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  • Massachusetts media lift up voices of those the state's anti-trans ballot referendum would impact most

    Transgender Bay Staters have shared their thoughts about Question 3, which could dismantle the state's trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Massachusetts print and TV outlets lifted up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, who explained how dismantling the state’s trans-inclusive public accomodations nondiscrimination law would personally affect them and their community. Media often fail to feature the people who would be most impacted by the policies they cover.

    On November 6, Massachusetts residents will vote on Question 3, a ballot referendum to determine the fate of the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. In 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that expanded the state’s existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people to include public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The state’s existing law had already protected transgender residents from discrimination in housing and the workplace. Earlier this year, Anchorage residents defeated a similar anti-transgender referendum.

    A recent poll by University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Boston Globe estimated that 74 percent of likely voters want to uphold the state’s current law but also found that voters have widespread confusion around the wording of ballot Question 3. Even though the referendum was created to dismantle trans rights protections, a “yes vote” actually supports the existing protections and a “no vote” repeals them. According to CBS Boston, researchers found that “many voters had trouble understanding the ballot question and what their vote would mean.” Anti-LGBTQ opponents in favor of a “no” vote have relied on the thoroughly debunked "bathroom predator" myth, baselessly fearmongering that allowing transgender people access to public accommodations that align with their gender identity poses a threat to safety and privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms, especially that of women and girls.

    Massachusetts media and Teen Vogue have lifted up the voices of the people who would be most affected by the repeal of trans-inclusive protections

    Media often fail to include members of impacted communities when talking about issues that are important to them. A Media Matters report of coverage of trans issues on Fox News found that the network didn’t host a single openly transgender guest over nine months. Additionally, networks often exclude the Muslim and Hispanic communities in related coverage, and news coverage discussing the GOP’s health care rollback regularly ignored people of color and the LGBTQ community. As Massachusetts residents consider their vote next month, local outlets are featuring the stories of transgender Bay Staters and their families to explain why the existing law is important to their community.

    Cape Cod newspaper The Sandwich Enterprise featured an October 10 op-ed by Eric Nelson, a Massachusetts resident and father of a transgender son, urging voters to support the current protections by voting “yes on Question 3.” Nelson acknowledged that at first he had trouble understanding his son’s gender identity but noted that he “saw the remarkable change in his self-confidence and happiness after he finally shared” his identity with his family and friends. He also pointed to disparities faced by transgender people, including a 41 percent attempted suicide rate “compared to 1.6 percent of the general population,” and highlighted how trans students often suffer “harassment from fellow students, teachers, medical personnel, strangers in public areas, even parents and other family members.” In addition, Nelson shined a light on the scourge of anti-transgender violence and homicides, writing, “In 2017, there were 28 documented victims in the US.” Media Matters found that major national cable and TV news outlets generally ignore stories about that violence. From the op-ed:

    I want both of my children to be safe from all threats, and would do anything — anything — to protect them. But there are too many legitimate threats out there for me to be concerned about false ones like the claim that male predators will masquerade as transgender women to access women’s bathrooms.

    Anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity have been around for years in 19 states and 200 municipalities, and there is no evidence to support this claim.

    No, what I fear most are those who would harm or harass my son, or deny him basic rights like using a public restroom, simply because he’s transgender. If anything, he’s the one at risk.

    Mariel Addis, a transgender Bay Stater, wrote an October 10 op-ed for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which stressed that many people who fear or oppose transgender rights likely do not even know a transgender person. She wrote that while some opponents “believe that the negative stories put forth by the opponents of Ballot Question 3 are true -- in reality, they don’t hold water.” Addis shared that she underwent her gender transition “alone, without the support of much of my family,” calling it “the best thing I have ever done for myself.” She continued, “I don’t regard my transition as a choice, but as a necessity,” also writing that it was “the most difficult challenge I have ever encountered, but I have been rewarded for taking it on.” After sharing her story, she urged readers to protect her rights because transgender “people deserve your respect and the same rights to live as every other citizen in the Commonwealth."

    The Daily Hampshire Gazette published a separate piece featuring others who would be disproportionately affected by Question 3. “Western Massachusetts Parents of Transgender Adults” wrote a September 26 op-ed that said, “We care about the safety of our children, and we worry about the dangers when society legalizes discrimination.” The group pointed to a study which revealed “that 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts faced discrimination in a public place in the prior year.” The op-ed went on to note that “this is not just an issue for us, the parents. We believe that our community — all of you — care. In a world of growing hate and fear, voting to uphold these vital protections for all is something you can do.”

    Sabrina Renaud, a caregiver for a transgender child, wrote an October 9 letter to the editor to local outlet the Reading Patch, saying that the state’s current law “makes for a safer and more welcoming community for everyone.” She said that a repeal of trans-inclusive protections would be “disheartening and terrifying.” She continued: “All people, but children especially, need to feel validated and supported in order to thrive and it worries me to think of the message that will be sent if the current law is not upheld when voters go to the ballot this November.”

    WGBH News, Boston’s NPR station, aired a debate on its show Greater Boston on September 27 between “Yes on 3” representative Mimi Lemay, the mother of a transgender child, and Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) president Andrew Beckwith of the “No on 3” campaign. Lemay discussed the impact the upcoming vote will have on her family and pushed back against Beckwith’s claims that the current law risks the safety and privacy of women and girls. Beckwith repeatedly pushed the “bathroom predator” myth, which Lemay debunked by citing the Williams Institute’s recent study which found “no uptick at all” in cases of sexual misconduct due to Massachusetts’ law. She also highlighted that a majority of transgender residents in the state have reported harassment in public accommodations. From the September 27 edition of WBGH News’ Greater Boston:

    Transgender people, like my son Jacob, they live in this state. They have a right to go about and enjoy everything this state has to offer -- restaurants, bookstores, cafes, hospitals -- without fear of being harassed. The harm that is done to them on a daily basis is real. What you [Beckwith] are creating, this fear, is not real, and as a mother, this concerns me.

    In addition to outlets in Massachusetts lifting up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, Teen Vogue published an October 12 op-ed by Nicole Talbot, a transgender Massachusetts teen, continuing in its trend of high-quality political coverage. Talbot wrote that though she is not old enough to vote, she is sharing her story to encourage voters to protect her rights and uphold the state’s law. She also noted that “a small group of opponents forced the issue to a ballot referendum” by depicting transgender people as “criminals in restrooms” and “airing scary, misleading ads that claim protecting people like me harms the safety of others.” From the op-ed:

    This law has been in place for two years and there has been no increase in incidents that opponents claim will happen. A crime is still a crime and harassment in restrooms remains illegal. In fact, police associations and women's organizations publicly support this law. It is making us all more safe, not less.

    I encourage Massachusetts voters to get the facts. Transgender people are people just trying to live their lives. When voters see Question 3 through this lens, the answer is simple: Yes to uphold the current law. Yes to ensure transgender people have the same protections as everyone else. Yes to set the example of equality for the rest of the nation.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups have been fighting the inclusive law since it was introduced

    Beckwith’s anti-LGBTQ state organization, Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), is associated with several extreme anti-LGBTQ groups at the national level: It is a state ally of the Family Policy Alliance, and it is also partnered with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    MFI has opposed the existing trans-inclusive law since it was first introduced in 2016. Within weeks of the bill becoming law, the group launched its “Keep Massachusetts Safe” campaign to garner signatures for the ballot referendum that seeks to repeal the law.

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups attack Christine Blasey Ford after she reported that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her

    American Family Association: “Unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible”

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and American Family Association have attacked Christine Blasey Ford and worked to discredit her after she reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school.

    Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups united behind his nomination, offering praise for Kavanaugh’s candidacy and saying he would be “strong” on their issues. Many of those same groups have doubled down on their support by attacking Christine Blasey Ford and questioning her motivations after she reported that Kavanaugh groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and rape her in high school.

    Tony Perkins, president of the highly influential Family Research Council (FRC) who was reportedly “involved in discussions with the White House” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, attacked Ford’s credibility on the September 21 edition of Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. During his appearance, Perkins called Ford’s story “very, very suspect,” questioned why she hadn’t come forward sooner, and asked whether or not drinking alcohol may have affected her story. Perkins also questioned whether Ford and potential witnesses “really remember the facts” and whether her attempted rapist was even Kavanaugh at all, in line with a recent conspiracy theory created by conservative media figure Ed Whelan.

    Speaking at FRC’s anti-LGBTQ Values Voter Summit, Perkins urged Republican lawmakers in attendance to “move much more aggressively” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and former FRC President Gary Bauer, declared the “political process” surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination to be “political waterboarding” and a “travesty.” According to The Associated Press, Bauer mockingly re-enacted what a conversation with Ford and law enforcement may have sounded like and was reportedly met with laughter.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has also attacked Ford, including by writing a six point list of so-called “disturbing facts that undermine her story.” Several of those points suggest she came forward for political reasons. The post attempted to discredit Ford by highlighting her political affiliations and those of her lawyer, Debra Katz, claiming the two “have a history of Democratic activism” and anti-Trump advocacy. Liberty Counsel also launched a “fax barrage” directly linking its supporters to the offices of elected officials to send messages of support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The “fax barrage” served as a fundraiser for Liberty Counsel and claimed that Ford’s story does “not align with the moral integrity” of Kavanaugh. Additionally, Liberty Counsel sent an email blast to supporters in which its Chairman Mat Staver called Ford’s story “a shameful, desperate attempt to destroy a person in order to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court” and characterized her as “someone who has an ever-changing story with plenty of political motivation.”

    In a separate email to supporters on September 22, Staver continued attacks against Ford, saying she was “being used to create an excuse to delay the hearing” and listing statements from various supporters of Kavanaugh in an attempt to undermine her credibility. On September 24, Mat Staver’s wife Anita Staver, who serves as president of Liberty Counsel, suggested that Ford was a liar in a tweet: “I believe survivors but not liars!”

    Additionally, former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber, who still co-hosts one of its radio programs, attacked Ford on Twitter, where he likened her to a “suicide bomber” and compared her story’s effect on the Kavanaugh confirmation to a “political witch burning.” Barber also said Ford “would be fully exposed & further discredited,” and that “true victims” will be “distrusted because political vultures cried wolf one too many times.” In a separate post, he claimed, “We have entered the age of #MeToo McCarthyism. Pure evil.”

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association (AFA) has also launched attacks against Ford. Bryan Fischer, host of AFA’s American Family Radio show Focal Point, attempted to use Ford’s political affiliations and her lawyer’s legal career to discredit her story in a September 17 blog post. Fischer claimed that Katz “has made a career out of dismissing sexual assault allegations against liberal politicians.” In the same blog post, Fischer wrote, “The Bible is very clear that no serious allegation should ever be accepted against someone on the basis of one lone allegation.” In a September 18 email to supporters, AFA President Tim Wildmon reiterated that claim and wrote that “unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible.” AFA initially did not support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court but quickly reversed course after hearing the “passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement."

    Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 27, about Kavanaugh’s attempted rape.

  • As Kavanaugh faces first hearings, anti-LGBTQ groups are trying to overturn protections from conversion therapy in courts

    The same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court are clamouring at the possibility of overturning protections for LGBTQ people from conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    As Judge Brett Kavanaugh faces confirmation hearings to become the next Supreme Court justice, the same anti-LGBTQ groups who have heavily endorsed him are also pushing cases through the courts to overturn measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These groups have seized on a June Supreme Court decision that may signal a shift in how the court handles communications in professional settings -- such as in therapists’ offices or clinics offering even limited health care services -- that have otherwise been regulated, claiming that those communications would be protected under the First Amendment. They argue that the decision suggests that regulating mental health professionals from subjecting LGBTQ people to a harmful practice like conversion therapy would be ruled unconstitutional because it would be imposing limits on “professional speech.” Media should consider these cases and a lack of transparency on Kavanaugh’s record on LGBTQ issues as he faces his hearing.

    Senate hearings begin for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court

    Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings began on September 4 after LGBTQ advocates raised numerous concerns about how the court would rule on future LGBTQ cases if he is confirmed. There are many open questions about his record on LGBTQ issues, including his involvement with debates around “same-sex marriage, non-discrimination protections, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his time as President George W. Bush’s White House staff secretary. Senate Republicans had long blocked access to records from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary, and LGBTQ legal organization Lambda Legal filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents from that time to determine what role he played in anti-LGBTQ initiatives that the Bush White House supported. Just hours before hearings began, Bush's former lawyer "turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee's service in the Bush White House," and Senate Democrats in turn asked to adjourn the hearing.

    Kavanaugh has also highly praised late anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and called him a “role model” and “judicial hero.” Kavanaugh said that Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which he decried the ruling that brought marriage equality to the entire country, demonstrated a judicial philosophy that the courts had “no legitimate role … in creating new rights not spelled out in the Constitution.” Additionally, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have united behind Kavanaugh’s nomination and are calling for him to be confirmed. These groups have called him an "outstanding pick" and said he would "be strong on [their] issues."

    2018 has been a historic year for efforts protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy

    Advocates working to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy have made history this year by “recalling” the dangerous and discredited practice and working to pass protections at the state and municipal levels at a record-breaking pace. This year alone, five states -- Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Washington -- have signed protections from conversion therapy into law. That means 14 states, Washington, D.C., and dozens of municipalities across the country now have laws and policies protecting LGBTQ youth from the practice. What’s more, these protections have bipartisan support, and governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills.

    But according to the Williams Institute, conversion therapy still remains prevalent throughout the country. In a groundbreaking January report, it estimated that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the 41 states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Furthermore, the report estimated that approximately 698,000 adults in the United States have undergone conversion therapy, including around 350,000 who underwent the practice before turning 18 years old.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups who support conversion therapy are encouraged by recent Supreme Court ruling in case regarding anti-abortion pregnancy centers

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, a case involving a California law called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. The law requires anti-abortion fake health centers to post a certain type of notice, depending on whether the center is licensed by the state. Licensed clinics are required to post a notice informing clients that California provides low-cost or free reproductive health care. Unlicensed clinics are required to post a notice informing people that they were not a licensed medical facility. As BuzzFeed News reported, “The court held in a 5–4 majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas that the notice required of licensed clinics under the law ‘likely violates’ the First Amendment, but the notice required of unlicensed clinics ‘unduly burdens speech’ and is unconstitutional.”

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group working to undermine LGBTQ equality in all aspects of life, represented clients in NIFLA. The group also represented a Christian baker who refused service to a gay couple in another Supreme Court case this year, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; the case saw a narrow ruling in favor of the baker and “left open the larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

    ADF and other anti-LGBTQ groups welcomed the NIFLA ruling, and some claimed that it signaled a shift in how the courts would treat “professional speech” under the First Amendment, including how it would treat protections from conversion therapy. The Atlantic’s Emma Green described “professional speech” as “a somewhat fuzzy legal category that allows states to require doctors and lawyers to disclose medical or ethical facts, for example.” In other words, in NIFLA and potentially other cases involving communications in medical and other regulated fields, the courts are weighing whether those communications are protected under the First Amendment even though these fields are typically regulated and patients and other people seeking medical advice could be put at risk if they receive inaccurate information.

    According to Christian conservative outlet CBN News, Mat Staver, chairman of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel, declared the ruling a "prize" for his and other anti-LGBTQ groups’ advocacy against a shelved bill in California (AB 2934) that would have categorized conversion therapy as fraud. Staver said that the bill, if passed, would have been dead on arrival because of the NIFLA ruling and that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) “cases are going to be a thing of the past." Liberty Counsel had been preparing to file a lawsuit againt the bill had it passed. ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp came to a similar conclusion and predicted that the ruling would “strongly call into question the foundation of AB2943.” Pro-conversion therapy group Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI) responded to the NIFLA ruling in an email blast, saying it and other recent decisions “have opened the door for overturning the therapy ban laws that have been passed over the past five years” and that it was “seeking to reopen” two of its previous challenges to conversion therapy laws alongside Liberty Counsel. Additionally, Family Research Council’s (FRC) Peter Sprigg wrote:

    Like NIFLA in the pregnancy center context, defenders of the right to seek counseling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions (and of the right to offer such counseling) have argued that free speech also protects their activities. In challenges to laws banning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) with minors by licensed mental health providers in California and New Jersey, they argued that such laws in effect limit what a counselor or therapist may say to a client in the privacy of his or her office, and thus infringe upon the free speech of the caregiver.

    By affirming that “professional speech” is protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has cast serious doubt on the constitutionality of bans on sexual orientation change efforts.

    Conservative state-level advocacy groups affiliated with extreme national anti-LGBTQ groups are also enthusiastic for the NIFLA ruling’s potential impact on conversion therapy cases. For instance, the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) -- both affiliates of the Family Policy Alliance -- claimed the ruling could indicate that the high court could find protections from conversion therapy unconstitutional. (Family Policy Alliance is a partner of anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family that also works with ADF and FRC.) Similarly, the Illinois Family Institute announced that it is considering challenging the state’s protections against conversion therapy in light of the Supreme Court’s NIFLA’ ruling.

    These groups are already challenging protections from conversion therapy in the courts

    National anti-LGBTQ groups like ADF and Liberty Counsel have a long history of supporting and advocating for conversion therapy, and they are actively working to undermine protections from conversion therapy in courts and state legislatures across the country.

    In June, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of conversion therapy practitioners Dr. Robert Otto and Dr. Julie Hamilton against Boca Raton and Palm Beach County in Florida for their measures protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. In a press release about the suit, the group framed the issue as a matter of protecting “the speech of licensed professionals in the city and county who offer change counseling” and as a First Amendment violation, similar to the messaging around NIFLA’s impact on protections from conversion therapy. Liberty Counsel is also representing out-of-state conversion therapy practitioner Dr. David Pickup, among others, in a separate lawsuit against conversion therapy protections in Tampa, FL. Local news outlets have given platforms to Hamilton and Pickup to spread misinformation about conversion therapy. And before the Massachusetts legislature failed to get its bill on the governor's desk this year, MFI President Andrew Beckwith said that his group was "already working with attorneys at Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge this bill should it become law" before asserting that the NIFLA decision "undermines the legal basis upon which" protections from conversion therapy rely.

    These challenges aren’t new or unique for the group; Liberty Counsel has worked to overturn efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy for years, including failed attempts to challenge measures in New Jersey and California. According to ATCSI, the group is “seeking to reopen” those cases “and to challenge the laws passed in every state where ‘therapy ban’ legislation has be (sic) enacted.” Liberty Counsel's Staver even went on an anti-LGBTQ rant before a House subcommittee in which he called California and New Jersey laws prohibiting the practice “religious discrimination” and “one of the greatest assaults on children and families that has arisen in recent times.”

    The Supreme Court has previously turned away multiple challenges to laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, but it could take up a case in the future given the recent ruling in NIFLA and new justices sitting or potentially sitting on the court. Following the NIFLA ruling, journalists have already speculated that the Supreme Court could take up a conversion therapy case in the future. While it is unclear how Justice Kavanaugh would side on a case about protections from conversion therapy, it is clear that the same extreme anti-LGBTQ groups challenging those measures in court are clamouring for his confirmation. These groups have claimed that Kavanaugh will defend their issues as a Supreme Court justice, and conversion therapy very much could be one of those issues that Kavanaugh has a chance to defend.

  • As advocates work to protect LGBTQ people from conversion therapy, media often fail to explain its many harms

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conversion therapy industry seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people, and its practitioners are profiting off of the harm and sometimes eventual death of the queer and trans individuals subjected to this torture. Despite its being a total failure and there being zero evidence to support its efficacy, it is still legal in many states, and advocates are working to protect the LGBTQ community from the gruesome practice. Many folks have no idea how common conversion therapy remains, and the media has a responsibility to report the facts about its harms.

    Medical experts are in agreement -- conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, and suicidal ideation. Conversion therapists have deeply held prejudices against queer and trans people that can wrongfully affirm self-hatred often already experienced by the patient.

    Media, however, tend to present conversion therapy as a two-sided issue by hosting conversion therapists or so-called “ex-gay” people on their programs. We spoke with The Trevor Project’s Sam Brinton, a genderfluid activist, nuclear engineer, and survivor of conversion therapy. In their words, “You do not need to have a person who believes the world is flat on your program.”

    Instead, Brinton says, the “press can report on an innovate and exciting way that the LGBTQ community is stepping up for itself and saying, ‘You will not erase us anymore.’” The LGBTQ community is doing just that, thanks in large part to The Trevor Project’s 50 Bills 50 States campaign. They are working to ensure that every state introduces legislation that protects LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and five states have enacted such measures in 2018 alone.

    Media outlets can do their part by reporting the facts about the dangers of conversion therapy without giving airtime to proponents of a harmful practice that can leave lasting scars on people in the LGBTQ community. “When the media is reporting about a recall for a product,” Brinton says, “they are trying to warn the public that this product could hurt them. That’s exactly what they should be doing with conversion therapy. We’re recalling it.”

    If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can contact The Trevor Project's TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

    Video filmed and edited by Miles Le
    Research contributed by Brennan Suen and Brianna January

  • NY Times theater critic’s apology for misgendering a nonbinary character underscores the need for intentional writing about the trans community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    One of The New York Times’ top theater critics had to apologize after his review of the Broadway musical Head Over Heels purposefully misgendered a nonbinary character played by a trans actress, demonstrating the need for journalists and writers to better understand how to cover these communities.

    Ben Brantley, the Timeslongtime co-chief theater critic, wrote a review of the new musical, which is based on the music of The Go-Go’s and which features “the first trans woman actress to create a principal role on Broadway.” The groundbreaking role, Pythio, is currently being played by former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Peppermint, and the character identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronoun “they.” According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, nonbinary people “don’t neatly fit into the categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ or ‘male’ or ‘female.’” In his review, Brantley unnecessarily mocked the character’s preferred pronouns, writing that another character found “himself strangely drawn to her -- I mean them”:

    These assorted role reversals are overseen by the wise oracle Pythio (Peppermint, a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” described in the program as “the first transgender woman to create a principal role” on Broadway). Pythio identifies as “nonbinary plural.” Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins), the King’s viceroy and father of Mopsa, finds himself strangely drawn to her — I mean them. 

    LGBTQ advocates and journalists criticized Brantley’s language and successfully called on the Times to make changes to the piece:

    Following criticism of the review, Brantley issued an apology and edited the report to remove the offensive language:

    Bentley’s review and subsequent apology demonstrate the need for writers and journalists to be intentional in the way they cover the trans and gender-nonconforming community. The Associated Press Stylebook has recommended the use of “they” when referring to nonbinary people as a best practice for journalists for more than a year, and LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD has written that misgendering in reports can cause the community to see “a part of themselves erased and devalued.” This kind of reporting stigmatizes an already marginalized community and can have negative impacts on its members' self-confidence and mental health. The community experiences disproportionately high levels of discrimination and violence, and homicides against trans folks spiked in 2017.

    This is the second time in a little over a month that the Times came under fire for publishing anti-LGBTQ content. On June 25, the paper published a homophobic cartoon video and accompanying opinion piece depicting President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a same-sex relationship and featuring an extended scene of their tongues intertwining while riding a unicorn through rainbows. The video drew criticism for mocking same-sex relationships and making LGBTQ people the punchline of a joke. Unlike with Bentley’s review, the Times defended the cartoon and claimed that the filmmaker “would have used the same format to satirize Trump’s infatuation with another politician, regardless of sexuality or gender.”

  • South Carolina's budget bill secretly contains an anti-LGBTQ adoption policy, but local media don't seem to know about it

    Update: The budget has been sent to the governor

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    UPDATE (6/29) : South Carolina legislators approved the state’s budget bill, keeping the anti-LGBTQ provision intact. If signed into law, South Carolina would be the third state to legalize discrimination in adoption and foster care this year, following Kansas and Oklahoma.

    South Carolina’s legislature has quietly included an anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care provision in the state’s 500-plus-page budget bill, and media in the state have not once mentioned it as the state’s legislature prepares to take up the budget later this month. This move comes just weeks after Oklahoma and Kansas passed stand-alone bills legalizing discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents, which received scant national media coverage during their deliberation. If South Carolina’s budget passes, those three states will be the only ones in the country to have passed anti-LGBTQ measures through their legislatures thus far in 2018.

    According to LGBTQ advocacy organization the Family Equality Council, South Carolina legislators have “quietly written” a one-paragraph amendment to the state’s proposed 500-plus-page budget bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to receive funds even if they deny placement to LGBTQ families and non-Christian families, among others, if they cite “a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” Two similar measures, written as stand-alone bills, passed earlier this year in Oklahoma and Kansas. At this time, those two bills are the only anti-LGBTQ measures that have passed in state legislatures this year; South Carolina’s measure, if passed, would be the third adopted in 2018, making South Carolina the 10th state in the country to codify discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents. These efforts are part of a broader state-level strategy known as "Project Blitz" by the Christian far-right and are supported and influenced by anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom.

    Earlier in the year, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order to help permit a child welfare agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, to discriminate against non-Christian families. And in what has been called an “unusual move,” he also asked the federal government for a religious exemption to allow that same agency to discriminate in its foster placements.

    A Media Matters analysis found that major local print and TV news outlets serving South Carolina did not report on the state budget’s anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care amendment between the time of its introduction on March 13 through June 19, a week before the legislature reconvenes for a second special session on June 27. Other attempts to pass similar anti-LGBTQ adoption initiatives around the country were introduced as stand-alone bills; hiding the measure as an amendment within the large budget bill instead of introducing it as a stand-alone bill may have enabled legislators in South Carolina to avoid press on the issue.

    In an earlier study, Media Matters found that national media virtually ignored the consideration of the anti-LGBTQ adoption bills in Kansas and Oklahoma, failing to educate audiences on the only anti-LGBTQ measures to pass so far this year during their deliberation. When national media fail to report on historic discriminatory bills like those in Kansas and Oklahoma, legislators in other states may be emboldened to try to pass similar measures quietly, like what’s happening in South Carolina. It's time to sound the alarm about these discriminatory bills, and local news is a perfect place to start.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for the top four print outlets serving South Carolina -- the Asheville Citizen-Times, The Greenville News, The Post and Courier, and The State -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the word “budget” within 25 words of the words -- or variations of the words -- “adopt,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “same-sex,” “gay,” “LGBT,” “non-christian,” “religion,” “faith,” “amendment,” or “38.29” (the section number of the budget amendment). Media Matters' analysis was limited by reports and outlets available on Nexis. 

    Media Matters also searched iQ media for all South Carolina markets and surrounding markets serving South Carolina -- Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson; Columbia; Charleston; Myrtle Beach-Florence; Charlotte; Savannah; and Augusta-Aiken -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the words or variations of the words “adopt,” “foster care,” “38.29,”and “budget” within 25 words of the words or variations of the words “gay,” “same-sex,” “LGBT,” and “amendment.”

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop was just the beginning. ADF is pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post has been updated with additional information.

    On June 4, the Supreme Court granted a narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in favor of a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who refused to serve a gay couple. Phillips was represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is pushing several more cases that could determine whether public accommodations can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop cited “hostility” against ADF’s client by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the commission’s original decision on the matter. At the same time, the court also reaffirmed protections for LGBTQ people in the marketplace. This means the Masterpiece ruling applies to only this specific case and has thus “left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently,” according to The New York Times. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

    The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

    Kennedy’s prescient statement is reflective of the many similar religious exemptions cases -- in which businesses in the open marketplace seek to exempt themselves from serving LGBTQ people equally based on religious beliefs -- that are making their way up the courts. And those many cases almost all have one thing in common: Alliance Defending Freedom.

    ADF has been relentless in its work to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of life, which includes leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the country and advocating for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to alter LGBTQ people’s sexuality or gender identity. And in addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF in the last few years has been involved in several other religious exemptions cases, some of which could again bring ADF and its allies before the nation’s highest court. As Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted, ADF’s strategy is to “target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could.” What’s more, ADF's staff and its allied attorneys -- of which there are more than 3,200 -- are serving in high-up positions in the offices of state attorneys general and even on the federal bench, where they may increasingly play a role in cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    There are currently at least seven active or potentially active cases to watch -- all spearheaded by ADF and its allies -- that could eventually make discrimination against LGBTQ people in the marketplace the law of the land:

    1. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington: In the case most likely to be heard before the Supreme Court next, ADF is representing a Washington state florist who refused to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In February 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ADF’s client, and in July 2017, ADF appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to The Hill, it now “has been re-listed for discussion at the court’s next conference on Thursday,” June 7, when the court may decide whether to hear the case. 

    2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: ADF is representing a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee for coming out as a transgender woman, saying that its owner and other business owners have the right to “live and work consistently with their faith” and that the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code “is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one.” In March, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, and ADF announced that it is “consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal.”

    3. Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: In April, ADF argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, the owners of a calligraphy business, who challenged a Phoenix, AZ, ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. The lawsuit is a pre-enforcement challenge, meaning that the business challenged the nondiscrimination protections “seeking permission to refuse service to same-sex couples without actually being found in violation of the law,” according to ThinkProgress LGBTQ Editor Zack Ford. On June 7 and in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against ADF's client, affirming that the business must serve same-sex couples. In response to the ruling, ADF announced that it plans to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

    4. Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: In October, ADF filed an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, videographers in Minnesota who wanted to add wedding videos to their business services. The business owners sued the state because of a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits them from discriminating against same-sex couples, making the lawsuit a pre-enforcement challenge. Briefs to the court have been submitted, but it has not yet made a decision.

    5. 303 Creative v. Elenis: In September, ADF filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its client, a Colorado graphic designer who challenged a state nondiscrimination law that protects LGBTQ people. According to ADF, a September ruling by a federal judge “placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The judge also said that the designer could not sue to challenge the law because she could not adequately prove that a gay couple requested her services. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in May but will now hear them in September.

    6. Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: ADF represented a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast owner who denied a room to a lesbian couple. In February, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, upholding a 2013 decision that said she could not discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF has not updated its web page about the case in the months following the ruling or announced whether it will seek to appeal.

    7. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals: In April, ADF attorneys filed a brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of a “promotional printer” who declined to create custom T-shirts for the Lexington, KY, Pride Festival. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet decided the case.

    These are just seven of the many religious exemptions cases in which ADF has played a hand. It has also successfully pushed for federal Justice Department guidance that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. And it successfully wrote, justified, and defended the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill in the country, which went into effect in Mississippi last year.

    Though the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop may not have clarified whether public accommodations have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is just the beginning of a fight playing out in courts across the country at the hands of ADF.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante.