On The Ingraham Angle, Meg Kilgannon, who is associated with TERF groups, defends anti-trans statement from lesbian tennis player
Video ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY
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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.
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 Nathan Adams IV is a partner at Holland & Knight, which “placed 42nd on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 52nd highest grossing law firm in the world” with $848,191,000 in gross revenue. Holland & Knight’s website says that Adams has experience with litigation involving religious organizations, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Similar religious-exemption bills are often pushed by ADF at the state level and can be used to deny LGBTQ people equal access to the marketplace and other areas of public life based on religious grounds. As an allied attorney, Adams filed a motion on behalf of five religious institutions in Florida seeking state funding.
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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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
Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, use a veneer of progressivism and feminism to advocate against trans equality
On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ advocate Ryan T. Anderson hosted a panel attacking the Equality Act, a bill that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination laws, and the talk featured several “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” or TERFs. TERFs claim trans identities threaten women’s safety and equality and actively work to deny their existence and rights. During the event, the panelists, who were identified as "from the Left," demeaned transgender people and used anti-trans language, with one saying, “It’s not a fucking ‘she’” in reference to transgender women.
The event was held at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades. The New York Times has written that the group is “stocking Trump’s government,” including by recommending “some of the most prominent members of Trump’s cabinet.” Anderson, a senior research fellow, is one of the group’s most vocal anti-LGBTQ figures. He wrote an entire book dedicated to denying trans identities and reportedly helped craft the Trump-Pence trans military ban.
TERFs, who often refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists,” are anti-trans activists who are becoming increasingly visible. They have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities. In 2018, TERF groups throughout the United Kingdom lobbied against improving the country’s Gender Recognition Act of 2004, a “piece of legislation regulating how trans people can legally change [their] genders” that currently “requires trans people to jump through numerous hoops to ‘prove’ that” they are trans. TERFs have cited the thoroughly debunked myth that allowing trans people, in particular trans women, to access restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity poses a threat to women’s safety.
The Heritage Foundation panel identified its panelists as people “from the Left” who disagree with the Equality Act. One panelist, Hacsi Horvath, an adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco, says he formerly identified as transgender. His work also appears on 4thwavenow, an anti-trans online community that was critical in the creation and spread of the flawed concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” but it relies on a study with a shoddy methodology that is under review by the academic journal that published it. Though all the Heritage panelists advocated against accepting trans identities -- and some even referred to the Gender Recognition Act as the “Women Erasure Act” -- Horvath made some of the most extreme anti-trans statements throughout the event.
From the January 28 Heritage Foundation panel “The Inequality of The Equality Act: Concerns from the Left”:
HACSI HORVATH (PANELIST): We have to get this gender identity out of the Equa -- the Women Erasure Act. But also, … I don’t play along. I don’t say “trans woman.” I don’t say “she, her.” I don’t care if it hurts their feelings. This is reality, and it gaslights everybody else if we have to -- it gaslights yourself. And you begin to internalize it, like, “OK, she” -- it’s not a fucking “she” -- sorry. I can’t help it. It’s -- just say it in reality, English language, what is happening here, and don’t play along with it. So, I just don’t play along. I won’t.
The act of misgendering -- which LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization GLSEN defines as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with” -- is considered harassment, and it stigmatizes trans people, lowers their self-esteem, and erases and invalidates their identities.
Horvath also parroted 4thwavenow’s messaging on ROGD, calling it a “mass craze” and saying trans identities are “the new eating disorder” or “the new goth.”
Julia Beck, another panelist at the Heritage event, was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus. Two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has teamed up with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.
The Heritage Foundation’s panel is just one example of the growing alliance between TERFs and conservative groups. Along with TERF group WoLF siding with ADF on its anti-trans court case in Pennsylvania, TERF groups in Massachusetts joined with the anti-LGBTQ Keep MA Safe campaign to support its anti-trans referendum to overturn to state’s comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, which ultimately and resoundingly failed in the voting booths. And TERF groups in Canada joined conservatives in testifying against that country’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. TERFs often identify with the left, and even though some identify as queer, they have made it clear that they are willing to take part in conservatives’ “divide and conquer” strategy to attempt to fracture the LGBTQ movement and erode trans equality.
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Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women
The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.
The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.
Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.
In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.
On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”
MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”
During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.
While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.
In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:
What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.
On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.
Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.
CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.
Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.
Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.
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