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Asking Hate Groups About Marriage Equality Isn’t Balance, It’s Bad Journalism

June 29, 2015 4:56 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Media outlets have repeatedly turned to an extreme anti-gay hate group to comment on the Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality decision, needlessly exposing audiences to misinformation while failing to hold the group accountable for its track record of dishonesty.

Following the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges -- which found that bans on same-sex marriage violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – several media outlets invited representatives from the Family Research Council (FRC) to offer their reactions to the decision.

FRC has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because it propagates “known falsehoods” about the LGBT community, including linking homosexuality to pedophilia and accusing gay people of trying to “recruit” children. The group has a long track record of making wildly inaccurate policy predictions about the consequences of basic protections for LGBT people.

But despite the group’s extremism and without reference to their record, FRC was widely cited by major media outlets in the wake of Obergefell, including NPRThe New York Times, and USA Today.

Spokespersons from FRC were also invited to react to the decision on national television. ABC’s This Week invited FRC’s Ken Blackwell – who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder – to discuss the court’s decision. On Fox News’ The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly offered a platform FRC president and frequent guest Tony Perkins, who has called pedophilia a “homosexual problem.” As usual, none of these outlets identified FRC as a hate group or informed their audiences about the organization’s history of misinformation.

And during the June 29 edition of CNN’s New Day, host Chris Cuomo invited FRC’s Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies, to discuss the decision in Obergefell. Sprigg, whoseprofessional experience before FRC includes serving as a Baptist minister and 10 years as a “professional actor,” has previously suggested he’d prefer to “export homosexuals from the United States.” But despite his extremism and lack of expertise, Sprigg was given a platform to fearmonger about the consequences of country-wide marriage equality:

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How Fox News Fought, Lost, And Rebooted Its Fight Against Marriage Equality

June 26, 2015 1:50 pm ET by Carlos Maza

On November 18, 2003, Bill O'Reilly dedicated the "Talking Points Memo" portion of his Fox News show to criticizing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which had just made a historic ruling determining that the state could not deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In his monologue, O'Reilly claimed that while he personally "couldn't care less about gay marriage," if judges continued to "impose their views on everybody else ... the core values of this country will be changed dramatically":

O'REILLY: Personally I couldn't care less about gay marriage. If Tommy and Vinny or Joanie and Samantha want to get married, I don't see it as a threat to me or anybody else. But according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, only 32 percent of Americans favor gay marriage. And the will of the people must be taken into account here.

We simply can't allow this country to be run by ideological judges. Marriage is not a right, neither is driving a car. Both are privileges granted by the state.


If the good people of Massachusetts want a secular approach to marriage, let them vote on it. But judges have no right to find loopholes in the law and impose their views on everybody else. That's happening all over America. And if it continues, the core values of this country will be changed dramatically. Another secular victory today, this Massachusetts marriage deal.

It took 12 years, but the U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision is the culmination of a culture war saga that saw marriage equality evolve from a controversial thought experiment into a popularly-supported civil rights struggle.

That evolution was reflected in nearly all facets of American media. As public opinion on same-sex relationships and homosexuality shifted, so too did media depictions of the LGBT community, both mirroring and reinforcing the normalization of same-sex relationships in the public's imagination. In popular culture and mainstream news reporting, the fight for same-sex marriage has increasingly been presented as the story of a marginalized group fighting for civil rights and equal treatment, much to the dismay of anti-LGBT conservatives.

But while most major media outlets kept pace with the public's evolution on same-sex marriage, Fox News held out, popularizing conservatives' most dire warnings about marriage equality. As public support for marriage equality grew, the network shifted its focus - largely bowing out of debates over same-sex marriage in order to gin up right-wing fears about the threat that LGBT equality might soon pose to religious liberty and individual freedoms.

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Fox's Erick Erickson Says Society's Acceptance of Transgender People Blinds It To "Evil" Of Charleston Killings

June 19, 2015 1:37 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

In the wake of the June 17 mass shooting in a Charleston, S.C. church, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that Americans can no longer distinguish "normal from crazy and evil from good," citing society's acceptance of transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner.

On the June 18 edition of The Erick Erickson Show, and in an accompanying blog post on headlined, "The Conversation We Won't Have," Erickson denounced the "political" conversation in the wake of the attack that killed nine people, and criticized what he called "cries from the left" about racism and gun laws. He lamented that "as a nation, when these things happen, we never have the conversation about real evil. We also never have the conversation about mental health:"

Erickson wrote that society's acceptance of transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner was evidence that people are reluctant to discuss things like the nature of evil and mental health issues (emphasis added):

As a nation, when these things happen, we never have the conversation about real evil. We also never have the conversation about mental health. For that matter, we don't have honest conversations about why some kid in Minnesota or Alabama would want to go join ISIS and kill their fellow citizens or why some kid would want to join neo-nazis or a gang.

Instead, we descend into partisan conversations where everything is political and neither side can concede or acknowledge the other's points. Everyone and everything gets blamed while ignoring the actual person who killed.

I realize now why that is. I realize why we will never have the conversation we should have.

A society that looks at a 65 year old male Olympian and, with a straight face, declares him a her and "a new normal" cannot have a conversation about mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good. Our American society has a mental illness — overwhelming narcissism and delusion — and so cannot recognize what crazy or evil looks like.

While Erickson is the first Fox personality to link Caitlyn Jenner to the Charleston shooting, his comments are part of the larger effort by conservative media to steer the public conversation about the massacre away from the underlying factors of racism and gun laws. 

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The Do's And Don'ts Of Covering The Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Decision

June 17, 2015 1:54 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in Obergefell v. Hodges this month, finally deciding whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional. Whatever the decision, media outlets will inevitably ask anti-LGBT activists and groups for comment, which will be another opportunity for them to peddle baseless attacks on marriage equality.

Here are some guidelines for media outlets who want to avoid some of the most common mistakes made during media discussions about marriage equality:

DON'T Cite Debunked Horror Stories

In recent debates over marriage equality, anti-LGBT groups and activists have trotted out the same tired "horror stories" about the supposedly negative consequences of same-sex marriage on religious liberty, including that:

All these claims were thoroughly debunked years ago, but news outlets tend to cite them without checking the facts. Journalists should avoid lending credibility to anti-equality myths and hold commentators who push this kind of misinformation accountable.

DO Rely On Empirical Evidence

When discussing the potential impact of national marriage equality, journalists should cite empirical data from states where same-sex marriages have been legal for years.

Massachusetts, for example, has allowed same-sex couples to marry for over a decade. A recent report by the Associated Press examined Massachusetts' state marriage records to judge the results of what it called the "longest-running real-world test of what happens when gay couples are allowed to tie the knot." The investigation found that Massachusetts has maintained one of "the lowest divorce rates of any state - both before and after gay marriage was legalized." 

Vermont, which was the first state to introduce civil unions -- almost exactly 15 years ago -- and has allowed same-sex marriage since 2009, reports similar marriage and divorce data, with an annual 0.3 percent dissolution for same-sex couples versus an overall divorce rate of 3.8. In fact, a study by the National Institutes of Health shows that gay married couples actually report less conflict in their unions than heterosexual counterparts. 

Similar findings in other states suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage produces tangible benefits, including a bolstered economy. These positive effects of legalized gay marriage debunk much of the anti-gay speculation surrounding marriage equality.

DON'T Cite Flawed Social Science

Opponents of marriage equality frequently use flawed social science to produce so-called evidence of the harms of same-sex marriage. The majority of available evidence shows that there is no difference between the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by opposite-sex couples. Yet marriage equality opponents continue to push the myth that same-sex parenting is harmful to children by citing flawed research. Journalists should be prepared for opponents to reference an infamous paper authored by University of Texas Associate Professor Mark Regnerus - a widely discredited study frequently used by gay marriage opponents purporting to show that children raised by gay parents suffer negative consequences.

Arguments that gay marriage will lead to an increase in abortions or higher rates of divorce are based on similarly shoddy social science and media should be prepared to respond to bogus appeals to anti-LGBT research.

DO Accurately Identify Anti-LGBT Commentators

Mainstream media often fail to give their audiences relevant information about guests they ask to comment on marriage equality. If a guest represents an anti-LGBT hate group for example -- like the Family Research Council or American College of Pediatricians -- identifying the person as such is essential to providing audiences the context they need to assess that guest's point of view. On CBS' Face the Nation this past April, Bob Schieffer exemplified how the media should introduce such opponents when he accurately identified one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay hate group. Schieffer's decision to properly identify Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, infuriated anti-LGBT conservatives, who rely on softball media interviews to whitewash their extreme positions. Anti-LGBT groups also frequently use legal scholars and academics to advance their talking points without revealing the animus that motivates their work.

DON'T Pit Gay Rights Against Religious Beliefs

Pitting religious communities against proponents of marriage equality is a common practice in the media, but it ignores the fact that most religious people support legalizing same-sex marriage. Media outlets have historically had trouble separating anti-LGBT animus from sincere, mainstream religious belief, framing the debate instead as a "God vs. Gays" issue. A recent study found significant margins of people in major religious groups -- including 84 percent of Buddhists, 77 percent of Jews, 60 percent of Catholics, and 56 percent of Orthodox Christians -- support same-sex marriage. Among all religiously affiliated Americans, supporters are in the plurality, with 47 percent favoring same-sex marriage, compared to 45 percent who oppose it.

Aside from misrepresenting support for marriage equality among religious people, elevating the "God vs. Gays" myth reinforces the right-wing campaign for anti-LGBT "religious freedom" laws. Coverage of the marriage equality decision will offer media outlets an opportunity to accurately portray the support for same-sex marriage among religious groups, and dispel inaccurate tropes about religion and gay people.   


The First Rule For Interviewing An Anti-Gay "Hate Group"

Does MSNBC Know It's Giving A Platform To An Anti-Gay Hate Group?

How A Hate Group Lost Influence On (Most Of) Cable News

Meet Ryan Anderson, The Anti-LGBT 'Scholar' Peddling Junk Science To National Media

June 17, 2015 10:06 am ET by Rachel Percelay

Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson routinely appears in the media under the guise of a serious academic opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. But despite the veneer of credibility his resume provides, Anderson routinely peddles false and misleading claims about the LGBT community and legal protections for LGBT people.

Anderson Is Treated Like A Credible Scholar

Anderson is a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he "researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty." He graduated with a B.A. in music from Princeton University and earned a doctorate in political philosophy at Notre Dame. Since co-authoring the 2012 book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Anderson has become one of the most prominent media spokespersons in the fight against marriage equality. 

Media outlets routinely present Anderson as a scholar whose position against same-sex marriage and LGBT equality, though unpopular, is based on arguments that are supported by academic research. A recent profile of Anderson in The Washington Post headlined "The Right Finds a Fresh Voice on Same-Sex Marriage" described him as "the conservative movement's fresh-faced, millennial, Ivy League-educated spokesman against same-sex marriage," and explained his mainstream media appeal:

Anderson is becoming a prominent face of the opposition in news media appearances.

His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.

Also in his favor: He's telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.

Anderson's own bio at the Heritage Foundation touts his frequent major media appearances:

Anderson's broadcast and cable appearances include news programs on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. His work has been featured in or published by major newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Examiner, National Review, Weekly Standard and Christianity Today. It also has appeared in journals such as Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, First Things, Claremont Review of Books, New Atlantis, Touchstone, Books and Culture, The City and Human Life Review.

Anderson's carefully crafted anti-LGBT talking points are devoid of the kind of "fire and brimstone" rhetoric commonly heard from anti-LGBT commentators, which makes him a popular choice for media outlets looking to host debates about LGBT equality. His polished speaking style further reinforces his reputation as a serious, trustworthy expert.

But the media's willingness to portray Anderson as a fair-minded academic belies that fact that he routinely relies on flawed research and cherry-picked anecdotes to advance his anti-LGBT agenda.

Anderson Cites Shoddy, Debunked Research

Anderson frequently relies on shoddy and discredited research to support his arguments against LGBT equality.

A prime example is a 2012 paper Anderson frequently cites by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus, called "How Different Are The Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?" The paper seems to suggest that children raised by same-sex parents fare worse than children raised by heterosexual ones. Regnerus' paper is one of the most widely-discredited pieces of research in the field of LGBT studies because it relied on problematic methodology to achieve its findings. An internal audit conducted by the same journal that published Regnerus' paper bluntly called it "bullshit" because it did not look at children raised in intact households of married same-sex couples. Darren Sherkat, who led the internal review, stated (emphasis added):

When we talk about Regnerus, I completely dismiss the study. It's over. He has been disgraced. All of the prominent people in the field know what he did and why he did it. And most of them know that he knew better. 

Anderson's reliance on pseudoscience often leads him to make absurd claims about same-sex couples. The Washington Post profile quotes him answering a question from the audience at a forum with discredited social science claims (emphasis added): 

Same-sex relationships are less stable than ­opposite-sex relationships. A ­female-female relationship is the most short-lived, he says, "not because it's a lesbian relationship," but because it involves two women, who are more likely to leave when their emotional needs are not met. 

Male-male relationships, he says, tend to be less stable, "not because it's a gay relationship," but because men are more sexually permissive. "That's where you tend to get the concept of 'monogamish' -- a two-person relationship but sexually open." 

Recently, Anderson suggested that the legalization of same-sex marriage contributes to a decline in heterosexual marriage rates -- a claim that ignores clear evidence to the contrary.   

Anderson's embrace of unsound research extends beyond his opposition to marriage equality. During an April 27, 2015 appearance on CNN's New Day with Chris Cuomo to discuss Caitlyn Jenner's transition to a woman, Anderson touted discredited research by the notoriously transphobic Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Paul McHugh to push the debunked argument that "transition regret" is common among transgender people.  

Anderson Peddles Bogus Horror Stories

Anderson also routinely peddles dishonest attacks against efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination. 

In his Heritage Foundation report, "Marriage Matters: Consequences of Redefining Marriage," for example, Anderson claimed that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts forced Catholic adoption agencies to close (false) and resulted in public schools being forced to teach children about same-sex marriages (also false). He's repeatedly warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would create a slippery slope to "throuples" -- three people in a marriage -- and polygamy.  

In 2014, Anderson twice parroted the bogus story ordained ministers in an Idaho town being "forced" to perform same-sex marriages or face jail time. In reality, the ministers had received no threats of any legal action from the town and were able to remain exempt from local non-discrimination laws by registering their chapel as a religious non-profit.

In an error-filled report criticizing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Anderson claimed that extending non-discrimination protections to LGBT employees would create "special privileges" and punish workers who have religious convictions about homosexuality.

And during the recent debate over Indiana's "religious freedom" law, Anderson co-wrote an article defending the measure by falsely equating it to existing federal law.

Anderson Publishes Extreme Anti-LGBT Commentary

Anderson is the founder and editor of Public Discourse, an online publication funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute, which was also one of the major funders of the disgraced Regnerus study. As editor, Anderson has used Public Discourse as a platform for fringe and extremist rhetoric, including:

  • Comparing gay surrogacy to rape, arguing that women must now defend themselves not only from "stereotypical sexual predators" but from "gay men who seek their eggs;"
  • Arguing that the decriminalization of gay sex helped cause the 2011 child molestation scandal at Penn State;
  • Commending a book promoting the criminalization of "sodomitical relationships," calling the argument "blunt and fearless;"
  • Claiming "the endgame of the LGBT rights movement involves centralized state power - and the end of First Amendment freedoms;" and
  • Alleging that "powerful advocates" at universities are trying to redefine pedophilia as "intergenerational intimacy."

Public Discourse is also notorious for publishing the testimony of anti-LGBT children of gay parents, including virulently anti-gay Robert Oscar Lopez. Lopez has used Public Discourse to compare same-sex parenting to child abuse, and has relied on the fact that he was raised by a mother in a same-sex relationship as a child to claim that he "grew up in a house so unusual that [he] was destined to exist as a social outcast" because he had no male figure to teach him how to be "bold and unflinching." 

Anderson Holds Fringe Beliefs About Sexual Orientation

Anderson is motivated by the same fringe ideas about LGBT equality that have led mainstream media outlets to sideline other leaders of the anti-gay movement - namely, the belief that LGBT people can treat or cure their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Anderson has embraced the idea that being gay is an ailment that can be treated since his college days. He once authored a column in the Daily Princetonian that compared being gay to alcoholism and pedophilia, suggesting that all LGBT people should practice abstinence. Anderson also called on the Princeton LGBT Center to invite Paul Scalia -- chaplain of the COURAGE ministry, which shames LGBT people into lifelong celibacy -- to an event.

In 2007, Anderson authored a lengthy column that described a friend, "Chris," who "suffers same-sex attractions, he doesn't want to, and he seeks to be made whole again." In 2012, he touted a New York Times article about "ex-gay" men who believe that reparative therapy has helped change their sexual orientation. 

Anderson has also hinted at supporting reparative therapy for transgender people. He tweeted his opposition to "Leelah's Law," a proposed federal law to ban medically-repudiated "conversion therapy" for minors named for transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide in 2014. Anderson also claimed a ban on conversion therapy would "hurt children," despite the fact that major medical organizations denounce the practice as harmful. 

With a looming Supreme Court decision and a book about marriage equality already slated to be published later this year, Anderson will likely continue making the rounds on major media outlets. His academic background and well-rehearsed talking points have given the anti-LGBT movement a media savvy spokesperson who stands in contrast to the kind of iright-wing firebrands most Americans have grown accustomed to. But they don't make him any more credible when it comes to discussing LGBT issues. Anderson's history of spouting misinformation, promoting debunked and flawed research, and providing a platform to anti-gay extremists undermine his credibility as a "scholar" and serious commentator. Media outlets should treat him accordingly.

Fox News' Megyn Kelly Defends Josh Duggar's Anti-Gay Hate Group

June 05, 2015 4:08 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly defended the Family Research Council (FRC), the anti-gay hate group that previously employed Josh Duggar, claiming that the group advocates for "strong Christian values." Kelly is one of the group's principal allies on Fox.

On the June 5 broadcast of The Kelly File, Kelly interviewed Democratic National Committee (DNC) committee member Robert Zimmerman about the media reaction to the revelation that Josh Duggar of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting had molested five girls, including his younger sisters, when he was a teenager. Before resigning in the wake of the controversy, Duggar was executive director of FRC Action, the political arm of FRC, which has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its promotion of known falsehoods about LGBT people.

During the segment, in response to Zimmerman's criticism of FRC's extreme attacks on LGBT people,  Kelly defended the group and its president, Tony Perkins,  as supporters of "strong Christian values":

Kelly's comments are the latest in Fox News' ongoing effort to conflate anti-LGBT extremism with Christian beliefs.

FRC has repeatedly peddled extreme and damaging myths about the LGBT community, including calling pedophilia a "homosexual problem" and claiming that gay activists want to "recruit" children into a "lifestyle" of "perversion."

Kelly has a history of whitewashing FRC's extremism and providing the organization with a welcoming platform on Fox News, despite knowing about their "hate group" designation. According to a recent study, she has hosted the group on her show more frequently than every other Fox News program combined.

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Debunking Right-Wing Myths About Protections For Transgender Students

June 03, 2015 1:53 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

School district officials representing over half a million students have debunked conservative myths about non-discrimination protections for transgender students.

Conservative media have repeatedly attacked efforts by school districts to prohibit discrimination against transgender students, claiming that non-discrimination policies create confusion, violate students' privacy rights, and allow male students to sneak into girls' locker rooms and restrooms by pretending to be transgender:

But a new Media Matters report puts to rest once and for all these right-wing horror stories about protections for transgender students. Seventeen school districts in 11 states covering some 600,000 students reported no problems implementing and enforcing trans-inclusive non-discrimination policies. To the contrary, districts touted their policies as success stories, highlighting LGBT training and the inclusive environments they've worked to create.

The findings confirm what we already know - that conservative horror stories about transgender students are baseless and empirically untrue.

Conservative media's eagerness to find non-existent evidence to support their invented scenarios has led them to disseminate fake news stories. In October 2013, news outlets were forced to retract a fake story about a transgender student who was supposedly harassing girls in a Colorado school bathroom. The tale, touted on Fox Nation, was manufactured by Pacific Justice Institute, an anti-LGBT hate group that opposes trans-inclusive school policies. 

Despite the fact that conservative media wants its viewers to believe that protections for transgender students are radical and dangerous, these important policies simply represent basic measures that can help prevent the high rates of bullying and harassment many transgender students face. 

No one should take these manufactured right-wing horror stories seriously. They are the product of unethical journalism and they harm vulnerable adolescents.

What The Media Should Know About Walt Heyer And “Transition Regrets”

June 02, 2015 5:40 pm ET by Carlos Maza

A popular right-wing activist with extreme, discredited views about LGBT people is making the media rounds to talk about Caitlyn Jenner, peddling the myth that many transgender people end up regretting transitioning.

Walt Heyer, contributor for the rabidly anti-LGBT web magazine The Federalist, appeared on the June 2 edition of CNN Newsroom to comment on Vanity Fair’s cover story about Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to publicly identify as a transgender woman.

Heyer’s life story has made him a pseudo-celebrity in anti-LGBT circles; in his forties, he decided to transition to living life as a woman, only to transition back to living as a man less than a decade later. Since then, he’s pushed the debunked claim that transgender people often experience regret after transitioning, arguing that what transgender people actually need is “psychiatric or psychological help.”

On CNN, Heyer warned that Jenner might regret her decision to transition, comparing transitioning to “going down to the bar” and “wak[ing] up with a hangover”:

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Associated Press Violates Its Own Transgender Guidelines In Caitlyn Jenner Story

June 01, 2015 3:30 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The Associated Press violated its own guidelines for how to refer to transgender people in a voyeuristic report about former Olympian and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on next month’s cover of Vanity Fair.

On June 1, Vanity Fair released a preview of its July issue cover story, headlined, “Call Me Caitlyn.” The story is Jenner’s public debut as Caitlyn following a highly-watched television interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in which Jenner, who still identified then as Bruce, announced that she is transgender and detailed her experiences hiding her gender identity while appearing on the popular reality show, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” The Vanity Fair story says Caitlyn Jenner now wishes to be referred to as a woman.

In its report on the Vanity Fair cover, the Associated Press violated its own guidelines on how to report on transgender people, which state that trans people should be identified by their preferred pronouns. Instead, the AP story refers to Jenner as a male and calls her Bruce. The report also objectifies Jenner by describing her as wearing “va-va-voom fashion” and highlighting her “ample cleavage:”

Bruce Jenner made his debut as a transgender woman in a va-va-voom fashion in the July issue of Vanity Fair.

"Call me Caitlyn," declares a headline on the cover, with a photo of a long-haired Jenner in a strapless corset, legs crossed, sitting on a stool. The image was shot by famed celeb photographer Annie Leibovitz. Prior to the unveiling of Caitlyn, Jenner had said he prefers the pronoun "he," but Vanity Fair contributing editor Buzz Bissinger, who wrote the accompanying story, refers to "she."

Jenner debuted a new Twitter account as well with: "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me." In about 45 minutes, the account had more than 180,000 followers.

According to the magazine, which took to Twitter with the cover Monday, Jenner spoke emotionally about her gender journey: "If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, 'You just blew your entire life.'"


In addition to the corset, Vanity Fair released a black-and-white video on the making of the cover. It shows Jenner getting her hair done and posing in a long, off-the-shoulder gown with ample cleavage. [emphasis added]

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Fox News Devoted Less Than Two Minutes To The Duggar Controversy

May 27, 2015 3:33 pm ET by Carlos Maza & Rachel Percelay

Fox News largely ignored the controversy surrounding Josh Duggar following his recent admission that, as a teenager, he molested young girls, including several of his sisters. The revelations are particularly stunning given that, under the guise of protecting children, the Duggar family has played an active role in the fight against LGBT equality.  

On May 21, In Touch magazine revealed that in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar – patriarch of TLC’s hit show 19 Kids and Counting – had waited more than a year before telling police that his son, Josh, had confessed to molesting several female minors, including his sisters, when he was a teenager. TLC has since pulled episodes of 19 Kids from its schedule.

The revelations drew widespread criticism in the media, with many outlets pointing out the Duggar family’s reputation as a torch-bearer for conservative values and strong involvement in Republican politics and anti-LGBT activism. The revelations look to many like hypocrisy from a family that’s become a political powerhouse in socially conservative circles in recent years by wielding its reality show influence to stump for “family values,” Republican politicians, and the repeal of legal protections for LGBT people. 

But while MSNBC and CNN have reportedly heavily on the Duggar scandal, Fox News has largely ignored the story. According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the story between May 21 and May 25, compared to almost an hour of coverage from the other cable news networks:

During the May 24 broadcast of Media Buzz, Fox News’ media critic Howard Kurtz even criticized other media outlets for “piling on” by highlighting the Duggar family’s ties to prominent Republican politicians:

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Fox News Wrongly Claims Churches Could Lose Tax Status Unless They Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

May 08, 2015 10:55 am ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News’ Shannon Bream relied on a hate group’s unsubstantiated talking points to stoke fears that churches could lose their tax exempt status if a Supreme Court ruling finds that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Bream has repeatedly relied on rhetoric from discredited anti-LGBT groups to peddle bogus and misleading information about issues related to LGBT equality.

On the May 6 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox News’ Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream highlighted an exchange during oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that will determine the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. During the exchange, Justice Samuel Alito asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether religious colleges would be able to keep their tax-exempt status if the bans are found unconstitutional and they continue to oppose same-sex marriage. Verrilli said although he didn’t know all the specifics, “It’s certainly going to be an issue”:

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Why Anti-Gay Conservatives Are So Mad At Bob Schieffer

May 06, 2015 3:13 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Anti-gay conservatives are criticizing CBS News’ Bob Schieffer for correctly identifying one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay “hate group,” accusing him of “anti-Christian bias” for doing so. The outrage over Schieffer’s disclosure highlights why it’s so important for the media to hold extremists accountable for their views when they appear. 

During the April 26 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, Schieffer invited Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming oral arguments on marriage equality. Schieffer began the interview by noting that FRC has been listed as an anti-gay “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and citing critics who argue that Perkins’ extreme views don’t represent the views of most Christians:

SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mister Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this -- and against gay marriage -- that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, "You don't speak for Christians." Do you think you have taken this too far?

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Meet The Anti-LGBT Legal Scholars Defending "Religious Freedom" Laws

May 06, 2015 1:44 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Media outlets have relied on numerous legal scholars to downplay fears that controversial "religious freedom" bills in states like Indiana and Arizona could result in anti-LGBT discrimination. But underneath their credentials, many of these supposedly neutral experts harbor their own anti-LGBT agendas.

In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) sparked widespread criticism when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, a measure that could create a legal defense for business owners to refuse service to gay customers by citing their religious beliefs.

A group of legal scholars sent a letter to Gov. Pence endorsing RFRA during the debate over the law, basing their support on "many years of teaching and scholarship on the law of religious freedom." Several of the signees authored a similar letter during the debate over Arizona's proposed license-to-discriminate law in early 2014, which would have similarly permitted anti-LGBT discrimination in business and employment.

Media outlets have frequently cited these letters and their signees to suggest that fears about "religious freedom" laws might be overblown -  but these legal scholars aren't impartial observers. Several have deep ties to the anti-LGBT groups that helped orchestrate the push for these "religious freedom" laws, while others have marked histories of attacking LGBT equality.

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson is a law professor at University of Illinois and has been cited by The New York TimesUSA TodayPolitiFactThe Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune in discussions of religious exemptions.

She also has ties to extremist anti-LGBT organizations - Wilson is a member of the Virginia Marriage Commission, formed by the Family Foundation of Virginia which advocates for the notion that "marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, an institution of God and a foundation for civil society." She's helped author letters to lawmakers in over a dozen states proposing "strong religious-liberty protections for conscientious objectors" of marriage equality, testified in favor of adding exemptions for religious exemptions to Washington, DC's marriage equality bill, and supported RFRA laws in both Arizona and Indiana

One of Wilson's colleagues at the Family Foundation of Virginia is reportedly Maggie Gallagher, former President of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The Foundation also partners with other extremist anti-LGBT groups, with ties to the hate group the Family Research CouncilFocus on the Family, and the Alliance Defending Freedom - the group leading the fight for RFRAs across the country.

Mary Ann Glendon

Harvard Law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon has a long history of extreme anti-gay rhetoric and ties to radical anti-LGBT organizations. She was the first signee listed on the February 2014 letter defending the Arizona's expanded "religious freedom" law. 

In 2011, Glendon helped author a letter warning that voting for marriage equality would be a "grave" and "inadvisable step" for members of the New York legislature. She's called marriage equality a "radical social experiment" and warned that "children will have to be taught about homosexual sex" in "marriage-preparation" classes and fear mongered about the threat posed by "alternative family forms." 

For years Glendon has presented marriage equality as fundamentally incompatible with religion, writing in The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):

Every person and every religion that disagrees [with same-sex marriage] will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don't go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles. 

A vocal opponent of LGBT equality, Glendon serves on the advisory board for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a project of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same group that helped craft Arizona's license-to-discriminate law.

Perhaps due to her virulently anti-LGBT alliances and rhetoric, Glendon is less frequently cited a source of legitimacy for anti-gay legislation. But as Douglas NeJaime notes in the California Law Review, her views persist through Robin Fretwell Wilson, mentioned above, who in "a recent volume of essays ... ratchet[ed] down the rhetoric used by Glendon but nonetheless affirm[ed] the unique relationship between same-sex marriage and threats to religious freedom."  

Helen M. Alvaré

Helen Alvaré is a law professor at George Mason University School of Law who actively opposes same-sex marriage and has even edited a book advocating for "ex-gay" conversion therapy.

Alvaré was another signee on the Arizona RFRA letter and testified in support of Kansas's 2013 RFRA at an informational hearing called following the controversy surrounding Arizona's license-to-discriminate law.

In a 2013 radio appearance for the anti-LGBT group Focus on the Family, Alvaré declared that gays need to be told that "marriage is not in the cards for you." She has written multiple essays advocating against same-sex marriage, arguing that marriage equality proponents are "destroying the poor, the uneducated, and the formation of their family lives."

In 2012, Alvaré published a book Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, which features a chapter by Dr. Michelle Cretella, who is on the board of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization that advocates for dangerous "ex-gay" conversion therapy. The chapter, "Who Am I? Psychology, Faith, and Same-Sex Attraction," discusses the "condition of experiencing same-sex attraction," argues that childhood sexual abuse is a contributing factor "for many individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction," and advocates for "changes to same-sex attraction." 

Alvaré runs the organization Women Speak for Themselves, which has gathered over 41,000 signatures from women in support of RFRA legislation.  

Robert P. George

Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, is a notorious advocate against LGBT rights who has pledged to defy "man-made law" to follow "God's law" in the face of marriage equality.

George signed onto the Indiana RFRA letter as well as a similar letter sent to legislatures in North Dakota.

George co-founded and is Chairman Emeritus for NOM, which coordinates the national movement against same-sex marriage, and also serves on the board of the Family Research Council.

GLAAD has profiled George as a "well-connected scholar and professor with anti-gay ideology" and documented his history of anti-LGBT activism, including (emphasis added) how he:

A 2009 profile of George in The New York Times described him as the "reigning brain of the Christian right," and a respected range of academic journals and national media outlets have given him a platform. As his biography notes:

Professor Robert George's articles and review essays have appeared in the Harvard Law Reviewthe Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Review of Politics, the Review of Metaphysics, and the American Journal of Jurisprudence. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, First Things, the Boston Review, and the Times Literary Supplement

Michael W. McConnell

Michael McConnell is a professor at Stanford University Law, a former circuit judge and potential Supreme Court nominee under George W. Bush. McConnell signed his support for both the Arizona and Indiana RFRA letters, and has a history of portraying LGBT-rights activists as bullies who silence any "dissenters."

McConnell supports "efforts to limit congressional authority to protect civil rights ... weakening both statutory and constitutional protections against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation," according to a 2005 report from People for the American Way.

The report documented McConnell's radical re-interpretation of the First Amendment, which would "substantially weaken the separation of church and state, give preferential treatment to religion, and authorize direct government funding of religion." For example:

McConnell criticized [a decision upholding the application of LGBT protections] because it allegedly "forced" on the university the "acceptance of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle." According to McConnell, this was the equivalent of forcing Jim Crow laws on Berea College in 1908. This was despite the fact that McConnell has agreed that public high schools should provide equal access to their facilities to gay rights groups. In other words, a non-government organization's preferences should once again trump anti-discrimination laws.

McConnell's views in this area are eerily reminiscent of much of the opposition in the 1950s and 1960s to civil rights laws. Integration was morally wrong, argued opponents, and those moral objections should prevail over court rulings and anti-bias laws. 

The New York Times recently cited McConnell in an article on marriage equality, in which he argued that lawyers who oppose a constitutional right to same-sex marriage have been "bullied into silence," saying "the level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented ... You're going to shut up, particularly if you don't care that much ... I usually just keep it to myself."

McConnell has been widely quoted in the RFRA debate, recently featured in The Washington Post The New York Timesthe IndyStar, and USA Today.

Robert P. George was previously identified as a "law professor" at Princeton. He is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. The post has been updated accordingly. 

Dallas Morning News Editorial Writer: Correctly Identifying Transgender People Is “Confusing”

May 05, 2015 2:51 pm ET by Carlos Maza

An editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News offered an embarrassing defense for not bothering to correctly identify transgender people, arguing that widely accepted journalistic guidelines for talking about the transgender community are "confusing" and  "misinform[s] the public."

In a May 4 column in The Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Tod Robberson criticized The New York Times and Associated Press for recognizing “the gender preference of transgenders in news copy.” According to Robberson, identifying trans people using the pronouns they prefer “distort[s] the truth” in order to embrace “the politically correct transgender language of the day”: 

The New York Times and Associated Press, among other news organizations, have decided that they will recognize the gender preference of transgenders in news copy. Which is to say, when a male who has yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery nevertheless calls himself a female and is the subject of a news story, he will be identified as a female in all references.


See how confusing that gets? What is the actual, at-birth gender of the person we’re talking about? And what gender will the person be identified as, once reassignment surgery is completed? Who knows?

There is a serious ethical discussion in this issue that we in journalism never really had. The orders came down from on high one day, and everyone just sort of jumped on board without questioning the implications. The first ethical issue is whether we journalists distort the truth by embracing the politically correct transgender language of the day.


Like it or not, the use of he/she, her/him, his/hers in print is a grammatical and journalistic necessity. We can’t avoid it. But in doing so, choosing the correct word shouldn’t be an option selected out of a sense of inclusion or demonstration of open mindedness about sexual identity. Our only choice must be to use the correct words to accurately and truthfully report the news.

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The First Rule For Interviewing An Anti-Gay "Hate Group"

April 27, 2015 11:58 am ET by Carlos Maza

On CBS’ Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer accurately identified one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay “hate group,” providing his audience with valuable context often missing from mainstream media interviews with anti-LGBT extremists. 

On the April 26 edition of Face the Nation, Schieffer invited Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), and Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, to discuss this week’s Supreme Court arguments over marriage equality. Scheiffer began the interview by noting that Perkins’ group has been labeled an anti-gay “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):

SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mister Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this-- and against gay marriage that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, "You don't speak for Christians." Do you think you have taken this too far?

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The Dos And Don’ts Of Talking About Bruce Jenner’s ABC Interview

April 24, 2015 1:56 pm ET by Carlos Maza

On April 24, ABC will air a two-hour interview between Diane Sawyer and Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Bruce Jenner. The interview is expected to address rumors that Jenner is transgender.

Given the tremendous amount of media attention the interview is expected to receive, here are a few reminders for media outlets who want to avoid making some of the most common mistakes found in coverage of major transgender news stories:

DO Highlight The Realities Of Being Transgender. 

Jenner’s story is a powerful opportunity to bring national media attention to the transgender community, but it’s important to remember that Jenner’s experiences are also unique. Most trans people are not famous, wealthy, white reality television stars. The transgender community -- and trans women of color in particular -- faces high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence, which in turn contributes to higher levels of poverty, homelessness, and economic marginalization. Media outlets should recognize the particularities of Jenner’s experiences and use them to initiate broader conversations about what life is like for transgender people in America.

DON’T Fixate On Jenner’s Appearance. 

Some of the ugliest, most exploitative coverage in the lead-up to the ABC interview has been speculation based on Jenner’s appearance. Given Jenner’s public profile as a reality television star, it’s easy to fixate on the star’s physical and cosmetic characteristics. But focusing on transgender people’s appearances -- especially on how well they “pass” -- is degrading and objectifying. It turns trans people into spectacles and denies their basic humanity. The media has an important role to play in exposing cisgender audiences to transgender people and their stories, but nobody benefits when transgender people’s appearances are made topics for public consumption.

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NBC Airs Groundbreaking Series Spotlighting Transgender Youth

April 23, 2015 11:15 am ET by Carlos Maza

NBC aired a series of segments presenting a sensitive, thoughtful, and well-researched look into the lives of families raising transgender children, demonstrating a number of best practices for talking about the transgender community. 

On April 21, NBC Nightly News aired a segment titled “Jacob’s Journey,” an in-depth look at 5-year-old transgender boy, Jacob Lemay. Jacob’s parents affirmed their son’s “consistent, persistent, and insistent” desire to live as a boy, noticing Jacob’s early discomfort with being asked to dress and be addressed as a girl:

NBC News’ national correspondent Kate Snow looked at the details of Jacob’s experience: his initial frustration with being identified as a girl, his parents’ concerns about their child’s future, and the way his parents came to understand and support their transgender son.

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How An Extreme Anti-LGBT Legal Powerhouse Is Working To Enact "Religious Freedom" Laws

April 16, 2015 10:15 am ET by Rachel Percelay

The current push for expanded state "religious freedom" laws is thanks in large part to the work of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme right-wing legal group that's worked to criminalize gay sex across the globe. 

A $39 million non-profit Christian legal group, ADF bills itself as an organization that works for the "right of people to freely live out their faith." The group has laid the groundwork for "religious freedom" laws across the country, using their legal work to peddle the myth that Christians are under attack by the "homosexual agenda." But behind this religious freedom rhetoric, the group promotes an extreme anti-LGBT agenda, namely working internationally to criminalize gay sex.

A Legal Powerhouse Working To Criminalize Gay Sex Abroad

Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization that works with 2,400 allied attorneys nationally on a $39 million (as of 2013) annual budget. ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country's largest national evangelical Christian ministries to "press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation's courts" and "fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians." Today, it has become the country's best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization calls the "myth of the so-called 'separation of church and state.'" 

As the "800-pound gorilla of the Christian right," the group has become a fixture on Fox News in stories about "Christian persecution," where the group is perhaps best known for defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve gay customers. But ADF's agenda is far more extreme than defending discriminatory florists and bakers in court.

While the group prefers to talk about its "religious liberty" work when in the media spotlight, ADF also actively works internationally to promote and defend laws that criminalize gay sex. ADF's formal support for anti-sodomy legislation dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public health risk.

Since the Lawrence decision declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional, ADF has taken its extremist agenda abroad, working in Jamaica, Belize, and India to support laws that imprison gay people for having sex. The organization annually expands its network of international (and domestic) lawyers at its Legal Academy, a week-long lawyer training event that, among other things, teaches attendees how to "battle the radical homosexual legal agenda." In exchange, the trainees are obligated to provide 450 hours of free legal services over a three-year period to ADF or other organizations "that forward the mission of the alliance." According to ADF, nearly 1,800 lawyers have participated in its training program.

The group also has rich history of extremist ant-LGBT positions, including opposing anti-bullying efforts in public schools and labeling the hate crime that led to the murder of Matthew Shepard -- a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and tortured to death -- a hoax to advance the "homosexual agenda." The organization's media kit explicitly supports this radical position, and instructs media to call violent attacks against LGBT people "so-called 'hate' crimes," to refer to the LGBT rights movement as the "homosexual agenda," and to call trans people "cross-dressing" and "sexually confused."

ADF partners with more than 300 like-minded institutions, including the rabidly anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute, the Thomas More Law Center,  the Family Research Council (a hate group),  the Heritage Foundation, and the now-defunct "ex-gay" organization Exodus International. ADF's relentless legal campaign against LGBT equality led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to describe the organization as "virulently anti-gay." Unsurprisingly, the group has been at the forefront of the fight against same-sex marriage -- ADF attorneys represented the defendants in the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court in 2013, and have defended same-sex marriage bans in over 25 states.

ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears has his own personal history of extreme homophobia. In 2003, Sears co-authored the book The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which compares the gay "propaganda" movement to what "Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany, to get the American public on their side." In another chapter, Sears claims that homosexuality and pedophilia are "intrinsically linked." 

Sears' book echoes ADF's larger strategy of painting Christians as victims in a supposed war against Christianity, a position which depicts LGBT rights and religious freedom as mutually exclusive, writing:

The efforts of homosexual activists to convince Americans to tolerate homosexual behavior tramples religious freedom and leaves a trail of broken bodies in the dust. 

His radical anti-LGBT conspiracy theories haven't stopped Sears from enjoying an influential career -- by his own count, Sears has persuaded legislators in 20 states to adopt his legislative recommendations. He's also "helped fashion the language for numerous state and federal laws and has testified before committees of the U.S. House and Senate, state legislatures, and many local governments, and commissions."

Furthering the "Christian Persecution" Narrative

ADF has been peddling the myth of "Christian Persecution" since its inception in 1994, when the newly formed "Alliance Defense Fund" solicited donations on Christian radio by claiming:

Pro-life demonstrations may soon be illegal. ... Religious broadcasting may soon be censored. Hiring homosexuals in Christian schools, churches, and even as Sunday School teachers may soon become the law of the land. ... Don't let Christianity become a crime.

Today, ADF lists "religious liberty" as one of the organization's "key issues." According to ADF's website, "religious liberty [is] under attack in America" and "those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished, and silenced."

This narrative is part of the broader misinformation campaign orchestrated by a network of conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations to frame Christians as "victims" of discrimination. As Dr. Jay Michaelson, a religious liberty fellow at Political Research Associates, noted in a recent report, these organizations are (emphasis added):

Waging a vigorous challenge to LGBTQ and reproductive rights by charging that both threaten their right-wing definition of "religious liberty."


Religious conservatives have succeeded in reframing the debate, inverting the victim-oppressor dynamic, and broadening support for their agenda.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Rob Boston, director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said of ADF's religious persecution rhetoric, "if you read their emails, their magazines, go to events, you hear a constant message of 'we're under attack, under siege, being persecuted. It works, motivates people to give, makes them afraid, causes them to reach for checkbooks or credit card."

To further their myth of Christian persecution, ADF frequently provides legal representation to Christian business owners who refuse to serve LGBT customers and are then sued for violating local non-discrimination ordinances. ADF frequently seizes these cases -- which it almost always loses -- to rally conservatives around these highly publicized examples of "persecuted" Christians. 

This past fall, ADF attorney's filed a lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on behalf of a chapel owned by a Christian couple, both ordained ministers, who ADF alleged were being forced to perform same-sex marriages after the city passed an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. This turned out to be a patently false tale and baseless lawsuit -- the "chapel" owned by the couple was a for-profit business, and the city had not taken any legal action against the business, which, if it were registered as a religious nonprofit, would be exempt from the non-discrimination ordinance.

But that didn't matter to ADF. The goal in taking up these types of cases is to create publicity for their cause. And ADF succeeded -- right-wing media seized on the story of the chapel, which quickly spread across Fox and other conservative outlets.

In similar cases, ADF has represented a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, two sets of couples who refused to host same-sex marriages at their for-profit, secular venues, and a New Mexico photographer who refused to work a same-sex wedding.

ADF's clients, who are allegedly "discriminated" against because of their religious beliefs, act as the horror stories that have become the primary argument behind the national push for expanded "religious freedom" laws, also known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA). As the Indianapolis Star pointed out in the controversy surrounding Indiana's recently passed RFRA, there is a "pervasive perception that many argue is not a misconception: that Indiana's RFRA is -- and always has been -- a way to allow those who oppose same-sex marriage to deny providing wedding-related services on religious grounds."

The Center for Arizona Policy, which co-wrote Arizona's failed RFRA, crystallized the link between religious freedom laws and "protecting" wedding businesses, writing that "the critical need for [SB 1062] came to light" after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the photographer, represented by ADF, who declined to provide services to a same-sex wedding.

In a recent blog defending Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco seized the case as an opportunity to encourage states to adopt their own RFRAs:

States should adopt religious freedom laws that protect their citizens' fundamental right to religious liberty so the government has to prove a compelling reason before it can force someone like Jack to violate his faith.

On their page dedicated to RFRA, ADF cites their own client, Barronelle Stutzman,  a Washington state florist who violated the state's non-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple, as an example of "what can happen when religious freedom is not protected."

ADF doesn't rely solely on their own mailing list and social media to spread the Christian discrimination narrative -- Fox News frequently provides ADF a national platform to bring these cases to national attention and simultaneously defend RFRA legislation. Recently, Fox hosted an ADF attorney to rally viewers behind Stutzman, depicting her as a victim who risked losing her home and livelihood because of the state's non-discrimination law. ADF's cozy relationship with Fox is mutually beneficial: ADF relies on Fox for publicity, and Fox relies on ADF for a steady stream of stories riling up its audience about Christians being under attack, allowing the network to campaign for anti-LGBT RFRAs under the guise of protecting religious liberty. 

How ADF Helps Enact State RFRAs

While ADF has worked publicly to make the national case for expanded RFRAs, the group is quieter about their coordinated legal and lobbying efforts to pass "religious freedom" laws. ADF first emerged as the driving force behind RFRAs in 2014, when the organization helped write Arizona's SB 1062. The bill, which sparked national controversy and was ultimately vetoed, would have expanded legal protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers. At the time, CNN's Anderson Cooper noted that ADF was behind the "genetic code" of SB 1062 and similar religious freedom laws across the country. MSNBC's Chris Hayes similarly documented ADF's involvement in writing the law, while also noting the group's support for criminalizing gay sex abroad.

ADF has had a hand in helping craft a number of similar RFRAs across the country. Gregg Scott, vice president for ADF, has characterized enacting RFRAs as "a legislator's most important duty." Last year, ADF senior counsel Joel Oster testified in favor of Kansas's RFRA, which was signed into law in April 2013. ADF recently pushed for a RFRA in Colorado, where on March 9 ADF senior counsel Michael J. Norton testified in defense of a "State Freedom of Conscience Protection Act," another license to discriminate "religious freedom" bill that was killed in the Colorado House. ADF also had a hand in writing Georgia's recently tabled RFRA. 

The organization also promoted a RFRA in Arkansas, a law they claimed would be "destructive" if it included explicit LGBT protections.

Most recently, ADF helped "advise" Indiana lawmakers during the debate over the state's controversial RFRA. ADF's litigation counsel, Kellie Fiedorek, even stood behind Indiana Gov. Mike Pence during the private ceremony signing the bill into law:

After they helped pass the law, ADF representatives jumped to defend the controversial measure in columns, on the radio, and on national cable news.

ADF's reach extends all the way to state legislators where ADF alums and even currently allied attorneys introduce and sponsor "religious freedom" legislation. One of the sponsors of a recently introduced RFRA in North Carolina is House Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R), who proudly boasts her "continu[ed] involvement in promoting religious freedom" as "an Allied Attorney" with ADF. Similarly, in Louisiana, House Rep. Mike Johnson (R) has introduced the "Marriage and Conscience Act," a virulently anti-LGBT bill that explicitly allows discrimination against same-sex couples. Johnson previously served as a senior attorney and media spokesman for ADF.  

Working under the guise of a "religious freedom" organization, ADF's efforts to curtail LGBT rights have been largely successful. Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in an interview with The Daily Beast:

In the last two years, there have been 35 bills introduced around the country to establish or expand a RFRA. And there have been over 80 bills filed that specifically allow for discrimination against gay and trans communities. 

These RFRAs are more than just a legal shield for anti-gay business owners -- they're a product of ADF's mission to eliminate legal protections for gays and lesbians. Their intent is to make it easier to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. When Indiana considered adding an LGBT non-discrimination amendment to its RFRA, ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner told media outlets:

The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country.

As constitutional law scholar Marci Hamilton explained in her book God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, the anti-gay groups behind state RFRAs reveal the laws' "true colors." Media stories about RFRA are not complete until they acknowledge the extreme anti-LGBT group that has worked to lay the groundwork, both legally and in the media, for expanded "religious freedom" legislation.

Anti-Gay Hate Group Will Bring Fox News, GOP Hopefuls On A Trip To Israel

April 15, 2015 3:51 pm ET by Carlos Maza

For the second time this year, an anti-LGBT hate group is hosting a trip to Israel that will feature prominent figures from the Republican Party. The event will also feature Fox radio host Todd Starnes.

On October 27, the Family Research Council (FRC) will host its first ever eleven-day "Holy Land Tour" -- a "unique, one-of-a kind tour" where guests will "explore the land of the Bible and the roots of our Christian faith" and meet with "some of Israel's political and religious leaders."

Read the full entry ...

LGBT, Trans Organizations Call On News Networks To Improve Transgender Coverage

April 08, 2015 2:27 pm ET by Carlos Maza

LGBT organizations, transgender advocacy groups, and prominent transgender activists are calling on national news networks to improve their coverage of important transgender issues, including the disproportionate amount of violence targeted at trans women of color.

A recent Media Matters report found that national cable, broadcast, and Spanish-language news networks ignored the murders of seven transgender women of color in the United States in the first two months of 2015. Transgender news coverage often focused on sensationalized stories while excluding trans voices and ignoring the more substantive issues of violence and discrimination against transgender people.

In the wake of the report, LGBT organizations and transgender advocacy groups are calling on national news networks to improve their coverage.

National Center For Transgender Equality

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Policy Advisor for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the National Center for Transgender Equality:

Violence against transgender women is an undeniable crisis in this country. In the first few months of this year alone, eight transgender women have been killed while state legislative attacks gain traction nationwide. Major news networks have largely ignored these attacks including the deaths of transgender women. NCTE calls on these news networks to accurately, fairly, and respectfully report on these murders and to allow transgender women, especially those of color, to speak about the discrimination and violence in their communities. To get the story right on news in America, that news must include the stories of transgender people.

TransLatin@ Coalition

Bamby Salcedo, President of the TransLatin@ Coalition:

As the epidemic of violence and murders targeting transgender women and gender non-conforming people continue to take place  throughout the nation, national news organizations remain silent on the issue. We need the media to elevate the voices of transgender women of color, to challenge the violence and discrimination directed at transgender people, and to commit to fairly and accurately reporting information about our community. In order to create a world without any violence, harassment, and discrimination, we need everyone to join us in raising awareness.

Trans Women Of Color Collective 

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, National Director of the Trans Women of Color Collective:

There is an epidemic of brutal violence against trans women of color that is inextricably linked to the structural oppression we face every day. In this country, it is completely legal to deny a trans women of color access to housing, employment, educational opportunities and healthcare. This legalized discrimination contributes to the socio-economic disenfranchisement of our community, which also puts us at risk for homelessness, poverty, heightened criminalization, and physical and state-sanctioned violence. In 2013, there were 14 reported murders of trans women of color. In 2014, the same year that our nation celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, 12 trans women of color were brutally murdered in a 6-month time span. And in the first two months of this year, 7 (reported) trans women of color have been brutally murdered. When media outlets do report on violence against trans women, they often carelessly and callously engage in violence by using “given names,” mug shots or recklessly including alleged criminal history when reporting on victims. The lack of national outrage reinforces a narrative that our lives are disposable.

Transgender Law Center

Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center:

There is a crisis of violence against transgender women of color, and it is irresponsible for outlets to ignore that reality. By failing to recognize these epidemic levels of violence or listen to the voices of those impacted by it, our news contributes to the very climate that makes this violence possible. It sends the message that transgender women of color do not matter.

National LGBTQ Task Force

Kylar Broadus, Transgender Civil Rights Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force:

Eight transgender women and gender non-conforming people have been murdered across the US this year alone and not a single national news media outlet has reported on these homicides. This epidemic of violence must end and we need everyone’s help—from the classroom, to the newsroom, to the corridors of power. Everyone has a key role to play in creating a safe, just, and equitable society free from discrimination and persecution.


Nick Adams, Director of Communications and Special Projects at GLAAD:

The violence against transgender people, especially transgender women of color, must not be ignored. The stories of transgender people who face staggering levels of violence, poverty, and employment discrimination need to be told, as well as the stories of resilience and advocacy work coming from within the trans community. By telling these stories, the media will educate lawmakers, social service providers, and everyday Americans about the urgent need for trans-inclusive legal protections, competent social services, and widespread acceptance.

National Coalition Of Anti-Violence Programs

Osman Ahmed, Research and Education Coordinator at the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs:

The homicides of transgender women, and specifically transgender women of color, is an ongoing epidemic that has reached unprecedented levels with the seven homicides of transgender women of color in the first two months of 2015 alone. In just these two months NCAVP has documented more than half of the 12 homicides that were reported in all of 2014. While coverage of individual homicides has somewhat increased recently, it is time for the media to start connecting the dots and talking about the breadth and complexity of this violence. 

To read the full report, click here.

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