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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

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

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

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

Anderson Is Treated Like A Credible Scholar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson Cites Shoddy, Debunked Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson Peddles Bogus Horror Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson Publishes Extreme Anti-LGBT Commentary

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

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

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

Anderson Holds Fringe Beliefs About Sexual Orientation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Debunking Right-Wing Myths About Protections For Transgender Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Associated Press Violates Its Own Transgender Guidelines In Caitlyn Jenner Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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Fox News Devoted Less Than Two Minutes To The Duggar Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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