Transgender Rights

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  • Right-wing media are freaking out as anti-LGBTQ hate groups are called out

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & ERIN FITZGERALD


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ controversial speaking engagement at an event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), right-wing media figures lashed out at ABC and NBC News for accurately reporting that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

    On July 11, Sessions spoke at an event hosted by ADF, the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ hate group. Many progressive and LGBTQ advocacy organizations objected to Sessions’ decision to attend the event, in part because of ADF’s long-standing history of anti-LGBTQ extremism. Sessions’ office initially refused to release the transcript of his speech, but it was leaked to the conservative and extreme anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist.

    In their reporting on Sessions’ speech, both ABC News and NBC News accurately noted that the SPLC has designated ADF as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” ABC reported that SPLC described ADF as a group that “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally,” also adding that ADF objected to its hate group designation as a “lie.” The report also quoted SPLC’s deputy legal director for its LGBT Rights Project, who said ADF had “rightfully earned” the hate group label.

    In multiple reports, NBC News described ADF as “conservative Christian law firm that was designated a ‘hate group’ in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center” and highlighted its role in promoting bathroom bans “aimed at keeping transgender people out of restrooms and other private facilities that correspond to their gender identity and presentation.” NBC noted ADF’s years-long attempts at criminalizing homosexuality and Sessions’ concerning record on LGBTQ issues. The network also included a response from an ADF attorney who attempted to delegitimize SPLC by calling it “increasingly irrelevant” and “extreme.”

    Following these reports, right wing media figures quickly attacked NBC and ABC News. ADF responded as well, issuing a statement demanding a retraction from ABC and claiming that the network had “committed journalistic malpractice,” saying it “cut and paste false charges ... by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization.”

    In a July 13 National Review article, senior writer and former ADF senior counsel David French called SPLC a “dangerous joke” that spreads “vicious hate.” French claimed that ADF was labeled a hate group “merely because [its members] advocate for orthodox Christian principles and the liberty to live those principles.” He also suggested that there are only two forms of extremism that SPLC should track -- “racist terrorists and white supremacists” -- and concluded that “media outlets who use the SPLC to assess Christian speech expose only their own bias and incompetence.”

    Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, declared that ABC News reporters “smeared Christians who believe the Bill of Rights secures religious liberty as a ‘hate group’” and argued that ADF “is not a hate group at all, but a civil liberties organization that battles for religious liberty.” Hemingway went on to warn the media against using SPLC’s designations in the future, threatening that they would be turning “journalism into anti-religious propaganda on behalf of a partisan group” and could potentially “be perceived as enemies of average Americans.”

    Katrina Trinko, managing editor of The Daily Signal, wrote that SPLC’s designations put “conservatives’ safety at risk” of persecution and violence by the left, and that “once again, the mainstream media is demonstrating it doesn’t care about the impact of extremist rhetoric on conservatives.” Right-wing outlet The Daily Caller published a post about ADF’s demand that ABC News retract its story, writing that SPLC “frequently smears conservatives as ‘extremists.’” It also published tweets from conservatives who “blasted the media coverage of ADF as an obvious example of media bias.”

    During the July 14 edition of his show, Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Carlson asserted that NBC News and SPLC “think they’re in charge” of deciding “which ideas are legitimate and which ideas are so dangerous we must suppress them.” Carlson also hosted ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner, who asserted that ABC and NBC had committed “journalistic malpractice,” and she and Carlson both said SPLC is a “scam.”

    In addition to the numerous right-wing media attacks, a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SPLCexposed was launched by numerous other SPLC-identified hate groups and right-wing figures, including anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, and anti-Muslim extremist Brigitte Gabriel.

    This reaction is nothing new. Hate groups and far-right commentators have been predictably outraged in the past when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer properly identified hate group representatives. Just last month, ADF similarly lashed out at Time magazine and columnist Judy Shepard over a piece outlining the extent of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and its body of work targeting trans students with bathroom bans in schools. In 2014, an ADF attorney asserted that the murder of Shepard’s son Matthew was a hoax to advance the “homosexual agenda.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    However, as Media Matters for America has noted, it is a myth that the SPLC bases its hate group designations on conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. As SPLC stated in 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.” Organizations are labeled anti-LGBTQ hate groups when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize the lives of LGBTQ people.

    SPLC added ADF to its list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in February 2017 because ADF’s leaders and affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians’” and have also “supported the criminalization of homosexuality in several countries.”

    As a majority of Americans have grown to support LGBTQ equality, hate groups now cloak anti-LGBTQ extremism under the false pretense of protecting religious freedom or privacy, or protecting women and children from sexual assault. ADF, for instance, has recently made the rounds in the media for representing clients in “religious freedom” and “free speech” cases. But it is also the group behind many of the anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures and bathroom bans proposed in school districts, which have been introduced in unprecedented numbers over the last two years.

    In the past, ADF has openly advocated to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” And in 2012, ADF published a list of suggested and discouraged terminology in its media guide, instructing readers to use the phrase “homosexual agenda” instead of “lesbian and gay civil rights movement,” refer to transgender people as “sexually confused,”and use the term “special privileges” when discussing anti-discrimination laws. In an amicus brief for Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared anti-sodomy laws across the country unconstitutional, ADF argued that “the history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity” and that “state legislatures have always possessed a broad authority to outlaw private, consensual sex.”

    ADF’s actions speak for themselves. Despite the group’s efforts to maintain its highly cultivated facade of respectability in the media, its history of anti-LGBTQ extremism cannot be undone or erased. When journalists employ SPLC’s hate group designation and contextualize ADF’s current work, they provide accurate, much-needed information to the public.

  • STUDY: Fox News Ignored Transgender Voices While Discussing Rollback Of Protections For Transgender Students

    MSNBC Hosted Four Transgender Guests, And CNN Brought On One

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    From the time it happened through the day that followed President Donald Trump’s rollback of federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, Fox News failed to include transgender guests who could provide insights about the policy. Of the major cable news networks (MSNBC, Fox, and CNN), MSNBC led the count by hosting four transgender guests, while CNN hosted only one.

    On February 22, the Trump administration revoked the federal protections for trans students implemented by President Barack Obama, which outlined the right of trans students to use the public facilities that match their gender identity. Conservative commentators reacted by pushing the long-debunked myth that sexual predators exploit these types of nondiscrimination protections to sneak into women’s facilities by pretending to be transgender.

    Media Matters analyzed the guests invited on cable news networks to discuss the rollback of the federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination guidelines from 8 p.m. February 22 until midnight on February 23. We found that Fox News failed to bring on a single transgender guest, perpetuating the network’s long history of trans exclusion. In comparison, MSNBC set the standard by including four transgender guests: Cub Scout Joe Maldonado, actress and activist Laverne Cox, transgender rights advocate Mara Keisling, and Gavin Grimm, whose case against his school over restroom access will go before the Supreme Court. CNN hosted only one trans person, teenager Juliet Evancho, who appeared during the February 23 edition of CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, but on February 22, New Day featured Katharine Prescott, the mother of a trans student who committed suicide. Prescott’s subsequent activism was influential in the implementation of protections during the Obama administration. It is worth noting that CNN also hosted Grimm on the February 24 edition of New Day, but the morning shows of February 24 fell outside of the time frame analyzed by Media Matters.

    While CNN’s and MSNBC’s inclusion of trans voices provided a welcome respite from a trend of underrepresentation, news networks must still work for progress in terms of improving trans visibility. That’s because stories of violence against the transgender community are often ignored, and when news shows do discuss issues that directly affect transgender people, they often fail to include any trans people as guests.

    Because Trump is an avid TV consumer, cable news shows have an increased in influence as platforms for policy discussion, giving the guests included a unique opportunity to send impactful messages. This platform could also be used to boost the voices of those usually underrepresented in the media. And transgender people -- who are often mocked, misgendered, and negatively portrayed on TV news -- deserve a space to directly address misperceptions audiences might have about their lives. Their lived experiences not only add value to segments about legislation that directly affects their lives, it also can enrich the political discussion more broadly. Networks owe it to the transgender community to talk to them, instead of just about them.

    Jared Holt contributed research to this report.

  • Oakland Fire Highlights Need For Greater Media Accountability And Respect For Trans People In Life And Death

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    A fire in an Oakland warehouse claimed the lives of 36 people, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office who released the official list of victims names that erroneously included the birth name of a transgender woman, Feral Pines. As a result, the initial media misidentified and misgendered Pines, which prompted loved ones and advocacy organizations to call for journalists to update stories with her correct name. Advocacy efforts ultimately yielded proper reporting, but the steps required to get there highlight the need for media outlets to take greater care in accurately reporting on transgender people.

    On December 2, a fire broke out at an Oakland art collective’s warehouse, killing 36 people including several members of the LGBTQ community. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office later released a list of victims’ names, incorrectly identifying one transgender victim, Feral Pines, by her name given at birth, which she hadn’t used in over a decade. Her loved ones asked that officials correct the list, and the sheriff’s office eventually apologized and deleted tweets of the original list. But by that point journalists had already begun using the list as a reference for their reporting, meaning much of the initial coverage misgendered Pines and included an incorrect name for her.

    When the media uses the birth name of a trans person -- a practice sometimes known as “deadnaming” -- it harms the entire transgender community, as a December 7 article published by The San Francisco Chronicle noted, quoting Eliza Wicks-Frank, Pines’ former partner of five years:

    “The impact that this lack of dignity and awareness has on the community of trans people who are alive right now is it tells them that their fight is irrelevant, that they’re going to be disrespected regardless of how they fight to live their lives.”

    On December 6, GLAAD issued a statement urging the media to follow established guidelines for covering news about trans victims -- including using the “gender and pronoun that corresponds with the way the victim identified” -- and clarified protocol around conflicting information, urging outlets to “listen to the friends who did know about the victim’s trans identity, and respect the way a victim identified a the time of the incident.” On December 7, a joint statement released by a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations -- Equality California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National LGBTQ Task Force, Transgender Law Center and the Trans Assistance Project -- called on both the Oakland authorities and the media to honor the correct name and gender of the transgender fire victims.

    In addition, Pines’ loved ones contacted dozens of journalists and news outlets that used her birth name and asked them to use the correct name. The Guardian published an article highlighting transgender people’s struggle for respect and accurate identification, both in life and in death. Scout Wolfcave, Pine’s friend who has been working closely with media and authorities to ensure the trans victims are described properly, told the Guardian:

    “We fight hard enough every single day to be seen as our authentic selves and to be treated with respect. In death, you can’t defend yourself anymore, so it falls on your friends to do it for you.”

    By the end of the week, almost all of the stories that incorrectly identified Pines had been corrected thanks to the efforts of Wolfcave and an extended network of loved ones.

    The Associated Press reported on confusion around identifying Pines, noting that she was called different names by friends and family. While Pines’ friends and family may have known her by two different names, her identity as a transgender woman was clear and neither of the monikers she used was the name she was given at birth. Building on existing guidelines issued by GLAAD, the article acknowledges that while sometimes identifying and discussing trans people who’ve lost their lives will be difficult, proper naming remains "critical." The need for greater media accountability and responsible journalism is clear, according to American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and trans advocate Chase Strangio:

    "Being referred to as one’s proper gender and name is not a preference. It is not a choice that a journalist can make and still accurately report on the subject. When trans people are misgendered, when our old names are used, we disappear. Because at that point, our truth is taken away. A truth that we fought hard to claim."

  • Media Report That Voter ID Laws Could Suppress 34,000 Trans Voters This Election

    South Florida Gay News: Voter Suppression Affects The “Electoral Impact Of LGBT People, Further Marginalizing All LGBT People,” “Especially Transgender People Of Color”

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Media are reporting that stringent voter ID laws in several states have a harsh impact for transgender voters, who often face barriers to updating their ID documents to reflect their gender and experience harassment and mistreatment as a result. 

  • Media Should Note Common Denominator In Recent Wave Of Anti-LGBT Court Battles

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    In the last week, two courts have decided against the rights of LGBT people and their families in major equality battles, and Texas’ attorney general has filed a third lawsuit regarding LGBT Americans. As the media cover these cases, they should connect the dots that lead back to one nefarious organization: the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extremist group leading the national fight against LGBT equality.

    Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing legal powerhouse that’s linked to nearly every recent legal attack on LGBT equality in the United States -- as well as attacks on women’s reproductive health. ADF is behind the national push for both anti-LGBT “religious freedom” legislation that seeks to legalize discrimination against LGBT people and so-called bathroom bills that aim to prohibit transgender people, including public school students, from using facilities that align with their gender identity. ADF also works internationally to attack LGBT equality, including by helping defend laws in Belize and Jamaica that would put people in prison for engaging in gay sex.

    EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. A U.S. District Judge issued a summary judgement on August 19 in favor of Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan, which fired an employee, Aimee Stephens, after she told her employers of her plans to transition from male to female. ADF lawyers are now representing the chain of funeral homes, and they lauded last week’s decision, highlighting the court’s language about company owner Thomas Rost:

    Rost sincerely believes that it would be violating God’s commands if he were to permit an employee who was born a biological male to dress in a traditionally female skirt-suit at the funeral home because doing so would support the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.

    State of Texas v. United States of America. On August 21, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against a joint guidance released by the departments of Education and Justice that explained school administrators’ obligations to ensure that transgender students can attend school without facing discrimination based on sex. It built off previous court decisions and guidance stating that discrimination against transgender students constitutes illegal sex discrimination under federal law. The injunction was sought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a lawsuit against the the federal government along with several other states in response to the guidance. The lead counsel on this case is Austin Nimocks, who works for Paxton’s office but previously served as senior counsel at ADF.

    State of Texas v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On the heels of the above court ruling in its favor, Paxton’s office filed a new lawsuit on August 23 against the Department of Health and Human Services over nondiscrimination protections and expanded medical care for transgender people included in the Affordable Care Act. This case was also assigned to Judge Reed O’Connor, the same judge who granted the injunction against transgender students. The recent actions of Paxton’s office drew swift condemnation from the editorial board at The New York Times:

    These legal assaults on equal protection for transgender Americans are based on bigotry and the specious claim that they pose a threat to the safety of others. The toll exacted on this vulnerable population is heavy and will remain so as these cases and other litigation involving transgender laws move through the courts.

    As these cases continue to move through the court system, journalists should expose the extremist legal group behind the coordinated assault on LGBT equality.