Bathroom Predator Myth | Media Matters for America

Bathroom Predator Myth

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  • 2017's worst anti-trans lies and smears 

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

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

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

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

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

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

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

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

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Calling Texas' anti-trans bathroom ban a "safety" measure is a nod to a pervasive, debunked lie

    Houston media echoed supporters of anti-trans bathroom ban calling it a "safety" measure. This is a nod to the debunked bathroom predator myth.

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    Houston, TX, broadcast news media’s coverage of a proposed statewide anti-transgender bathroom ban -- which would prevent transgender people from using public restrooms that align with their gender identity -- frequently cited supporters’ claims that a ban was necessary in order to protect the “safety” and “privacy” of women and children. This rhetoric served as a less-explicit but still insidious nod to the debunked, anti-transgender bathroom predator myth that has been touted before, which claims that transgender-inclusive restrooms would allow sexual predators to enter women’s bathrooms and assault or harass them.

    On June 6, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced a 30-day special session to discuss 20 items that had not been approved during the legislature’s regular session, including legislation related to transgender people’s access to restrooms, officially billed as a “privacy” item. About a week into the session, which started July 18, Texas’ Senate passed its version of the bathroom ban, but the bill did not make it out of the House State Affairs Committee and thus never received a vote in the state’s House of Representatives.

    During the special session, Houston outlets widely mentioned supporters’ claims that the measure is a “safety” and “privacy” issue -- a nod to the debunked bathroom predator myth

    Though they generally also noted that the proposed bathroom ban would encourage discrimination, Houston news stations covering the special session repeatedly and uncritically mentioned the “privacy” and “safety” concerns of the bill’s supporters. Houston’s CBS 11 reported that “supporters” of the proposed bathroom ban “say it’s an issue of privacy and safety.” Houston’s NBC affiliate similarly said, “The bill’s author still argues the bill protects privacy and safety of Texans.” Likewise, Houston’s Fox 26 News claimed, “Supporters say it’s about safety and privacy, but opponents believe it targets transgender people.” Houston’s ABC 13 noted that “Republicans say this is a safety issue.” The reports mirrored the language Abbott used when he claimed the bill was meant to “help women have privacy, safety, and security to the fullest extent possible.”

    The claims that the “bathroom bill” is about “safety” and “privacy” concerns are an implicit nod to the bathroom predator myth, which media should acknowledge has been debunked.

    Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been at the forefront of the fight for a “bathroom ban,” has consistently referred to the legislation as “privacy legislation.” He called it “Texas Privacy Act” and said it was a matter of “public safety” in a video about the special session. Patrick also said that “adult women don’t want men following them into the ladies’ room, nor do they want their little girls or granddaughters being followed in a bathroom by a man.” In an interview in July, Patrick said: “We don't want sexual predators — and I'm not talking about transgender people ... I don't want sexual predators masquerading as being transgender to enter into a bathroom to follow a little girl.”

    Similarly, before the special session began, Abbott said that Texas needed to address student “privacy, safety, and security” with a proposed ban. During the session, he asserted that he wanted a ban that “at a minimum … protects the privacy of our children in public schools.” In 2015, during a debate about a proposal to, among other things, add gender identity discrimination protections, Abbott tweeted a more explicit version of the myth: “Vote NO on the City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.” The Campaign for Houston, which was run by anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT), praised Abbott for the tweet. CRT interchangeably pushes “privacy” rhetoric and the bathroom predator myth, as seen in its pledge to “continue the fight for privacy” in a August 24 fundraising email which also says that the legislation “keeps biological males, including registered sex offenders, out of women’s bathrooms.”

    The anti-transgender bathroom predator myth has been thoroughly debunked

    The anti-transgender bathroom predator myth has been widely debunked by experts and government officials across the U.S., including in 16 states and the District of Columbia and school administrators in 23 school districts and four universities. In 2015, 17 U.S. school districts covering 600,000 students told Media Matters that they had not experienced any problem after implementing transgender protections. Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota assembled a “myths and facts” sheet about its gender inclusion policy, which said, “There is no correlation between unsafe school environments and providing equitable access to facilities for transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

    Likewise, numerous experts working in sexual violence and domestic prevention have said that the right-wing bathroom predator myth is false. In an interview with Media Matters, Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said she has “never heard of … instances” nor “seen any research” to validate the bathroom predator myth. Palumbo also noted that “one of the most vulnerable populations there are is the transgender population” when it comes to sexual violence.

    The bathroom predator myth was widely reinforced in HERO coverage

    In 2015, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was put up for an unsuccessful vote as a ballot referendum. It would have protected people from “discrimination based not just on gender identity and sexual orientation, but also 13 classes already protected under federal law” including sex, race, religion, disability, and others. And according to The New York Times, an early “draft of the bill included a section, later removed, that would have let transgender people use the bathroom that best reflected their gender identity. Opponents seized on the issue and never let go.”

    The city’s media played a significant role in killing HERO by uncritically utilizing the bathroom predator myth in its coverage. During one month in 2014, for example, more than half of local station Fox 26’s coverage mentioned the bathroom predator myth. Both Houston’s Fox and CBS affiliates included b-roll footage of restrooms without commentary in over half of their HERO coverage during a two-week time period in 2015, and the myth was mentioned in at least 10 segments across the four major news networks in Houston during that same time. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as CRT and Family Research Council pushed the myth particularly hard, as did Fox News.

    Some Houston outlets explicitly pushed the bathroom predator myth during special session coverage

    Though it was less explicit than in the HERO coverage, some outlets reporting on the special session still uncritically reinforced the debunked bathroom predator myth, beyond simply referencing “safety” and “privacy.” Perhaps the most egregious example came from the Fox 26 special panel show What’s Your Point. In May and June, the Houston Fox affiliate hosted anti-LGBTQ extremist and CRT President Jared Woodfill seven times in 10 days, and on May 22, Woodfill discussed the possibility of a special session on What’s Your Point. He claimed that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be.” Guest Steve Toth, a Republican former state congressperson, added, “This is not about a transgender boy. This is about a sex offender being able to walk into a bathroom, unchecked, and no one can stop them. That’s what this is about.”

    Houston media coverage has improved since HERO, but mentions of “safety” and “privacy” must have necessary context in the future

    Characterizing the bill as a “safety” and “privacy” bill still implies that transgender-inclusive bathrooms are unsafe. Though explicit mentions of the mythical bathroom predators have noticeably decreased, media must add necessary context to their coverage to clarify that banning transgender people from the bathroom facilities that correspond with their gender identity does nothing to ameliorate “safety” or “privacy” concerns. In fact, transgender people are the ones at increased risk for violence and sexual assault in bathrooms. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s landmark U.S. Transgender Survey found that 12 percent of transgender people “report that they have been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the last year” and that 59 percent have “avoided bathrooms in the last year because they feared confrontations in public restrooms at work, at school, or in other places.”

  • Newspapers are turning to hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas over the state's proposed bathroom ban

    Conservative Republicans of Texas is an anti-LGBTQ hate group whose leaders have said that a “key part of the homosexual agenda” is “overturning the laws prohibiting pedophilia”

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & BRENNAN SUEN

    National and local newspapers have repeatedly quoted and highlighted anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT) when reporting on proposed legislation in Texas that would prevent transgender people from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. CRT’s leaders have compared LGBTQ people to “Nazis,” claimed that a “key part of the homosexual agenda” is “overturning the laws prohibiting pedophilia,” and said that the “word transgender is a euphemism … for the word pervert.”

  • Fox affiliate in Texas hosted a hate group representative seven times in 10 days

    Fox 26 in Houston is owned and operated by 21st Century Fox

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Between May 29 and June 7, Fox 26 in Houston, TX, hosted anti-LGBTQ hate group representative Jared Woodfill seven times as a panelist to comment on local and national issues. Woodfill used three of his appearances to push for an extreme anti-transgender bathroom ban that his hate group has been lobbying to pass for over a year.

    In the 10 days starting when the Texas legislature officially adjourned on May 29, Woodfill, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT), was a panelist on Fox 26’s What’s Your Point seven times: On May 29, May 30, May 31, June 1, June 5, June 6, and June 7. Fox 26 is part of a network of Fox News-owned and operated local stations.

    In three out of his seven appearances, Woodfill advocated for Texas to pass Senate Bill 6 (SB 6) during a special session of the legislature. SB 6 is an extreme anti-transgender bathroom ban that would prevent transgender people from using public facilities that align with their gender identity -- including students in public schools. On June 6, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special session of the state legislature beginning on July 18. In a press conference announcing the special session, Abbott said, "We need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools." In his June 6 appearance on What’s Your Point after Abbott’s announcement, Woodfill called Abbott’s decision a “big win”:

    While not mentioned in any of his appearances on Fox 26, Woodfill’s CRT has been designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2016 for peddling extreme, demonizing lies about LGBTQ people. For example, in a March 15 press release, CRT called transgender women “perverted men and boys” and claimed that the “homosexual movement wants to use the power of law to force individuals, churches, schools, businesses and private organizations to accept, affirm and celebrate those individuals who promote and practice deviant and perverse sexual activity, starting with children in grade school.”

    Woodfill previously helped lead a years-long campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). In 2015, Woodfill helped to successfully defeat HERO -- a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance protecting discrimination against people based on 15 different characteristics -- by peddling the debunked “bathroom predator” myth. Using the tag line “no men in women’s bathrooms,” Woodfill and others effectively fearmongered that sexual predators would exploit the ordinance to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender.

    Woodfill and other anti-LGBTQ activists owed their success in part to lazy, uncritical reporting from local outlets, which helped misrepresent HERO and failed to debunk the “bathroom predator” myth. Fox 26’s reporting was particularly egregious, standing out for its unique and aggressive peddling of the “bathroom predator” myth and inaccurate criticism of HERO supporters. That kind of dishonest reporting was likely part of the reason that Woodfill regularly included clips of Fox 26's reporting in his messages to supporters.

    Now, Woodfill can just send out footage of himself on Fox 26 -- and that’s exactly what he’s done. On June 6, Woodfill posted his Fox 26 appearance from that day to CRT’s news website with the headline “Fox26Houston TV, Jared Woodfill defends Governor Abbott’s call for a special session to include SB 6, ‘No men in women’s bathrooms.’” Woodfill plugged that exact phrase on a May 29 appearance on Fox 26, essentially using the local Houston station as a platform to push his hate group’s slogan:

  • Four facts reporters should include in stories about Texas’ pending attack on the transgender community

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    The Texas legislature is currently debating bathroom ban legislation which could potentially target transgender youth in public schools or the entire transgender community in Texas. Reporters covering the bathroom bill-type legislation should avoid parroting anti-transgender misinformation peddled by anti-LGBTQ hate groups, and instead report the facts about transgender people, particularly the safety and necessity of protecting transgender youth.

    On May 22, the Texas House passed a bathroom bill amendment to Senate Bill 2078, a bill focusing on emergency operation plans for public school districts. While some school groups have said that the exact implications of the amendment are open to interpretation, the crux of the amendment would prohibit transgender students in public schools from using restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. But that amendment did not go far enough for the more conservative Texas Senate, which rejected the amendment on May 23. In response, the Senate then tacked on a more expansive bathroom bill provision to an unrelated proposal on county governments -- but a Democrat in the House has promised to reject the changes. The legislature is expected to continue to push for some form of bathroom ban before the session ends May 29.

    In the past, journalists have often stumbled when reporting on transgender people’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms, sometimes parroting unfounded claims peddled by anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Here are four facts journalists should include in articles about pending public accomodation restrictions to ensure accurate, responsible reporting:

    1. Empirical data debunks the “bathroom predator” myth.

    Law enforcement and government officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia -- including experts in Austin, Dallas, and El Paso -- have all debunked the “bathroom predator” myth that sexual predators will exploit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations. Last year a national coalition of over 300 sexual assault and domestic violence prevention organizations also came out in opposition to anti-transgender bathroom bills and in favor of laws and policies that “protect transgender people from discrimination, including in accessing facilities that match the gender they live every day.”

    Additionally, school administrators from 23 school districts and four universities across the country with trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies have debunked the notion that allowing transgender students to use school facilities that correspond with their gender identity is a safety risk, as claimed by Republican lawmakers in Texas. In total, these schools serve an estimated 1.5 million students each year without any incidents of sexual harassment, assault, or inappropriate behavior as a result of allowing trans students to access bathrooms that align with their gender identity (per reporting to Media Matters in 2014, 2015, and 2016).


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    2. National leading child welfare organizations oppose bathroom bills targeting transgender youth.

    Leading national child welfare and advocacy organizations oppose bathroom bills that single out transgender students for discrimination. Noting that empirical evidence already shows that transgender kids are “at heightened risk for violence, bullying and harassment,” last year leading national child welfare organizations signed a letter standing in opposition to “shameful” bathroom bans and called on “legislators across the country to reject these harmful measures.” Signees included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Counseling Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association.

    Reporters should also be wary of the anti-LGBTQ hate group the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), a deceptively named extremist group with an estimated 200 to 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). ACPeds has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for spreading malicious lies about LGBTQ people and deliberately misrepresenting legitimate research to attack LGBTQ equality.

    3. Several federal courts have ruled that discrimination against transgender people is illegal sex discrimination.

    Earlier this year, the Supreme Court punted on ruling on whether a transgender Virginia high school student had the right to access restrooms and locker rooms appropriate for his gender identity. However, several lower courts have found that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination. From a 2016 New York Times analysis:

    The Supreme Court has not addressed whether the same language protects transgender rights, but several lower courts have. In 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that it does, and some other courts have since agreed. But in 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit made the opposite finding.

    In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that discriminating against a transgender person was sex discrimination — not based on the civil rights statute, but based on the 14th Amendment. And last month, relying on a 1972 law, Title IX, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a high school must allow a transgender student who was born anatomically female to use the boys’ bathroom.

    In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled, as the Sixth Circuit did, that discrimination against transgender people violated the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination, a decision hailed by advocates as the executive branch’s first unequivocal statement to that effect.

    4. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists with high-level Texas government connections are behind the push for bathroom bills.

    For over two years, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ hate group -- has been leading the fight against transgender student rights. By drafting model legislation and policies, testifying at hearings, and suing school districts, ADF has used its mammoth network of over 4,000 affiliated lawyers to convince local school boards, and last year North Carolina (via the infamous House Bill 2), to pass anti-transgender policies. ADF has high-level government connections throughout the country, including three former staff members in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

    In addition to ADF representatives, a number of anti-LGBTQ extremists with high-level government connections have been pushing for a bathroom bill since before the 2017 legislative session began. Those extremists include:

    • Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill of the anti-LGBTQ hate group the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which has called the word transgender a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert”;
    • Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, who once compared repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to letting loose a “poisonous cloud of chemical weapons” that would “release GLBTQIA activists onto our soldiers like hound dogs of hell”; and
    • Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values, who has said that gay sex is a “dangerous and risky sexual activity that can fiercely jeopardize a person's well-being.”
  • Meet Anti-LGBTQ Extremism’s Insidious New Leader

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Michael Farris

    The extremist Christian legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- known for spearheading the anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ fight in state legislatures, nationally, and abroad -- just named a new president. Here’s what you need to know about ADF’s new leader, Michael Farris -- an experienced fearmongerer and fundamentalist lawyer who will lead the group's assault on LGBTQ rights.

    What Is The Alliance Defending Freedom?

    ADF is a Christian nonprofit based in Scottsdale, AZ, with a $48 million-a-year budget that works with over 3,100 allied attorneys nationally for the "right of people to freely live out their faith."

    Established as the “Alliance Defense Fund” in 1994, much of ADF's "religious freedom" work has long consisted of anti-LGBTQ activism. As part of the group’s mission “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries,” over the past two decades, ADF has supported criminalizing same-sex, consensual sexual activities, opposed anti-bullying efforts in public schools, and labeled the hate crime that led to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard a “hoax” to advance the "homosexual agenda." 

    Recently, ADF has been behind the national push for so-called “religious freedom” laws (RFRAs) that attempt to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “protecting” religious liberty. The group laid the groundwork for these laws by peddling the myth of “Christian persecution” -- the idea that Christians are under attack by the "homosexual agenda." ADF is also leading the nationwide campaign to pass “bathroom bills” -- like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB 2) -- that ban transgender people, including students, from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity.

    ADF has also taken its extremist agenda abroad through ADF International, a project of ADF that's trained “thousands” of lawyers that has, among other things, worked in Jamaica, Belize, and India to support laws that imprison gay people for having sex. They’ve also been actively involved in the U.N. and the Organization of American States in order to advance their anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice agenda.

    Who Is Michael Farris?

    Michael (Mike) Farris is a veteran of the religious right, dating back to his opposition of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and role as the Washington state director of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In 1983, Farris founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a self-described “Christian organization” that aims to defend “the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” Farris has a long-standing history attacking LGBTQ people and their families, which includes:

    • writing an amicus brief defending criminalization of gay sex in the 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas;
    • opposing federal hate crimes legislation protecting LGBTQ people in 2009 on the grounds that it would lead to “dangerous” restrictions on religious speech; and,
    • arguing against civil unions in 2004, by saying that “I fail to see the point of all the hard work it is going to take to pass a constitutional amendment if we are going to open the door for civil unions whether they are enacted by legislatures or by tyrannical courts.”

    More recently, Farris been fighting human rights declarations at the U.N. He’s also spoken out against “radical feminist proposals” and “homosexual and transgender ideology” for disrupting the “idea that gender is a distinction made by God.”

    A 2015 investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, profiled HSLDA’s “frightening” and “highly influential” lobbying power, even against basic forms of homeschool regulation. HSLDA has fought against required annual tests and evaluations of home-schooled students’ work, such as a 2009 bill in New Hampshire. The organization has opposed laws that would require criminal background check for parents who want to homeschool children, calling them “draconian.” They also aggressively lobbied against mandatory reporting laws in instances of suspected child abuse. HSLDA advises its members not to tell neighbors or families that they are homeschooling “for fear one of them would call social services.”

    Building on HSLDA’s success, in 2000 Farris founded Patrick Henry College (PHC) partly due to what he described as “a demand from homeschooling parents for a college that promoted courtship culture, in which male students ask female students’ fathers for permission to ‘court’ with marriage in mind.” One out of only a handful of colleges in the U.S. that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations, PHC has an “outsized influence as a training ground for the religious right and a pipeline to conservative jobs in Washington.” During the George W. Bush-era, the school had more White House interns than Georgetown University. In February 2014, New Republic ran a profile of PHC, titled “Sexual Assault at God's Harvard,” about the mishandling of sexual assault cases at the evangelical school. As detailed by reporter Kiera Feldman, the investigation found “the administration treated sexual assault perpetrators with impunity, discouraged women from going to the police, and blamed victims for dressing or behaving immodestly.” In response to a sexual assault report filed by a student, a dean at PHC replied, “If you were telling the truth about this, God would’ve kept you conscious.”

    How Will Farris Lead ADF’s Attacks On LGBTQ Equality?

    Fearmongering was an integral part of HSLDA’s success in cultivating an active and involved membership base. Under Farris’ leadership, ADF will likely ramp up its campaign to convince supporters that any gains in LGBTQ equality will lead to widespread persecution of Christians or an influx of “bathroom predators.”

    Fitting with ADF’s vision of an American legal system rooted in 3rd century Christian theology, Farris has long advocated for a cultural change to shape American politics towards the far religious right. Farris also founded another organization, Generation Joshua, a 7,500 member organization that seeks to train teens to be the “next generation of Christian leaders and citizens.” While ADF already has a vast domestic and international training program to recruit lawyers and law students to provide pro-bono hours for anti-LGBTQ legal work, Farris’ work with K-12 and undergraduate students could lay the groundwork for ADF expanding its training to younger ages.

    In addition to his work training the “next generation” of far right leaders, Farris has already led legal fights on the international front. ADF’s biography of Farris spotlights his international work, both through HSLDA’s international arm and his “successful opposition to various United Nations treaties designed to control American domestic policy.” This “success” includes Farris’ opposition to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty that all U.N. countries have ratified -- except the United States. ADF already has “special consultative” status at the U.N., which allows ADF lawyers “virtually unfettered access to U.N. missions during key convention and treaty-drafting meetings.” Instead of simply opposing the United States ratifying human rights treaties, Farris will now be in the position to convince other member states to dangerously advance anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice positions.

    * Image courtesy of Sarah Wasko

  • Meet The Anti-LGBTQ Extremists Leading The Assault On Equality In Texas

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    When Texas’ 85th legislative session officially kicks off on January 10, anti-LGBTQ extremists in the state will be well into their campaigns to pass a slew of laws attacking LGBTQ equality.

    Lawmakers in the state have already prefiled an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ laws. On the first day of the prefiling session, in November, a Republican filed a North Carolina-style bill to undermine local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Another prefiled bill would require public school teachers and counselors to out LGBTQ students to parents. And on January 5, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) announced the filing of another North Carolina-style “bathroom bill.”

    A number of anti-LGBTQ extremists with high-level government connections are behind these and other regressive bills that will arise over the 140-day state legislative session. They include:

    Jonathan Saenz, president of Austin-based Texas Values:

    • said gay sex is a “dangerous and risky sexual activity that can fiercely jeopardize a person's well-being”;
    • advocates for discredited and harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy; and
    • agreed that gay activists are trying to put Christians in “concentration camp[s].”

    Jonathan Saenz is the president of Texas Values, the lobbying arm of the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling malicious misinformation to stoke fears about threats to religious liberty, including warning about a “reverse Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for Christians in the military. Saenz gained some notoriety in 2014 after it was revealed that he founded Texas Values after his wife left him for another woman in 2011.

    Saenz has high-level allies in the Texas government, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s outreach director, Ben Taylor, who called Saenz a “good friend.” A year and a half ago, Taylor emailed Saenz a copy of the governor’s statement regarding the 2015 Texas Supreme Court decision allowing a same-sex divorce, to which Saenz responded, “Maybe we need a special session to make same sex divorce illegal.”

    Saenz took credit for both drafting and pushing through Texas’ “Pastor Protection Act,” which became law in 2015; it allows clergy to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs. Previously, he was a vocal supporter of keeping Texas’ unconstitutional, defunct anti-sodomy law on the books and a proponents of denying benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees, even if the benefits were offered to opposite-sex spouses.

    In addition to pushing anti-LGBTQ extremism, Saenz has lambasted evolution as a "left-wing ideology" that "any respectable scientist" should see through. He's also a strong proponent of having Bible classes in public schools, accusing opponents of such classes of being "enemies of religious freedom."

    Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council:

    • called former Houston Mayor Annise Parker a “sodomite”; and
    • compared repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to letting loose a “poisonous cloud of chemical weapons” that would “release GLBTQIA activists onto our soldiers like hound dogs of hell.”

    In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC), which is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), though it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. As HAPC/USPC/TXPC’s spokesperson, Welch routinely espouses hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including reffering to gay people as a "morally depraved special interest group" and people who support LGBT rights as part of the "forces of spiritual darkness."

    In 2009, Welch joined an anti-gay smear campaign against Annise Parker, then Houston’s city controller, warning voters of a “gay takeover” of city hall. After Parker was elected mayor, Welch declared that her election, along with President Obama’s, were signs of America's "cancer of the soul." In a 2010 newsletter, Welch attacked Parker for supporting the city's pride parade, calling her a "sodomite" and a leader of “amoral depravity.”

    Despite his extremism, Welch’s group frequently hosts high-level politicians and policymakers in Texas. In October, Lt. Gov. Patrick held a special conference call with members of TXPC to discuss faith-based improvements to the state’s foster care system. Texas Monthly investigated Attorney General Ken Paxton’s first two years in office and found that Welch successfully lobbied Paxton’s office to file an amicus brief in defense of a bishop accused of violating campaign finance laws. Before Welch got involved, Abbott, who was attorney general at the time, declined to file an amicus brief in defense of the bishop, whose ministry is recognized as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

    Steven Hotze, president/CEO of the Conservative Republicans of Texas:

    • warned that LGBTQ equality is part of a communist plot to take down America;
    • brandished a sword on stage while vowing to “fight the homosexuals”; and
    • made unsubstantiated medical claims that birth control makes women “less attractive” and that men who lose their testicles “have difficulty reading a map.”

    Dr. Steven Hotze is the CEO and founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, a group that SPLC has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group for spreading malicious lies about LGBTQ people. Hotze has been an anti-gay activist in Texas since the 1980s. After the U.S. Supreme Court made its 2015 marriage equality decision, Hotze urged Paxton to fight the “illegitimate SCOTUS ruling,” saying that the justices “hate God and want to let the Sodomites queer our country.” Hotze later kicked off his own multicity tour of Texas in protest of the marriage equality ruling by brandishing a sword to an audience while vowing to “fight the homosexuals” and the “satanic cults” that drive them.

    While speaking at an anti-LGBTQ extremist conference this year, Hotze compared LGBTQ people to termites and warned that LGBTQ equality is part of a long-term communist plot to take down America. Hotze, who has a medical degree, also dabbles in questionable medical practices -- a 2005 investigation into his “alternative” practices found that his literature made unsubstantiated claims that birth control makes women “less attractive” and that men who lose their testicles “have difficulty reading a map, performing math problems and making decisions.”

    Despite his extremism and dubious medical practices, Hotze has long been an influential figure in the Texas conservative movement, with Republican candidates seeking his endorsement. Hotze was also touted as a hero on Fox News in 2014 for filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Hotze also released a series of auto-tuned songs with titles like “God Fearing Texans Stop Obamacare,” one of which included the refrain “We will defeat Obama and the socialists.”

    Jared Woodfill, recently appointed president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas:

    • called the word “transgender” a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert”; and
    • says being LGBTQ is a “wicked lifestyle.”

    A board member of Texas Values Action and previous Harris County GOP chairman, Jared Woodfill currently serves as president of Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas. Along with Hotze, Woodfill previously helped lead the campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Woodfill successfully defeated the comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance by fearmongering and peddling the debunked “bathroom predator” myth.

    This past summer, Woodfill and the Conservative Republicans of Texas launched a campaign to boycott Target for its transgender-inclusive restroom policy. The “Campaign for USA” website smears the word “transgender” as a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert.” It also accuses the “LGBT homosexual political movement” of wanting to make it “mandated that this wicked lifestyle be taught to children in school” so that children can be “recruited into the homosexual lifestyle.”

    Conservative Republicans of Texas has infused $1.6 million into Texas elections over the last five years. While he doesn’t have the same high-level government connections as Welch and Saenz do, Woodfill is frequently featured as a guest commentator on Houston’s Fox 26, the TV station that helped fuel the repeal of HERO with its unique and aggressive peddling of the "bathroom predator" myth.