October 05, 2015 1:35 pm ET by Equality Matters staff
The Associated Press properly identified Liberty Counsel -- the legal group defending Kentucky's Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis -- as an anti-LGBT hate group, in an all-too-rare example of a major news outlet accurately informing its audience about Liberty's extreme views.
Liberty Counsel's defense of Davis has put it at the center of a months-long media firestorm over the clerk's refusal to follow the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses. Yet major news outlets have repeatedly failed to note that Liberty Counsel has been labeled an anti-LGBT "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, often only referring to the group as a "Christian" or "conservative" legal organization.
In an October 4 article, the Associated Press identified Liberty Counsel as a hate group, and reported on several recent PR controversies that have further undermined the group's credibility.
From the Associated Press (emphasis added):
Kim Davis' lawyer stood onstage in a Washington D.C. hotel and pointed to a photo on the screen. It showed 100,000 people packed into a Peruvian soccer stadium, Mat Staver told the crowd, all there to pray for the Kentucky clerk battling against gay marriage.
The crowd erupted.
It wasn't true.
Staver's firm, the Liberty Counsel, which revealed Davis' secret meeting with Pope Francis, has been accused by advocacy groups of peddling misrepresentations in the past. Yet it has become the main source of details about the controversial pope meeting.
Online sleuths quickly debunked the Peru story Staver told at the Values Voter Summit, a conference for the conservative Family Research Council. The photo was from a year-old gathering unrelated to Davis, who spent five days in jail for defying a court order and refusing to license gay marriages. Staver could provide no evidence of a massive Davis rally. On Monday, he called it a mistake and blamed miscommunication with the Peruvian authorities who gave him the photo.
The next day, the firm dropped a bombshell. It said Pope Francis, on his celebrated visit to America, secretly met with Davis. The pope hugged her, thanked her for her courage and told her to "stay strong," Liberty Counsel said. The Vatican on Friday said the pope had a brief meeting with Davis that should not be seen as support for her stance.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Liberty Counsel as an anti-gay hate groups for spreading false information.
"A group that regularly portrays gay people as perverse, diseased pedophiles putting Western civilization at risk are way, way over the line," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center.
The Liberty Counsel has connected homosexuality to higher rates of promiscuity and incest, Potok said, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The firm opposes laws banning hate crimes and supports discredited conversion therapies that purport to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Staver once declared that the Boy Scouts would become a "playground for pedophiles" once it allowed gay troop leaders.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is embroiled in yet another media firestorm following revelations that reports about her private meeting with Pope Francis during his recent visit to the U.S. may have been grossly misrepresented by her and the legal group representing her, Liberty Counsel. But the controversy should come as no surprise to those familiar with Liberty Counsel, which has a reputation for lying in order to elevate its profile and further demonize LGBT people.
Florida-based Liberty Counsel was founded in 1989 by its now-chairman, Mat Staver. For years, the organization has distinguished itself as one of the anti-gay right’s most extreme and blundering legal groups, taking on doomed efforts to defend harmful “ex-gay” therapy and slow the inevitable advance of marriage equality.
Before it began representing Davis, Liberty Counsel was perhaps most notorious for representing Lisa Miller. After ending a same-sex relationship with her partner, Miller took their daughter and moved to another state, defying a court order and refusing to allow her former partner to see the child. Liberty Counsel rallied to Miller’s defense, creating a public relations nightmare for itself when Miller subsequently kidnapped the child and fled the country.
In addition to Davis, the group is also defending Scott Lively, an American evangelist facing charges of “crimes against humanity” for his involvement in promoting Uganda’s extreme anti-LGBT law, which threatens gay Ugandans with life in prison.
Apart from its ham-handed legal work, Liberty Counsel is a run-of-the-mill anti-gay group that regularly makes asinine and hateful proclamations about the LGBT community. Liberty’s Staver has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and disease, and predicted that marriage equality could cause society to “cease to exist.” In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) added Liberty Counsel to its list of anti-gay “hate groups.”
The Kim Davis marriage-license story offered Liberty Counsel an opportunity to capitalize off of the national media spotlight trained on the law-breaking clerk – a chance for it to raise its visibility and carve out a niche for itself alongside more successful anti-LGBT legal organizations. Staver became a regular fixture in the media’s coverage of Davis, cited in nearly every major mainstream media report about the controversy.
But that increased media attention also brought with it increased media scrutiny and vetting, especially as it become clear that Davis would face jail time for refusing to do her job. Commentators began openly wondering whether Liberty was cynically taking advantage of Davis to raise its profile. Others noted Liberty’s penchant for pursuing dead-end, extreme anti-gay litigation. Even on Fox, media figures were suspicious of Staver’s arguments and intentions. A panel of Fox commentators mocked Staver’s “ridiculously stupid” suggestion that Kentucky isn’t bound to follow the Supreme Court’s orders. In an interview with Staver, Fox’s Neil Cavuto seemed sincerely perplexed by Staver’s legal reasoning, admitting he was “thoroughly confused” by the end of the segment.
Tony Perkins is the head of one of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country, yet media outlets continue to give him a platform that enables him to play a major role in mainstream conservative politics.
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled Perkins' group, the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-gay hate group, due in part to Perkins' history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. Perkins has called pedophilia "a homosexual problem," accused gay people of recruiting children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists.
Despite FRC's extremism, mainstream media outlets have treated Perkins as a credible and legitimate conservative commentator, regularly inviting him to speak on behalf of Christians without identifying him as a hate monger.
America's transgender community experiences some of the highest rates of discrimination, violence, and poverty in the country. So how has Fox News managed to portray this marginalized and vulnerable community as threatening, greedy, and deserving of mistreatment?
Despite the progress that's been made in the fight for transgender equality and visibility, transgender people continue to face astronomical rates of harassment and discrimination at work, in school, in public places, and even from law enforcement. Trans people are often refused medical care, fired from their jobs, denied housing, and even evicted from their homes because of their gender identity.
Trans people are also often targeted by physical violence. Just last month, Tamara Dominquez became the 17th documented trans woman of color to be murdered in 2015. This year's unprecedented streak of homicides of transgender women has gotten 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.
But over the past few years, Fox News has cast the transgender community as one of its favorite villians, peddling bogus horror stories, touting fake medical "experts," and actively mocking trans people to suggest that they deserve to be mistreated.
Step One: Use Scare Tactics To Distract From Real Discrimination
The primary way Fox News has demonized the trans community is by depicting the fight for trans equality as dangerous, threatening, and unnecessary. Whether it be local non-discrimination ordinances or trans-inclusive school policies, Fox News uses scare tactics to attack even basic protections for trans people while ignoring or downplaying the reality of anti-trans discrimination.
The network's favorite horror story about transgender equality is the myth that sexual predators will exploit non-discrimination protections to sneak into women's bathrooms. The myth has been thoroughly debunked, but Foxrepeatedlypeddles the talking point when covering gender identity protections -- going as far as promoting entirely fabricated stories about transgender predators.
But Fox's fearmongering goes beyond lying about legal protections for trans people -- the network has attacked transgender television characters (kids will experiment with homosexuality!), school lessons on gender diversity (we're falling behind in math and science!), and even the decision by Macy's department store to welcome transgender customers (a threat to religious freedom!). All the while, Fox personalities insist that these protections aren't necessary because discrimination and bullying against trans people "is not a big problem."
These scare tactics aren't just silly, they're strategic -- aimed at pulling the public's focus away from the very real discrimination experienced by transgender people. One study found that 70 percent of transgender people had been denied access to, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.Similarly, another study found that 78 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming kids grades K-12 have experienced harassment at school, with 15 percent experiencing such severe harassment in K-12 or higher education that they dropped out.
The same reason explains why Fox has yet to mention the unprecedented number of murders of trans women of color this year. Acknowledging evidence of actual discrimination and violence against trans people would make the network's bogus horror stories seem ridiculous by comparison.
Step Two: Ignore Experts, Invent Your Own
Professional medical organizations agree that transgender people are real, normal, and deserve respect. To get around this consensus, Fox enlists its own set of junk scientists who spout fringe, anti-trans "expert" opinions about trans people.
The network's favorite anti-trans pop psychologist is Dr. Keith Ablow, a member of Fox's "Medical A-Team" who frequently commentates on the network's trans focused segments. Ablow has opined that "there's no such thing as being transgender," and declared he'd prescribe a transgender child "anti-psychotic" medication. In 2011, he asserted that Chaz Bono was suffering a "psychotic delusion" and cautioned parents that simply watching Bono perform as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars could turn their children transgender.
When not relying on the wildly inaccurate statements of pseudoscientists like Ablow, Fox personalities dispense their own misguided ideas about transgender people. Bill O'Reilly has used his perch to dispense bigoted and dangerous advice for parents raising transgender children, saying he wouldn't allow or support his own child transitioning, and that parents who do so are "crazy" and might be "guilty of child abuse."
Step Three: Exclude Transgender People From Coverage
Actually allowing a transgender person to talk about their experiences on-air would undermine Fox's ability to demonize the transgender community as threatening and extreme. That's likely why transgender people almost never appear on Fox's airwaves.
While Fox regularly invites representatives from anti-LGBT hate groups to criticize basic efforts to protect transgender people, a recent Media Matters study found that the network failed to host even a single transgender person as a guest in the 27 segments it did on about transgender-related issues over the course of nine months.
Fox excludes transgender people from their trans coverage so that the network can continue its dehumanizing, inaccurate treatment of them without acknowledging the damage it causes. Dehumanizing an entire group of people using scare tactics and mockery only works if those people are denied a chance to defend themselves and tell their stories.
Step Four: "They Deserve To Be Mistreated"
Blaming transgender people for the discrimination and violence they face is one of the most destructive ways society marginalizes trans people. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey described this tactic as an explanation for the systematic discrimination against transgender people in its 2011 report (emphasis added):
Instead of recognizing that the moral failure lies in society's unwillingness to embrace different gender identities and expressions, society blames transgender and gender nonconforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.
Fox routinely tells stories about transgender people through the lens of criminality -- focusing on transgender prisoners and lawbreakers to suggest that trans people don't actually deserve dignity or equal treatment. Fox, for example, incessantly mocked and misgendered Chelsea Manning, who is serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. Fox personalities scoffed at the idea of providing Manning with transgender health care in prison, describing it as "special treatment." Anchor Gregg Jarret defended his decision to misgender Manning by boasting, "I don't do what Bradley Manning wants me to do."
Fox has also repeatedly used the story of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender inmate in Massachusetts who is serving a life sentence for murdering her wife, to mock the idea of providing medical care for transgender inmates. Bill O'Reilly has defended denying Kosilek gender-affirming health care on the grounds that "you're a murderer in this prison, you get back to your cell and shut up":
Fox also tracks down and highlights stories about transgender immigrants to disparage the transgender community. A Fox & Friends "Entitlement Nation" segment on hormone therapy for detained immigrants called the treatment "outrageous," and proposed that the best way to treat undocumented trans immigrants would be to give them "a pair of Joe Arpaio's pink boxers as we send them back to their country."
Step Five: Normalize Mocking Transgender People
Whether it's playing Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)," laughing at a transgender prisoner's appearance, joking about "the one part" of Chaz Bono's body "that hasn't been operated on," mocking transgender health insurance coverage, or calling Chelsea Manning "Bradleen," Fox News routinely engages in transphobic name calling and mockery in front of millions of viewers.
Experts have criticized Fox for its treatment of the transgender community, warning that it could contribute to transphobic violence and discrimination. Yet Fox continues to make derogatory and dehumanizing comments about transgender people that add nothing to the news, but go far towards legitimizing anti-trans discrimination. When Fox makes flippant jokes at trans people's expense, it assures audiences that transphobia is acceptable -- both on and off the network.
Fox's dehumanizing treatment of the transgender community is emblematic of the network's broader victimization complex. While Fox works to cast transgender people as a threat to taxpayers and bathroom-goers, the network simultaneously labels Christians, Christmas, religious freedom, and white men as under attack. That victim complex has long been Fox's MO, but when it makes transgender people the enemy, it becomes a systematic effort by cable news' most influential network to ostracize and dehumanize one of the country's most at-risk populations.
This post originally described Michelle Kosilek as an inmate in Virginia. She is in Massachusetts.
Regular Fox News viewers have no doubt heard a lot about transgender people lately: as America's cultural shift toward greater understanding of this community grows, so has opposition to it. But it's also likely Fox viewers have never actually seen or heard a transgender person on television, because Fox News has almost entirely excluded transgender people from its broadcasts, even as it continues to produce inaccurate, dehumanizing coverage of transgender people.
Fox News spends a lot of time discussing transgender people. The network's anchors, reporters, and show hosts have manufactured reasons to fear nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, mocked transgender inmates and attacked their access to gender-affirming healthcare, panickedoverinitiatives to make schools more gender inclusive, and compared being transgender to thinking you're a cat or cocker spaniel:
But according to a Media Mattersstudy, Fox News failed to host even a single transgender person as a guest in the 27 segments it did on about transgender-related issues over the course of nine months, from September 1, 2014 to June 1, 2015. The network also broadcast some 40 news alerts about transgender-related stories, but only two included a transgender person actually commenting on the story:
It's not hard to imagine why Fox News might be avoiding bringing transgender people on the air; doing so would give them a platform to correct the anti-trans misinformation frequently peddled by the network and humanize transgender people in the eyes of Fox's viewers. Instead, Fox routinely treats the fight for transgender equality and acceptance as little more than a joke or a product of the "PC Police." Free from any transgender guests who might call them out on their behavior, Fox hosts regularlymisgender trans subjects, mock their appearances, and peddle junk science about their medical treatment.
Experts have criticized Fox for its destructive coverage of the transgender community, warning that it could contribute to transphobic violence and discrimination. As GLAAD has explained, negative media depictions of transgender people can have a tremendous public impact, especially for audiences that aren't likely to personally know a transgender person:
[A]ccording to a GLAAD/Harris Interactive poll, only 8% of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender... [W]hen a stereotypical or defamatory transgender image appears in the media, the viewer may assume that all transgender people are actually like that; they have no real-life experience with which to compare it.
Given the growing epidemic of violence against transgender people, it's more important than ever that Fox News improve its coverage of trans issues. An easy first step would be giving transgender people the opportunity to tell their own stories and to ensure that the network's reporting speaks to, rather than about, the trans community.
Fox News hosts have used the controversy surrounding Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to repeatedly hawk the new book from a man considered one of America’s most extreme and prominent anti-gay hate-group leaders.
Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization that has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading damaging lies about gay people, including the myth that they are more likely to engage in pedophilia.
Perkins’ latest book, No Fear, was published on September 8 and tells the stories of “young people who have taken a stand for Biblical truth,” including Aaaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon bakers who were fined after refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The book is a collection of misleading culture war stories aimed at depicting conservative Christians as the victims of religious persecution by liberals.
That’s a popular narrative on Fox News, so it’s not surprising that the network has promoted the book repeatedly during its news programming, playing off the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples:
In response to a judge's decision to jail Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for contempt of court because she refused to obey a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson suggested in an op-ed that a civil war might soon break out in America.
Since the historic June 26 Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land, Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, has refused to issue marriage licenses to either same or opposite-sex couples. The lengthy legal battle over her refusal culminated on September 3, when U.S. District Court Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis detained for contempt of court after she continued to refuse to issue the licenses as required by a federal court order. In response to Jude Bunning's decision, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, who once previously said that countries with marriage equality are "bent on suicide," wrote an opinion piece for the IJReview that asked "How much longer until we have another civil war?"
While maintaining that "no one should want it and no one, myself included, does want it," Erickson listed what he said were potential reasons why a civil war could break out: Davis' jailing, Hillary Clinton's email practices, Internal Revenue Service audits, Supreme Court's rulings, and "the President of the United States tell[ing] supporters that Republicans are the enemy and they should take guns to knife fights."
From Erickson's September 4, 2015 op-ed in the IJReview (emphasis added):
When Kim Davis, the Rowan County, KY, clerk was hauled off to jail for refusing to give marriage licenses, a White House spokesman said no official is above the law. Hillary Clinton cheered on Twitter. The left went wild. "Where is your god now?" one person tweeted.
Hillary Clinton using a private email server is no big deal to the left. Every changing story is met with acceptance. The Democrats' immigration plans have included trying to pull a fast one on a judge in Texas and the left applauded. The IRS can leak confidential donor lists of conservative groups and harass the same groups. Political opponents get awfully convenient "random" audits. Again and again, the left gets to ignore the laws it wishes to ignore while the right must comply.
On top of that, five Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who are some of the least representative of Americans, can invalidate the laws of a majority of states on a whim without actual legal reasoning. Because people want to be happy, the laws can be overturned.
At that point, the citizens will clash beyond the ballot box. We see that beginning with random killings of police and random killings by police. It will only get worse. No one should want it and no one, myself included, does want it. But how much longer until we have another civil war?
Our nation's leaders have excelled at nothing so much as dividing and pitting American against American. When the President of the United States tells supporters that Republicans are the enemy and they should take guns to knife fights, we should not be surprised when they take him seriously. Besides, who will punish them? They perceive themselves to be on the winning team.
How much longer before the cold war of citizenry fed and flamed by Washington turns hot?
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:
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 consistenthabit 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 column, The 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.
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.
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:
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.
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 Mattersanalysis, 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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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. CBS, ABC, 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:
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.
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.