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CNN's Bizarrely Homophobic Coverage Of The Virginia Shooter

August 28, 2015 10:18 am ET by Carlos Maza

In its reporting on the fatal shooting of two journalists in Virginia, CNN repeatedly and needlessly mentioned the shooter's history of registering gay porn websites as evidence that he was unstable and disturbed.

On August 27, CNN reported that Vester Flanagan II, the man who shot and killed two journalists on live television in Virginia, had set up domain names for several gay porn websites between 2007 and 2008. 

CNN made no attempt to explain how the domain names could even be related to the shooting. The domain names were purchased years before Flanagan began working at WDBJ, the station that also employed the journalists he killed. And Flanagan openly identified as gay, so his sexual orientation was already public knowledge.

But throughout the day on August 27, CNN repeated its report about the websites Flanagan registered. During The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin called the report "just another disturbing twist" in the story of the shooting:

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Houston's Largest Newspaper Just Shut Down The Anti-LGBT "Bathroom" Myth

August 26, 2015 4:22 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

The Houston Chronicle thoroughly debunked a popular myth being peddled by opponents of the Houston Equal rights Ordinance (HERO). Other Houston news outlets, which have been uncritically repeating the false talking point for months, should follow the Chronicle's lead.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, is a broad non-discrimination ordinance that was passed by Houston's City Council in 2014. HERO prohibits discrimination in areas like housing, employment, and city contracts on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, sex, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Anti-LGBT conservatives in Houston have fought to repeal the ordinance, successfully lobbying to put HERO up for a public vote on Houston's November ballot.

Since the start of the debate over HERO, Houston media outlets have made a consistent habit of uncritically repeating right-wing misinformation about the ordinance, including peddling the widely-debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender - a bogus talking point championed by HERO's opponents.

In an August 25 columnThe Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg did what other local news outlets have failed to do - investigated and debunked the bogus "bathroom bill" claim:

The so-called HERO ordinance, which will appear on the November ballot, really has little to do with potty time. It's about protecting people against discrimination in employment, housing and other sectors. It protects gay and transgender people, but also bans discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status. So why are we talking about bathrooms? Because one small aspect of it would let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice.

That means a transgender woman who may wear dresses and makeup can use the women's restroom, rather than turning heads at the urinals. A transgender man who may sport lumberjack attire and a burly beard can use the men's restroom. It's really quite simple. It's about reducing drama, not creating it. As one transgender activist explains in a popular Twitter hashtag, #wejustneedtopee.

This simple accommodation has become the bogeyman's best weapon. Critics suggest it will lead to men dressing up as women to assault women and girls in bathrooms.

[...]

As Richard Carlbom with the pro-ordinance Houston Unites campaign told the Chronicle: "Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is - and always will be - illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people."

If this ordinance posed a real danger, opponents wouldn't have to find some future parent to feign fear of becoming a victim "one day." They could surely find a real victim in one of the other cities that passed anti-discrimination ordinances decades ago.

[...]

In 1997, the city of Cambridge became one of the first jurisdictions in Massachusetts to amend its human rights ordinance to include gender identity and expression, police spokesman Jeremy Warnick said Tuesday.

He sent me the full testimony of police Superintendent Christopher Burke before the state House in 2011, advocating for a statewide bill for transgender equal rights.

Burke, speaking "as a member of the law enforcement community, husband, father and citizen," testified that the bill would not harm women and children. He said there had been no incidents or issues regarding people abusing the Cambridge ordinance.

Massachusetts passed the law. Houstonians should do the same.

Even if you insist on voting against it, pick another reason. Maybe you don't want to condone a transgender lifestyle. Maybe you believe protections for some groups are already extended by federal law, and you don't want a local ordinance that could offer relief more quickly and less expensively for your fellow Houstonians.

But don't vote against the ordinance because of urban myths about sexual predators in bathrooms. Sexual predators exist. But if they wanted to attack you in a public bathroom, they wouldn't need a city ordinance to do it.

With some basic investigative reporting, The Houston Chronicle effectively debunked the "bathroom bill" claim as a baseless myth meant to scare and mislead Houstonians. Other Houston news outlets should do the same and give Houstonians the facts about HERO. 

Previously:

How Local TV News In Houston Is Helping Critics Of The City's Equal Rights Ordinance

How Houston Media Can Fix Its Coverage Of The City's Non-Discrimination Fight

The Next Major LGBT Rights Battle Is Happening In Houston - And Conservatives Are Telling Its Story

The New York Times' Stumbling, Problematic Transgender Coverage

August 26, 2015 10:35 am ET by Carlos Maza

When you hear of a media outlet peddling debunked and misleading research in order to argue against providing transgender people with important medical care, you probably don't think of The New York Times.

But that's exactly what happened in the August 23 Sunday edition of the paper. In an op-ed titled, "How Changeable Is Gender?" Richard Friedman, a Times contributing opinion writer and professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, grossly misrepresented empirical research in order to raise doubts about gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender people, including transgender youth.

The post was quickly debunked by Think Progress' Zack Ford and Vox's German Lopez, who criticized -- among other things -- Friedman's conflation of gender identity and gender expression, his misreading of empirical data, and his dismissal of evidence showing the benefits of gender-affirming treatment. 

The errors in Friedman's research aren't minor -- his op-ed is based on a series of blatant oversights that undermine his conclusions. But as of Wednesday morning, The New York Times has failed to issue a correction or clarification to the op-ed. As Lopez noted, the New York Times' decision to publish "error-ridden articles like Friedman's" will likely make it harder for trans people to find supportive home and medical environments.

The Times declined to comment on criticism of Friedman's op-ed. 

Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident for the Times, which has come under increased scrutiny in recent months for its willingness to publish misleading and harmful commentary about the transgender community.

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Cable News Largely Ignores Spike In Murders Of Transgender Women Of Color

August 25, 2015 9:54 am ET by Carlos Maza

A disturbing spike in the number of documented murders of transgender women of color has garnered attention from national media outlets, but cable news networks continue to ignore the epidemic of violence facing the transgender community.

2015 has seen a disturbing spike in the number of recorded murders of transgender people, and especially transgender women of color, in the U.S. Though the trans community has historically been disproportionately targeted by violence, the murders of seven trans women of color in just the first two months of 2015 alarmed groups like the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which warned of an “epidemic of violence” against trans women.

That epidemic accelerated in July and August: at least five transgender women were killed between July 27 and August 15 alone. The murders got the attention of major national news outlets, including The New York Times and Time magazine. On ABC’s Good Morning America, transgender actress Laverne Cox declared a “state of emergency” in the transgender community.

During the August 23 edition of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, guest host Janet Mock dedicated the end of the program to reading the names and telling the stories of the 17 trans women murder this year:

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Bad Excuses For Misgendering Transgender Victims Of Violence

August 19, 2015 12:42 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Transgender homicide victims are frequently misgendered in local media reports about their deaths. Though some news outlets may be motivated by transphobia and bias, others -- like The Kansas City Star -- have justified the practice of misgendering transgender people by using shoddy appeals to journalistic integrity.

On August 15, Tamara Dominguez became one of the latest transgender woman of color to be murdered in the United States when she was repeatedly run over by an SUV. According to local reports, the Kansas City Police Department identified Dominguez using both her birth name and her preferred name, Tamara.

The Kansas City Star identified Dominguez as a “man” in its initial report on the murder -- violating GLAAD and Associated Press guidelines and contributing to the widespread problem of misgendering transgender victims of violence in local news reports. In response to criticism from the LGBT community, The Kansas City Star eventually removed the problematic language from its report.

On August 18, Kansas City Star’s Public Editor Derek Donovan published a defense of his paper’s initial report, which exemplifies the problematic ways that local media outlets can justify the practice of misgendering transgender victims of violence.

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How Local TV News In Houston Is Helping Critics Of The City's Equal Rights Ordinance

August 14, 2015 12:56 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Houston voters are a few months away from deciding whether to keep or repeal the city's non-discrimination law. But local television news broadcasts are helping spread misinformation about the measure by uncritically adopting opponents' framing and talking points, essentially giving free airtime to critics of the law.

Enacted in early 2014, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) prohibits discrimination in areas like housing, employment, and city contracts on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, sex, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

In July, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that HERO must either be repealed or put up for a public vote, setting the stage for a ballot fight in November.

But in the two weeks since the court's decision, local broadcast news stations in Houston have peddled misinformation about the ordinance and failed to give voters the whole picture.

According to a Media Matters analysis, Houston affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC have routinely depicted HERO as an LGBT non-discrimination law, ignoring HERO's broad protections for other groups:   

This omission means that a significant part of the story isn't being reported: since HERO was enacted, the majority of complaints filed involved race, sex, and age discrimination. Yet the measure's sexual orientation and gender identity protections, which accounted for less than 5 percent of reported discrimination cases, dominated local news coverage.  

Local TV coverage also uncritically repeated the widely-debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender - a bogus talking point championed by HERO's opponents. Houston's Fox and CBS affiliates included B-roll footage (scene setting video shown during a news report) of bathroom signs in over half of their HERO segments:

Pairing footage of bathrooms with stories on HERO is bad journalism, plain and simple. It reinforces the false implication that HERO is a "bathroom bill," rather than a basic non-discrimination measure similar to laws that already exist in over 19 states and 180 cities and municipalities. This type of skewed coverage is essentially free advertising for HERO opponents, who have a record of successfully defeating non-discrimination protections for LGBT people by fearmongering about women's restrooms.  

Local news outlets in Houston have been contributing to misinformation about HERO since 2014, uncritically repeating opponents' attacks on the measure and lending credibility to the bathroom myth. Fox 26 has been especially irresponsible in its HERO coverage, making the bathroom horror story central to its reporting.

It's not surprising, then, that voters Houston have a wildly distorted understanding of what HERO actually does. As Rice University Political Science Chair Mark Jones noted on Houston's NBC affiliate KPRC, Houston voters are "focused in on the bathroom issue," but otherwise people "really don't know" what the content of HERO actually is:

Houstonians should be able to count on their local TV news stations to help them make an informed decision about whether to keep or repeal HERO this November. By uncritically repeating critics' talking points and omitting crucial information about who has actually benefitted the most from the protections HERO affords, these stations are failing their viewers. In the more than two months remaining before the vote, journalists at Houston's local TV stations still have a chance to balance out their coverage and give Houstonians the whole story about what's at stake. 

Previously:

How Houston Media Can Fix Its Coverage Of The City's Non-Discrimination Fight

The Next Major LGBT Rights Battle Is Happening In Houston - And Conservatives Are Telling Its Story

Fox News Is Trying To Kill Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance

This Texan Shattered The Right's Favorite Anti-LGBT Talking Point During A Local News Interview

August 04, 2015 1:30 pm ET by Carlos Maza

An LGBT activist in Houston, Texas shut down a local TV news host’s misleading questions about the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, dismantling a right-wing lie about non-discrimination protections that has infected local and national media coverage of the fight for LGBT equality.

In July, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) – which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and a host of other factors – must be repealed or put on the ballot for a vote in November. Opponents of the ordinance have spent months falsely claiming that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender – a myth that local media outlets have been all too willing to run with.

But during the August 2 edition of Houston’s ABC 13 Eyewitness News’ “City View,” local LGBT activist Noel Freeman shattered the transgender bathroom myth:

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The Daily Show Dismantles The Right-Wing’s Transgender Bathroom Myth

July 30, 2015 3:00 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The Daily Show lampooned conservative attacks on an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance in a small town in Arkansas, setting a powerful example for how mainstream media outlets should treat bogus right-wing “horror stories” about affording legal protections to LGBT people.

During the July 29 edition of The Daily Show, correspondent Jordan Klepper traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which voted overwhelmingly in May to retain the town’s non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Daily Show segment mocked and dismantled some of the most popular conservative arguments against LGBT non-discrimination laws with the unwitting help of an opponent of the ordinance, who agreed to be interviewed and warned that the law infringed on the rights of Christians and allowed men to enter women’s restrooms:

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The Next Major LGBT Rights Battle Is Happening In Houston - And Conservatives Are Telling Its Story

July 29, 2015 2:59 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Houston looks set to become ground zero for the country’s next major LGBT civil rights battle. How national and local media cover that fight could help determine how the rest of the country thinks about the next stage of the struggle for full LGBT equality. 

For the past 15 months, the city of Houston has been embroiled in a drawn-out battle over its non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, military status, marital status, religion, disability, national origin, age, familial status, genetic information, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The Houston City Council adopted the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in May 2014, in the face of fierce opposition from anti-LGBT groups who immediately launched a signature-collection effort to put the ordinance on the ballot for possible repeal. Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman disqualified their effort after determining that many of the signatures collected were invalid. The result was a protracted and messy legal battle that has drawn the attention of Fox News and national conservative figures.

On July 24, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a district court decision and ordered the city to either repeal HERO or put the measure up for a public vote in the November 2015 election.

That decision has set the stage for an even more heated and expensive battle over the fate of the ordinance – one that will likely serve as a test case for how the media, and Americans at large, talk about LGBT equality in the new era of marriage equality.

The Media’s One-Sided HERO Coverage

HERO has been the target of conservative misinformation since it was unveiled in April of 2014. Local and national anti-LGBT groups, including the Houston Area Pastor CouncilTexas Values, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), rallied against the ordinance.

Opponents attacked HERO by lying about the ordinance; claiming it would undermine religious liberty, trigger costly and frivolous lawsuits, and allow sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender – predictions that have proven false in other Texas cities with similar laws in place. Horror stories about public restrooms became a central sticking point in the city council’s debate over HERO, with opponents even labeling the ordinance the “Sexual Predator Protection Act.”

The “sexual predator” talking point has been thoroughly debunked by law enforcement experts, government officials, and advocates for sexual assault victims in states and cities that have had laws like HERO on their books for years. Non-discrimination laws don’t make sexual assault legal, and sexual predators don’t decide to act based on whether a local non-discrimination ordinance exists.

But that didn’t stop local media outlets in Houston from uncritically repeating the “bathroom” myth in their reporting on HERO. Opponents’ talking points permeated local news coverage of the ordinance, resulting in a public debate that focused on conservative fearmongering rather than anti-LGBT discrimination: 

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This Today Show Segment Did Something Remarkable With Caitlyn Jenner’s Story

July 24, 2015 12:40 pm ET by Carlos Maza

NBC's Today show proved that smart reporting can turn even high-profile, sensationalist transgender news stories into opportunities to enlighten viewers about important issues affecting the transgender community. 

During the July 24 edition of the Today show, host Matt Lauer introduced a new installment of NBC's "Undercovered" series, which aims to draw attention to stories and issues that don't typically get major media attention. Lauer noted that while the media has focused heavily on Caitlyn Jenner's public transition, "the reality for other transgender Americans, far from the spotlight, can look very different."

MSNBC's Ronan Farrow then introduced viewers to one of those  transgender Americans -- a college student named Eve who is beginning hormone replacement therapy as part of her transition:

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AP, Florida Media Call Transgender Homicide Victim A “Man Dressed As A Woman”

July 22, 2015 4:35 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The Associated Press violated its own guidelines while reporting on the homicide of a transgender woman in Florida, joining several state-based news outlets in misgendering the victim and referring to her as a “man dressed as a woman.” The incident is the latest in a trend of media mistreatment of transgender victims of violence.

On the morning of July 21, 25-year-old transgender woman India Clarke was found dead in a park in Tampa Bay, Florida. Clarke suffered blunt-force trauma to the upper body, though the exact cause of death is still unknown. Before her death, Clarke publicly identified as female, used female pronouns, and presented as female in her photos.

But in its news release announcing a homicide investigation surrounding Clarke’s death, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office referred to Clarke as a “male dressed in women’s clothing.” Speaking to BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden, Detective Larry McKinnon defended the Sheriff’s Office’s decision to identify Clarke as male:

“We are not going to categorize him as a transgender. We can just tell you he had women’s clothing on at the time,” Detective Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, told BuzzFeed News. “What his lifestyle was prior to that we don’t know — whether he was a cross dresser, we don’t know.”

Initial calls to 911 descibed the victim as a woman but a medical examiner later identified her as male, McKinnon said.

“He is a male,” McKinnon continued. “I can’t tell you he is a female.”

In the 24 hours following the discovery of Clarke’s death, state-based news outlets and the Associated Press repeatedly misgendered Clarke, referring to her as a “man dressed as a woman” and violating journalistic standards on how to refer to transgender people. CBSABC, and NBC affiliates in the Tampa area followed the Sheriff's report and also referred to India as “Samuel,” using male pronouns, and referring to her as a male.

The Associated Press violated its own widely-cited guidelines and referred to Clarke as a “man wearing women’s clothing,” referring to her as “Samuel.” AP’s misgendering was repeated by state media outlets' that republished AP’s report:

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Inside The Conservative Plan To Continue The Fight Against LGBT Equality

July 15, 2015 3:08 pm ET by Carlos Maza

One week before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, a group of the country’s most prominent anti-LGBT activists met at the Skyline megachurch in San Diego to discuss what their next steps should be in the fight against LGBT equality.

The meeting was part of the 2015 Future Conference, an event organized by Skyline Pastor Jim Garlow in order to respond to “the thorniest and most challenging issues in the current cultural landscape.”

In promotional materials for the gathering, Garlow warned “our nation is in trouble” due to the lack of a “clear proclamation of biblical answers to the messiness of our culture.” According to Garlow, pastors can no longer speak out about things like homosexuality because they are considered “political.”

The four-day conference – which Media Matters attended undercover – featured presentations covering a range of issues – from the threat of Islam to “biblical economics” – but its unifying theme was the alleged rise of Christian persecution across the globe, and especially in the United States as a result of growing acceptance of LGBT people.

The list of over 50 speakers spanned the conservative political landscape and included members of Congress, Fox News contributors, and prominent right-wing activists. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich submitted video remarks. There was even a presentation from Suzan Johnson Cook, former Obama administration Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The conference also featured speeches from some of the most prominent anti-LGBT groups in the country, including several organizations designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center: the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, and Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).

Shielded from the eyes and ears of major media, speakers at the Future Conference expressed the kind of casual homophobia that would otherwise offend mainstream audiences. More importantly, they discussed their plans for dealing with a country seems increasingly determined to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

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VIDEO: After Marriage Equality, Fox News Pivots To "Religious Liberty" Horror Stories

July 09, 2015 4:10 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Just minutes after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on marriage equality, Fox News began its campaign to portray the decision as a threat to "religious liberty."

Since the June 26 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, Fox News has repeatedly warned viewers that the ruling threatens religious liberty. Fox personalities have peddled long debunked myths about churches and religious organizations being forced to celebrate same-sex weddings:

Fox's fear mongering is part of the network's broader religious liberty misinformation campaign, which has helped build support for discriminatory "religious freedom" laws across the country by highlighting horror stories about anti-gay business owners. Fox's reaction to the Obergefell decision is a preview of what we can expect from the network now that marriage equality is the law of the land - using "religious freedom" as their new rallying cry in the fight against LGBT equality.

Video by John Kerr. 

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Right-Wing Media Invents "Gag Order" For Anti-Gay Oregon Bakers

July 06, 2015 4:38 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Conservative media are falsely claiming that an Oregon bakery that discriminated against a same-sex couple was given a "gag order" prohibiting them from expressing their religious beliefs. In reality, the bakery was ordered to "cease and desist" publicizing that it would violate state law by discriminating against gay customers.

On July 2, Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon, must pay $135,000 in damages to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. In 2013, Sweet Cakes refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel's commitment ceremony, after which the couple filed an anti-discrimination complaint using the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which prohibits private businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

In the July 2 ruling, Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner Brad Avakian found that the Kleins had discriminated against the couple on the basis of their sexual orientation. Additionally, Avakian ordered the Kleins to "cease and desist" from publishing or advertising that they would refuse services "of a place of public accommodation... against any person on account of sexual orientation." As reported in USA Today, "The Kleins will not be penalized for speaking about the issue on Christian television and radio programs."

Conservative media, led by an article in the far-right Daily Signal, falsely portrayed the "cease and desist" as a "gag order," implying that the Kleins are barred from discussing the case or their personal religious beliefs. This misinterpretation of the order was echoed by the National Review, Breitbart, Weekly Standard, The Daily Caller, FoxNews.com, and during a segment on the Fox News Channel.

During the July 5 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Shannon Bream discussed the case, asking her guest whether he was concerned "as an American" about the "gag order:"

Charlie Burr, Communication Director for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, debunked the "gag order" talking point in an email to Media Matters:  

Our Final Order against Sweet Cakes by Melissa did not contain a gag order (as reported by Fox's Todd Starnes, National Review, Daily Caller and others). It does contain damages for the same-sex couple denied service based on sexual orientation and also includes a cease and desist order directing the business to refrain from discriminating against future customers. That does not mean that the owners are prohibited from talking about the case or their opposition to Oregon anti-discrimination laws.

This cease and desist order is based on enforcement of Oregon's non-discrimination law, which prohibits advertising that services of a public accommodation will be denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It's the same language that makes it illegal for a business to place a "whites only" sign in their window. As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explained, this is not the same as a gag order (emphasis added):

There is nothing in Avakian's order that bars the Kleins from talking about the ruling. They can rail against it, march against its injustice, and pen Facebook screeds complaining about anti-discrimination law. What they cannot do is proclaim (publicly!) that their business will not serve gay couples.

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After Marriage: How To Ask Smart LGBT Questions In 2016

July 01, 2015 11:30 am ET by Rachel Percelay

In the wake of the Supreme Court's historic marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, media outlets have a chance to break new ground in their coverage of the fight for LGBT equality. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, journalists should be asking questions that advance the national conversation about LGBT equality while avoiding the pitfalls that plagued coverage of the debate over marriage equality.

For the past several years, media questions about LGBT equality during presidential election seasons have largely focused on where candidates stand on same-sex marriage. These questions typically elicit rehearsed and uninformative sound bite responses; candidates appeal to religion and tradition, which tends to end the discussion about LGBT issues before it even begins.

Now that the Supreme Court has effectively rendered the legal debate over marriage equality moot, news outlets should be prepared to ask the 2016 presidential candidates smarter, tougher questions about the fight for LGBT equality:

Go Beyond Marriage

As many outlets have already noted, the fight for LGBT equality isn't over now that marriage equality is the law of the land.  Some of the major issues still facing the LGBT community include:

  • "Religious Freedom" Laws. Several states across the country  are considering "religious freedom" laws like the ones in Indiana and Arkansas, which aim to provide a legal defense for individuals and business owners who cite their religious beliefs as a justification to discriminate against LGBT people. Several candidates have already struggled to explain their positions on these laws, which are part of a growing  national campaign led by anti-LGBT groups.
  • Non-Discrimination Protections. Contrary to public opinion, federal law still doesn't prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, public accommodations, and a host of other areas. LGBT groups are gearing up to push for an omnibus non-discrimination bill at the federal level. Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers are pushing for laws that would deny transgender people access to appropriate public restrooms. Asking about non-discrimination protections, which enjoy broad public support, is an easy way to explore a candidate's position LGBT equality.
  • Reparative Therapy. "Ex-gay" or reparative therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that attempts to alter someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington D.C. have outlawed reparative therapy for minors, and 20 other states are considering similar legislation. In April, President Obama officially announced support for banning the "ex-gay" practice for minors. Though it's not often discussed by major media outlets, a candidate's position on "ex-gay" therapy says a lot about how beholden they are to the socially-conservative fringe.

The list of important LGBT issues doesn't end there: transgender military service, LGBT youth homelessnessdetention of LGBT immigrants, etc. These issues raise important questions about a candidate's support or disdain for the LGBT community without devolving into predictable tropes about tradition and religion.

Don't Settle For The Faith Excuse

Political candidates often cite their religious beliefs as a means to avoid being branded as homophobic or transphobic when they hold anti-LGBT policy positions. But citing faith as a way to sidestep tough questions about LGBT equality should be a non-starter; most religious people actually support LGBT equality. Given that media outlets have historically had trouble separating anti-LGBT animus from sincere, mainstream religious beliefs, journalists should be prepared to press candidates who cite religion as their reasons for opposing LGBT equality. What exactly about a candidate's faith motivates him or her to oppose protections for LGBT people, and why does the candidate disagree with the majority of religious Americans?

Rely On Evidence

Candidates who oppose legal protections for LGBT people typically cite concerns about religious liberty or a reluctance to bestow "special rights," among other popular conservative talking points. These concerns have been debunked time and time again, contradicted by the experiences of states and cities that have had similar protections in place for years. Rather than letting candidates get away with their anti-LGBT talking points, journalists should be prepared to ask follow-up questions that force candidates to provide evidence or examples of their horror stories.

In the post-Obergefell media landscape, the fight for LGBT equality will turn its focus to the broader issue of discrimination against LGBT people. Journalists who want to advance the story and avoid rehashing tired debates about same-sex marriage have an unprecedented opportunity to ask smart questions that cut through polished talking points and get to the heart of candidates' positions on LGBT equality. 

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Fox's Erick Erickson: "Abuse" And "Parental Issues" Make People Gay

June 30, 2015 1:18 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

In response to the Supreme Court's recent marriage equality ruling, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that many people become gay because of "abuse" and "parental issues."  

On the June 29 edition of The Erick Erickson Show, Fox's Erickson claimed that it's "not really true in most cases" that people are born gay. Instead, "if you go back to it there's parental issues, there's abuse, and that has a lot to do with it": 

ERICKSON: First of all, you're only talking 3 to 5 percent of the population. Now I know a lot of people, a lot of people the thought is that you're born gay. That's actually not really true in most cases. In some cases I think it probably is, but in a lot of cases if you go back to it there are parental issues, there's abuse, and that has a lot to do with it. And as you see a collapse of family - I don't think that it's a coincidence that a collapse of family is - is directly inverse proportional or inversely related to the rise in people who identify as being gay. [Emphasis added]

Erickson has a history of extreme anti-LGBT comments. He has previously said that countries with marriage equality are "bent on suicide," compared gay people to terrorists, and agreed that the "homosexual movement" is "destroying America." Erickson also regularly solicits support for an extreme anti-gay legal group working to criminalize homosexuality internationally.

On August 6-9, Erickson will be hosting the RedState Gathering - a conservative political conference - in Atlanta. A number of GOP presidential hopefuls, including Gov. Jeb Bush and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are slated to speak at the event. 

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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 RedState.com 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.   

Previously:

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

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