attorney general has broad powers to advise the governor and represent the state in legal matters, “including the furnishing of written legal opinions to the governor, the legislature, and all state officers and departments.” In 2017, former independent Gov. Bill Walker used one such legal opinion from then-Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth to establish his administration’s position on tribal recognition and sovereignty, demonstrating how attorneys general can provide a “legal framework” for state governments to act.

    As attorney general, Clarkson can also support and defend anti-LGBTQ bills. Attorneys general in other states, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have previously weighed in on LGBTQ issues. Paxton has supported Texas’ anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” sued -- alongside 10 other states -- the Obama administration over its guidelines protecting trans students, and filed legal briefs in support of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory position against trans-inclusive bathroom policies. Another reported ADF allied attorney who became a state’s attorney general, Montana’s Timothy Fox, also has a history of using his office to fight against LGBTQ rights.

    With Clarkson’s appointment to Alaska attorney general, ADF has only expanded its influence over policymaking and the broader fight against LGBTQ equality.

  • 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.